MUTARE – Timber companies here have a new problem to deal with — menacing troops of baboons — which have raised fresh fears of affecting the production of pine trees.
A decade ago, the primates severely affected estates in the Eastern Highlands.
Most plantations have been ravaged by illegal settlers who invaded large swathes of land belonging to timber companies.
“Baboon damage to plantations has been on the increase over the last 10 years. This has resulted in high tree mortality and significantly reduced yield per hectare.
“Several control methods to reduce the damage are currently under trial at both company and industry level in Zimbabwe,” said Border Timbers Borders, which is participating in baboon control research with other companies in the southern African region.
According to a 2004 report on baboons, the animals decimated 5 317 hectares of timber plantations in eastern Zimbabwe.
“The extent of baboon damage in Zimbabwe, expressed as the total percentage of area damaged by baboons as a function of the total area planted to pine for the period 2000-2004 has escalated from 10.8 to 13.3 percent despite harvesting activities removing damaged trees,” said the Timber Producers’ Federation (TPF).
TPF’s biggest stakeholder, Allied Timbers, in a report detailing their struggle with settlers also acknowledges the significance of the baboon problem.
“We also have the issue of baboons which is affecting the remaining stock . . . this is natural and we can deal with it,” it said.
Baboons are attracted to the pine trees by their juicy bark which they savagely strip, leaving the tree with serious damage.
Experts have attributed the baboon menace to a free run they have been given by the illegal settlers who caused highly adaptable primates’ predators such as pythons, leopards, crowned eagles and crocodiles to flee their natural habitat after illegal settlements in the plantation forests.
The forestry industry across southern Africa has been grappling with the baboons.
South African forestry industry, particularly in Mpumalanga and the southern Cape, has also been encountering “an alarming increase in damage to commercial timber plantations by baboons”.
This damage occurs when baboons strip bark off the trees, causing major deterioration in wood quality and the eventual death of the tree.
As a result, South Africa has seen different institutions being set up to manage the problem with universities also coming in with ethical measures to control the baboons.
Baboon Damage Interest Group (BDIG) is one such grouping which comprises affected timber growers, provincial nature conservation, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
This forum convenes regularly to find suitable management options and has developed a baboon damage protocol that enables affected timber growers, to use appropriate control measures.
Forestry South Africa also ensures that control measures are based on sound scientific research, part of which is being undertaken by the Baboon Research Unit at the University of Cape Town.
In Zimbabwe, baboons, in some areas, enjoy the protection of local traditional leaders who consider them sacred animals and prohibit their killing across the country.
This is despite their damaging tendencies to agricultural crops.
In Buhera, villagers have to guard their homes at all times as baboons are now targeting chickens and goats.
As baboons continue to adapt, they have recently added another cuisine to their growing menu of delicacies, this time the country’s most-prized cash crop — tobacco.
They have begun raiding tobacco fields in Hurungwe as they run out of food due to land clearing for farming and forest razing to cure the golden leaf.
“Fruit trees have been cut down destroying baboons’ food sources. They are now eating tobacco which was previously unheard of.
“This is a message from our ancestral spirits that our custodianship of the environment has not been properly handled. Farmers are having to watch their tobacco fields more than anything else,” Chief Chundu told the Eastern News last year.
Haz wades into Mutare airport debate
MUTARE – The Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (Haz) has joined a growing list of businesspeople calling on the government to build an international airport to shore up tourism and general business in Manicaland Province.
This comes as there is a strong push for Zimbabwe and Mozambique to create an alliance that would promote multi-country destinations to attract visitors that might not otherwise consider visiting a certain destination.
Government is currently studying the benefits of building an airport in Mutare.
Haz vice president Clive Chinwada said multi-country destination tourism packages was a growing trend in global tourism and this was motivating local tourism players to back the need for an airport in Mutare.
“Visitors increasingly want to explore more than just one country. The multi-destination approach is now the dominant trend.
“Eastern Highlands will benefit immensely if we integrate with Mozambique. A traveller can enjoy the beach in Beira and come to experience a different tourism. This is the main reason we have been talking of the need for an airport,” Chinwada said.
A multi-country destination trip is defined as a single trip that includes visits to destinations shared by two or more countries that offer and promote a joint tourism product or route.
This is common in the case of tourists from long-haul source markets, who want to make the best of a long-haul trip by combining various countries in the same area that complement each other and enrich the travel experience.
Chinwada said while Mozambique is bigger than Zimbabwe, it was more accessible as visitors can land anywhere across the country, something Zimbabwe needs to emulate.
“Mozambique is fairly big but you can land all across the country yet a region like the Eastern Highlands and its world-class tourist attractions, is virtually not accessible by air.
“Time is a major factor in international travel and without an airport you are basically condemned to only serve a local market. An airport will make the product accessible and available,” Chinwada said.
Lodge owners fret over high council levies
MUTARE – Lodge owners in Chimanimani have registered their displeasure with local council for charging them steep licensing fees which they claim are “anti-tourism” and cause illegal operations.
Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA) secretary Jane High said the local authority’s $800 levy is oblivious to the challenges the sector has been experiencing which include low tourist arrivals and costly refurbishments.
High said the council budget that pegged the exorbitant charges was done without consultations and council has been reluctant to listen to their concerns.
“We tried everything to engage the council over the 2018 budget which was done without proper consultations with residents…
“It’s all one way ‘correspondence’ of course. Not once have I ever received an acknowledgement,” High said.
Without a licence, a lodge is not officially recognised by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), leaving them with an option of either closing down or operating illegally.
Some of the lodges have had to buy traders’ licences of $115 per year instead just to get by.
Manicaland Provincial Administrator Edgars Seenza was hopeful that the local council would cooperate, failure of which the tourism operators should appeal to the district administrator.
Seenza said the tourism sector was important to the province.
“Our policies should speak to each other. There should not be any contradictions . . . I would like to encourage the hospitality sector to engage council and ask for a reconsideration,” Seenza said.
The tourism sector is generally over-taxed with players having to contend with over 20 different levies which they say push their operation costs beyond regional competitors and keep out many tourists.
Those who make it to Chimanimani can hardly spend any money as there are no banks and often end up staying at the hotels and lodges for free.
“Some tourists would just stay for free because they would not have any cash and are unable to use their Visa cards to make transaction with us whether they are still here or when they leave,” said Chimanimani Hotel general manager John Garawiro, who is also CTA chairperson.
At one time, Chimanimani had the second highest number of tourist arrivals after Victoria Falls.
Local tourism players say the industry retains its huge potential but would do with a huge infrastructural investment and tax waivers for current hoteliers to lift their standards to be globally competitive.