Zimbabwe has banned mining in its national parks in response to protests after permits to explore for coal in one of the world’s premier elephant reserves were awarded to Chinese companies.
The permits in the Hwange National Park were allegedly awarded without the requisite environmental permissions, according to a court case filed by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association.
“All special grants held in national parks will be canceled,” Winston Chitando, Zimbabwe’s mines minister, told reporters late on Tuesday.
Hwange, a little bigger than Connecticut, is home to about 50,000 elephants as well as endangered species such as black rhinos and African wild dogs. The park, in north-western Zimbabwe, forms part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area which spans the borders of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia and contains about half the world’s elephants.
In addition to the legal challenge, the permits attracted social media backlash spearheaded by Explore Hwange, a group that represents the tourism industry that made a direct appeal to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to halt the mining.
“Please choose to protect this place where elephants gather to drink,” Blessing Munyenyiwa, said in a video posted to facebook on behalf of the group. “Only you have this power,” he said while draped in a Zimbabwe flag against a backdrop of gamboling elephants, buffaloes and zebras.