The Sunday Mail
A game warden was found dead and naked in Gonarezhou National Park last Sunday, a discovery that has rattled both villagers and wildlife conservationists in the area.
Wardens are said to have intensified anti-poaching operations in the preceding days.
Although the police could not immediately confirm the incident yesterday, The Sunday Mail learnt that about nine people had been arrested by Chiredzi District police in connection with the case.
“That case hasn’t been brought to our attention as yet, I will have to find out from the District’s police officials,” said National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba.
Gonarezhou national park is situated in Chiredzi District closer to the Chitsa area that falls under 77-year-old Headman Mr Johane Ndali.
Mr Ndali confirmed the mysterious incident.
Speaking through his wife and interpreter, Mrs Loice Ndali, the Venda-speaking Mr Ndali said the incident had left his subjects shell shocked.
“The game ranger died in the park, what surprised many was that he had no clothes on, no bruises at all. How he died, we are still in dark,” he said.
When The Sunday Mail visited the area during the week, it was clear that the villagers have a beef against the national park, a stand-off that Headman Ndali said is historical.
He said the endless “war” between the game rangers and poachers has also escalated to new levels.
That the incident happened only a few days after a suspected poacher was approached by the game wardens has raised more suspicion on the cause of the death.
Situated in south eastern Zimbabwe, Gonarezhou National Park is famous for its big tusker elephant bulls and the mega-park’s vast and diverse nature makes it a world class eco-tourism centre.
However, the existence of Zimbabwe’s second largest game reserve has caused a seemingly never ending feud between the national park and the villagers living on the edges of Gonarezhou which measures in excess of 5 000 square kilometers.
The people of Chitsa, one of the settlements on the periphery of Gonarezhou, have tales to tell on how their lifestyles have been hugely affected by their proximity to the game reserve.
“One of the most recent sad story was when a pregnant woman was killed by a rampaging elephant. The young lady suffered a painful death I tell you,” said Mr Ndali.
In some cases, lions stray into the villages and children are forced to temporarily abandon school until the deadly cats are dealt with.
Before the erection of a perimeter fence around Gonarezhou, stray elephants would destroy crops, worsening the food situation in this drought prone part of the country.
Headman Ndali spoke of a historical row between the national park and his subjects, a feud that was triggered by the resettlement of the Chitsa people when Gonarezhou was established.
“We can call it a silent war, the establishment of Gonarezhou and the fencing of the game reserve forced hundreds of families to resettle to where we live today, that was around 1964.
“The Gonarezhou area was once the grazing area of our cattle, by the way, cattle rearing is the major form of farming here.
“As we speak, most of our cattle are now in Mozambique, our son has crossed into that country with all our cattle. There are no more pastures this side. We also have other young and enterprising young men who have volunteered to cross into Mozambique and look after the cattle for a fee of course.
“We only get to have our cattle back for the farming season,” he said.
Gonarezhou, which is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park — a massive Pan-African Park that includes South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park and Mozambique’s Limpopo —is loathed by some and cherished by others.
Chief Tshovani, the traditional leader of Chiredzi District, also gave an insight.
“The erection of a perimeter fence around the park, an exercise done to protect the villagers from wild animals, caused some bit of a friction.
“There are some who like the perimeter fence because it keeps elephants away from their crops. Others were affected because their grazing areas were encroached into.
“But I am disturbed when I hear reports of skirmishes between some villagers and the game rangers. What I want is for people to live in harmony,” a dejected Chief Tshovani said.
Just like in other areas where the establishment of game reserves have been met with animosity from the locals, the Gonarezhou park has not been spared.
Headman Ndali elaborated: “Look here my son, that (pointing towards Gonarezhou) is where we were born.
“Our ancestors were buried there before we relocated to this place and the problem now is that we can no longer perform our traditional rituals there because we can’t get into the park.
“Perhaps that is why the drought situation has worsened, our ancestors are angry,” he opined.
A middle aged male villager who spoke on condition of anonymity expressed his dismay at the way in which the game rangers are carrying out their operations against poachers.
“They are getting it all wrong now,” he argued.
Poaching is rampant in this area and last year, Gonarezhou lost at least 10 elephants due to cyanide poisoning.
Efforts to get a comment from Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority public relations manager Carol Washaya were fruitless yesterday as her phone was continuously on voice mail.