Zimbabwe group tries to stop Chinese coal mine in game park

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FILE In this Sunday Nov. 10, 2019 file photo a herd of elephants make their way through the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, in search of water. An environmental group in Zimbabwe has applied to the country's High Court Tuesday Sept. 8, 2020, to stop a Chinese firm from mining coal in the park which hosts one of Africa's largest populations of elephants. (AP Photo/File)

HARARE – An environmental group in Zimbabwe has applied to the country’s High Court to stop a Chinese firm from mining coal in Hwange National Park, which hosts one of Africa’s largest populations of elephants.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association argues that the creation of a coal mine in the park by the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Mining Group Tongmao Coal Company (Pvt) Ltd would cause “devastating” ecological degradation and force wildlife to flee.

The mining may cause a decline in tourism and decrease the incomes of local residents who rely on it for income, while poaching and conflict between people and wildlife could increase, the organization argued.

More than 45,000 elephants are estimated to live in Hwange park along with more than 100 mammal and 400 bird species, including buffalos, leopards, and lions, that are already struggling for food and water in the vast savannah due to a prolonged drought.

The mining license was granted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government to the Chinese firm in February, 2019, and the firm has started exploratory work in the park, according to Bhejane Trust, a wildlife conservation organization which works in the park in partnership with the national parks agency.

Drilling, land clearance, road-building and geological surveys related to the planned coal mining project inside the park, which sprawls for more than 14,500 square kilometers (5,600 square miles), pose a threat to the reserve, the organization said in its application filed this week.

“There is acute risk of irreversible ecological degradation including unmitigated loss of animal and vegetative species, reduction of animal habitats of many rare species including black rhino, pangolin, elephant, and wild (painted) dogs,” said the organization.

The mine is planned to cover 105 square kilometers (40.54 square miles) in the Sinematella Camp area of Hwange park, according to court papers. The area is “one of the two only heavily wooded segments of the National Park comprising of mineral springs, salt springs, thermal springs, ecologically active waterholes, various dams and pans,” said the document. The mine may pollute the water sources in a perennially dry area of the park, said the document.