HARARE – Zimbabwe’s highly-criticised decision to donate 10 endangered white rhinos to the Democratic Republic of Congo is being reciprocated the central African country – gorillas and okapis are heading the other way.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) says it is making “scientific research to find out if gorillas and okapis can actually live well here without any problems of habitat changes”. Okapis are a cross between zebras and giraffes.
“We’re in talks with our counterparts so that they donate small numbers to start with and increase if they do well. The DRC has always been a friend of ours and we’ve done a lot for them and there’s no reason for one to make an issue out of these rhinos because they also give us what we want,” Zimparks director-general Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya told NewsDay.
Zimbabweans took to social media to voice concerns over the move, some fearing the gorillas could being the Ebola virus which has killed thousands of people in the DRC and is reputed to have come from the herbivorous apes.
Journalist Violet Gonda said Zimbabwe was “entering uncharted territory”. Noting that gorillas in particular were sensitive animals, she wondered: “Can Zimbabwe’s fragile health care system handle Ebola risks?”
Sekuru Kurasha, on Twitter, said: “Seriously, there are so many other issues that need to be dealt with in Zimbabwe right now. Gorillas aren’t native to Zimbabwe, so leave them alone. You’re failing to combat cholera and now importing ebola? Bring Investors Not Gorillas!”
On the ebola fears, the Zimparks official said: “Don’t worry about the issue of ebola because we will test them before they come here.”
Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands are being considered as a new home for the gorillas, Mangwanya added.
South African conservationist Sue Spurgin, said: “Gorillas are critically endangered and okapi are endangered, both not endemic to Zimbabwe. Why take the risk of relocating these rare creatures?”
Earlier this year, the DRC was forced to abandon plans to export gorillas to China following global outrage from animal rights activists, and Spurgin wonders if the export to Zimbabwe is not just a smokescreen to make the transfer.
Zimbabwean conservationist Natasha Woest said Zimbabwe was already struggling to keep its animals secure from poachers, calling for greater efforts there than bringing in more animal species that would only increase interest from poachers.
“We can barely save and protect our own indigenous species. Bringing gorillas is an extra worry and an extra interest for poachers and hunters alike .Yes, it would be nice to help but we need to show we can abolish poaching in our parks and corruption first,” she said on Twitter.
DRC conservationists say the gorilla population had come down from about 17,000 in 1998 to about 4,000 in 2016 – a result of poaching during the DRC civil war.
Zimbabwe has a white rhino population of between 300 and 370, and about 550 black rhino.-Zimlive