The President of Zimbabwe hailed the country’s national parks and their wildlife as vital to the “development and modernisation” of the country as delegates arrived in Victoria Falls for Africa’s first ever Wildlife Economy Summit tomorrow (Monday).
Speaking exclusively to The Independent, President Emmerson D. Mnangagwa detailed how developing tourism in the country would not only create jobs for Zimbabwe’s people and attract foreign exchange to the country but would also help secure the country’s wildlife by putting its national parks on a stronger financial footing.
“When we develop our tourism, we will be capacitating our ability and our vision to preserve our wildlife,” he said. “On our own we will do it, but the pace will be slow.
“But if we develop our tourism then we are facilitated in terms of resourcing and so increase our capacity to preserve our wildlife, not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world who want to continue to see animals that have become extinct in other regions of the globe.”
He continued: “We are very lucky that we introduced very strict conservation practice to conserve our wildlife, and we still have in abundancy the Big Five as well as the rest of the other species of animal. So that should contribute to development and modernisation of the economy.”
The Wildlife Economy Summit, which will run until Wednesday, is the first time that African political leaders have gathered with heads of nature-based businesses, communities and leading conservationists to try to unlock the potential of conservation-enabling investment across Africa.
It is being staged with support from the international conservation charity Space for Giants, whose patron is The Independent’s owner Evgeny Lebedev. Mr Lebedev has been a strong supporter of conservation initiatives across Africa and told the President that he was pleased the charity was working to help protect Zimbabwe’s wildlife.
As a centrepiece of the summit, the charity will be launched a report entitled Building a Wildlife Economy that details the steps that governments can take to attract sustainable tourism investment into wildlife areas. Nature-based tourism is worth around $48bn a year to Africa.
Mr Mnangagwa said it was his aim that Zimbabwe would undertake the steps outlined as it is his objective that Zimbabwe’s tourism sector grow to become between 10-15 per cent of GDP. “There are three major drivers in our economy,” he said, “and these have been identified as the low hanging fruits for development. They are agriculture, mining and tourism.”
He called on investors attending the Summit to return to visit the country’s network of national parks so they would be “exposed to wild game itself”. He said: “They should be exposed to natural sites of interest so that, besides the view they have about Zimbabwe, it should be cemented by actual visits to these sites and witness the abundant wildlife we have in the country.”
He explained how when he had grown up by the town of Zvishavane in central Zimbabwe “it was very normal” to see wildlife all around. However, his most dramatic memory of a close encounter with the country’s “wild game” came during the Bush War when he was on patrol with two other men.
“We were on foot,” he recalled,” in this wildlife area. There were rocks in the bush, and it was becoming dark, so we knew this was a very dangerous area and we went to sleep at the top of this rock, the three of us.
“Next morning, when we woke up, at around six in the morning there were two lions sleeping at the bottom of the rock beneath us. They did not eat us! But I can never forget that.”
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