First Lady calls for  multi-stakeholder approach in wildlife conservation First Lady and Wildlife Ambassador Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa receives kapenta from Environment, Climate and Wildlife Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni while Zimparks board chair Dr Agrippa Sora (second from right) and director general Dr Fulton Mangwanya {right) look on at the World Aquatic Animal Day in Harare yesterday. — Pictures Innocent Makawa.

Tendai Rupapa-Senior Reporter

NO one should be left behind in wildlife conservation while the media should raise awareness on aquatic animals to build and shape public support for their protection, Wildlife Ambassador First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.

Speaking at World Aquatic Animal Day celebrations which were held under the theme “Intersectional considerations of aquatic animals”, she said it was also important that issues of aquatic animals be considered in land use planning at all planning levels.

The programme was attended by wildlife conservation partners and stakeholders.

World Aquatic Animal Day is an annual event that takes place on April 3. 

The day is dedicated to celebrating and learning about the importance of all the aquatic creatures that are found in our waters.

In her remarks, Dr Mnangagwa said the overarching aim of the celebration was to raise awareness of aquatic animals and the multiple threats they face and in so doing improve their conservation status.

The theme, the First Lady said, pointed to the need for interdisciplinary collaboration in the conservation of aquatic animals.

Guests admire advanced technology that includes drones and communication gadgets displayed by the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management  Authority (Zimparks) at their exhibition stand during the World Aquatic Animal day in Harare yesterday.

“Successful conservation of these species goes beyond knowledge of aquatic animal biology, it also requires consideration of socio-cultural and economic factors surrounding the management of these animals. Aquatic animal conservation will not thrive if communities whose livelihoods depend on them and their habitats are left out of the picture. An intersectional approach ensures that no one is left behind in the fight to protect our biodiversity.

“It requires the use of best available science on aquatic animals’ conservation, engagement of all stakeholders, including communities, business, scientists and policymakers. This is exactly what we are doing in Zimbabwe and we definitely need to intensify this all-inclusive approach,” she said.

Aquatic animals, the mother of the nation said, encompass all faunae whose bigger part of its life is spent in water or aquatic systems and this includes aquatic mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects.

These animals, she said, play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of ecosystems which they are part of in human nutrition, culture and the national economy.

“It is not a secret that fisheries, including the kapenta industry, contribute to the country’s food security and nutrition. We recently held a quadruple commemoration of the Africa Environment Day, the World Wildlife Day, the World Meteorological Day and the International Day of Forests in Buhera. This is an indication of how Government values conservation issues and the need to involve everyone in environmental protection,” she said.

Due to the El Nino conditions which southern Africa is experiencing, the First Lady said, there was likely to be water scarcity and increased food security pressure and the plight of water-based animals had to be taken more seriously.

“Zimbabwe is not spared from the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution which is causing a reduction in the quantity and quality of natural resources. It is important to mention at this stage that these threats are global, but our country is fortunate, largely due to our robust legal and institutional framework in place for wildlife conservation.

“Most players along our wildlife chain still value the importance of wildlife, but challenges that need to be addressed still remain. As a country we believe in sustainable use of wildlife resources and that is the reason we put in place hunting and fishing regulations to ensure that such harvesting is not detrimental to the survival of the same species. Aquatic animals are vulnerable to a variety of types of pollution especially debris in water bodies, nutrients and persistent organic pollutants which degrade water quality,” she said.

The First Lady implored land use planners to consider biodiversity issues in their planning, especially where rivers and other water bodies are part of the spatial plan. Just like in many other countries, Zimbabwe still has bycatch problems which both commercial and artisanal fisheries have to address.

“We have to reduce bycatch by identifying and implementing appropriate bycatch reduction and mitigation measures for our capture fisheries. As we are nearing the completion of the review of the Parks and Wildlife Act and the Wildlife Policy, let’s take advantage of these processes to assess the efficacy of our existing legislation with regard to specific aquatic animal conservation.

Zimparks officers dance during the World Aquatic Animal day where Wildlife Ambassador First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa was the guest of honour in Harare yesterday.

“We are aware of the adverse impacts of poaching on the conservation status of aquatic animals, hence Government is making efforts to improve Zimparks’ law enforcement capacity through investing in modern wildlife conservation technologies, facilitating training of law enforcement staff, improving staff welfare and carrying out environmental education programmes,” she said.

“As we do this, we need the private sector to come on board and work with the Government,” she said.

Organised crime, the wildlife ambassador said, was one of the key enablers of poaching hence Zimbabwe collaborated with other international countries and partners in fighting transboundary wildlife crime.

As a member of the global community, she said Zimbabwe implemented resolutions and guidelines from multilateral environmental agreements such as the Sadc protocol on wildlife conservation and law enforcement, Convention on Biological Biodiversity, Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna, Convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals, agreement on the conservation of African-Eurasian migratory water birds and the United Nations framework Convention on Climate change amongst other convention where it plays a critical role in shaping global policy.

“Hippopotamuses and crocodiles are a significant contributor to the economy as they can raise significant revenue for communities, but they are also a threat in human and wildlife conflict. Government has established the human and wildlife relief fund to assist victims of wildlife hence we invite all stakeholders to contribute to the fund,” she said.

Going forward, the First Lady said there was need to expedite the development of the Fisheries Policy, develop research partnerships with academic institutions, review curricular in line with the Government’s thrust on heritage based education and to develop a national hippopotamus strategy and action plan consistent with the Sadc regional hippopotamus strategy and action plan.

“It is also very important that issues of aquatic animals be considered in land use planning at all planning levels,” she said.

Environment, Climate and Wildlife Minister, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, thanked the First Lady for reminding her ministry of the important day.

She thanked the First Lady for using her voice in advancing the interests of conservation of the country’s national heritage.

“Your Excellency, I want to give credit to you for reminding us of this day. We would like to thank you for making yourself and your voice available for use in advancing the interests of conservation of our national heritage. Without committed people like you, it will always be difficult to be heard. Your presence here amplifies our voices and allows the message to reach all audiences. We remain grateful for your leadership and guidance and will always look forward to your continued support,” she said.

She added: “I wish to inform you that my ministry is fully committed to its mandate as given by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, His Excellency, Cde E.D Mnangagwa. We fully understand the role of wildlife in the national economy and the conservation challenges we face as a country. We are committed to implement all Government programmes consistent with the country’s National Development Strategy 1, Vision 2030 and other Government directives in a timely manner.”

Minister Nyoni said her ministry had set in motion the review of the Parks and Wildlife Act, the Wildlife Policy and the establishment of the Human and Wildlife Conflict Relief Fund and all were in the final stages of completion. 

“These laws and policies would go a long way in ensuring that we fully address some of the threats our wildlife is facing. The country still faces challenges of Human Wildlife Conflict largely due to huge population levels and limited knowledge in our communities on how to deal with dangerous animals. All this is being addressed technically by our officers in the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) through massive community education programmes and capacity building programmes for our staff who deal with such issues. This particular day is very important to us because it narrows on aquatic animals, a group of animals which is often forgotten on the global stage. In Zimbabwe, we are proud of our hippos and crocodiles although unfortunately human lives have been lost to these animals. We will double our efforts in using all available tools to address these issues so that humans and wildlife live together,” she said.

Minister Nyoni noted that this season was bad for all aquatic animals due to the prevailing climate conditions.

“This means we need to engage in serious discussions on how we can save our aquatic animals as well their habitats as the environment is going to get worse as we approach the hotter months. Failure on our part to attend to such issues may result in drought induced animal fatalities especially for animals like hippos and fish. We are however extremely grateful that the Government is practically addressing food security issues in the country,” she said.

Zimparks board chair, Dr Agrippa Sora, praised the First Lady’s participation in wildlife events and also highlighted the importance of World Aquatic Animal Day commemorations.

“The 3rd of April is such an iconic day for it acknowledges and seeks to give eminence to our aquatic resources. Days such as this one not only remind us of the importance of the work that we do every day but also illuminates the support that we receive from our Government and other stakeholders. We cannot survive without water and the same is true for our many resources that require water for their survival. Zimbabwe is a biodiversity-rich country and aquatic animals constitute a significant component of such biodiversity. Aquatic species globally provide a wealth of knowledge for research and other beneficial activities of human livelihoods. 

“As the day unfolds, I am sure it will dawn on us that we have so much work to do to protect our aquatic resources. I would like to acknowledge and pause to appreciate the presence of Her Excellency the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe who serves as wildlife ambassador Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa. Her presence here is to show us how important this day is and her taking up the role of wildlife ambassador is a testament to how important the work we do is, tinokutendai Amai,” he said.

Zimparks Director-General Dr Fulton Mangwanya gave a brief on the background of the commemorations.

“The day is the brainchild of the aquatic animal law initiative and animal law clinic at Lewis and Clark Law School in the United States of America. It was first launched in 2020 and Zimbabwe has always participated in one way or the other. However, this year is the first time we celebrated it in this country in a formal way, an indication that we are willing to take advantage of every available tool to enhance our conservation efforts in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Commemorations of this nature, he said, always draw publicity and high profile audiences hence they have a wide reach where actions are taken to address issues highlighted.

“The purpose of the celebration is to raise global awareness on aquatic animals, their ecological and social, cultural and economic value as well as finding solutions to the challenges that face with the aim of improving the conservation status. It is our responsibility as Government and all the stakeholders to educate the public on aquatic animals, the significance and how to protect the same. Aquatic animals and water dependent animals live predominantly in different water forms such as seas, rivers, lakes and ponds and they require aquatic habitats for their survival,” he said.

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