• Mon. Mar 4th, 2024

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Oil Exploration Threatens Pristine Mana Pools in Zimbabwe

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Mana Pools National Park (219,600 ha) forms part of a natural World Heritage Site (WHS) that was inscribed based on its intact wilderness and beauty in 1984. This 676,600 ha WHS also encompasses the Sapi Safari Area (118,000 ha) and Chewore Safari Area (339,000 ha). Mana Pools is a Key Biodiversity Area, home to remarkable wildlife including iconic species such as elephants, buffalos, and lion in addition to a variety of plans game, leopards and cheetahs, and many resident and migratory birds, with over 450 bird species recorded. Mana Pools National Park was also designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 2013.  The site’s pristine ecosystem is an important tourist attraction and crucial for Zimbabwe’s tourism industry.

The Mana Pools World Heritage Site, part of the larger Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve, is located directly opposite the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. The Lower Zambezi National Park is also currently under serious threat by the development of an open pit copper mine in the middle of the national park. There are grave concerns around the overall effect of large-scale mining in this ecologically sensitive area which would also invariably impact the Mana Pools World Heritage Site.

Cheetah, copyright Andy Adcock, from the surfbirds galleries

Growing Threat

Despite its significance, Mana Pools is now under growing threat of damaging developments, particularly oil and gas exploration. In a gazette notice on 28th April 2023, the Zimbabwean Ministry of Mines and Mining Development announced that Shalom Mining Corporation Pvt Ltd had applied for a licence to prospect for oil and natural gas in an area of very high conservation value contiguous to Mana Pools. If allowed to go ahead, this development potentially poses a serious risk to the adjacent World Heritage Site and Ramsar Site, in addition to the damage it might cause within the proposed prospecting area itself.

In response to the oil and gas prospecting threat, BirdLife partners in Southern Africa put together a strong objection to the proposal. BirdLife Zimbabwe (BirdLife partner in Zimbabwe) and BirdWatch Zambia (BirdLife in Zambia) submitted it to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development of Zimbabwe. The letter was also shared with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the IUCN World Heritage Programme, and the Secretariats of the Convention on Migratory Species and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

The BirdLife partners are of the view that prospecting for, and possibly ultimately extracting, Petroleum Oil and Natural Gas could have catastrophic consequences for human health and conservation of species biodiversity, specifically several critically endangered and endangered bird species.  They listed potential risks to the environment as pollution of water sources, accelerated erosion, loss of critical habitat, habitat alteration and increased human disturbance in a conservation area of global importance.

“Zimbabwe and Zambia have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up the Lower Zambezi Mana Pools Transfrontier Conservation Area to enhance wildlife conservation.  In a report by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, “the agreement is set to enhance ecosystem integrity and natural ecological processes by harmonising environmental management procedures” With so much at stake, we implore the Zimbabwe Ministry of Mines and Mining Development to turn down the prospecting application and the Governments of Zimbabwe and Zambia to work together to protect the intact ecosystem of the Zambezi comprising both Mana Pools and Lower Zambezi National Park” , said  Julia Pierini, CEO BirdLife Zimbabwe.

“Mana Pools in Zimbabwe holds immense ecological importance, interconnecting with the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. The proposed oil exploration programme by Shalom Mining, threatens this wildlife haven, and would upend the delicate balance of this critical ecosystem” said Daniel Phiri, National Coordinator, BirdWatch Zambia.