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close this bookCERES No. 104 - March - April 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)
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View the documentBeef export drive raises conservation issue in Zimbabwe
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Beef export drive raises conservation issue in Zimbabwe

Two fundamental principles of conservation the proper use of marginal lands and the use of buffer zones around protected wildlife areas - are at stake in a controversy surrounding efforts by Zimbabwe's Government and livestock industry to comply with import regulations governing access to the European Community's lucrative market for beef.

The more immediate debate has centred on the slaughter of about 1.000 of Zimbabwe's wild buffalo (Synverus caffer), which have been implicated in all but one of 32 out-breaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the country during the last 25 years. EEC veterinary regulations prescribe that all regions of an exporting country must be free of the disease for at least 12 months before exports of beef to community members can begin. Moreover, cattle in the major beef-producing areas must be totally isolated from any possible contact with buffalo.

Although buffalo, and most other large indigenous mammals, have long-since withdrawn from the central Zimbabwean plateau, which will provide most of the beef for export, some buffalo remain outside the national park areas of Hwange in the west and Gonarezhou in the south and are regarded as a potential source of infection, even through located well away from beef producing areas. Accordingly, Hwage and Gonarezhou have sealed off with game fences. Outside each park a vaccination zone has been established within which all cattle will be compulsorily vaccinated against FMD and all buffalo will be slaughtered. Buffalo will also be slaughtered within an additional buffer zone beyond the vaccination zone. (See adjoining map.)

For Zimbabwe's beef industry, plagued with low domestic prices, the prospective EEC contract of 8.100 tons annually could provide much needed impetus. For the country as a whole it represents, at present prices, $60 million annually in desperately needed foreign exchange. But wild buffalo have also been bringing in foreign exchange by attracting lucrative hunting safaris to the former tribal areas where they roamed and to a number of established game ranches. It is estimated that the removal of buffalo could reduce these earnings by half.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which has taken a particular interest in the case, points out that the slaughter of 1 000 buffalo is not in itself the most serious aspect of the matter. Far greater numbers are reported to have died during the recent prolonged drought without noticeable impact on the overall buffalo population, estimated to total about 50 000. On the other hand, the IUCN points out that almost all the land inside the buffalo eradication zone is marginal, with erratic rainfall and poor soils. It is ideally suited to indigenous wildlife, but very little else Some ecologists argue that a wide range of herbivores are needed to utilize available vegetation efficiently and accordingly advocate multi-species game ranching. Thus, elimination of the buffalo from this region is seen as negating sound conservation principles that have been developed with great care over many years.

A second concern noted by IUCN is that the new game fences around Hwange and Gonarezhou parks and the elimination of buffalo outside these fences demolishes the long-cherished dream of establishing buffer zones of gradually decreasing conservation status around major- wildlife areas. In the view of many ecologists the new arrangement is "too sharp-edged".

There remains a possibility that the cleared zones may eventually be restocked with FMD-free buffalo. Dr John Condy, a leading Zimbabwe veterinarian, has been developing a herd of buffalo calves caught before they were old enough to become carriers of FMD viruses. The Department of National Parks is also considering a capture exercise to increase its own FMD-free herd. The EEC may help to fund the development of this herd, currently at about 100 head, but release of these animals into the cleared zones is not expected for several years and would, in any case, depend on the opinion of the EEC veterinary committee.

Some critics are linking the situation in Zimbabwe to that in Botswana which has been exporting beef to Europe for- a number of years. Although there was no deliberate eradication programme in Botswana, the game fences established there to protect domestic livestock from FMD are said to have had a serious effect on migratory wildlife, especially wildebeest. NOW, a new fence being planned by the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture is causing concern in both countries. It would run northwest along the boundary of Hwange National Park, which coincides with the international border, then west for a short distance before turning southwest and finally south past the Nxai Pan National Park. Such a fence, says IUCN, would halt the present movement of large mammals to salt pans and water sources located south of the fence line, and would also complete the near- encapsulation of Hwange National Park. The real principle at stake, according to IUCN, is the proper use of marginal lands suited to indigenous wildlife.