Leonard Ncube Victoria Falls Reporter
Africa Albida Tourism (AAT), a local tourism company, has unveiled plans to set up an $18 million recreational park in Victoria Falls, which is likely to create hundreds of jobs and boost tourism arrivals by more than 100,000 tourists annually.The tourism company has already engaged Black Crystal Consulting to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment but resistance from tour operators led to the consultant suspending the EIA process last week.
The initial stages of the project immediately drew the ire of tour operators who have said Victoria Falls doesn’t want a zoo because it is in a game park.
AAT chairman, Dave Glynn told The Chronicle yesterday that their plan was to establish a historical and wildlife park on an 80 acre piece of land adjacent to Victoria Falls Safari Lodge-one of their chain facilities.
“We are not planning to build a zoo like what people have been told. In fact we have big plans for Victoria Falls. Our main emphasis is providing history that tells the story of Victoria Falls from the dinosaur era, including that of Great Zimbabwe, all in one place,” he said.
The proposed $18 million park to be named Santonga Park, is expected to be the biggest private investment in the tourism hub in over a decade, according to AAT.
Glynn said the park would bring three dimensions to the resort town; history, nature and culture including flora and fauna. There have been concerns that AAT’s plans would result in caging of animals albeit in a national park where they should roam freely.
Glynn said: “We are consulting widely with wildlife experts. No cages and boxes as wildlife will roam freely. We will manipulate vegetation with only indigenous plant material to feed various species and to bring a wide range of bird life and use water barriers where necessary. We want it to appear to the visitor as if there are no fences at all and the perimeter fence will be almost invisible.
He said Santonga is a great opportunity to spread conservation and education awareness. Glynn said the project will attract 120, 000 tourists annually and create 1,500 jobs.
Added Glynn: “We are so far away from making final plans. We got part of initial start-up capital and we are starting to implement research after being told the EIA will take four months. This resistance is just talk because there has been misinformation. The consultant was not conducting an EIA but was meeting selected technical people such as Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Environmental Management Authority and council.”
Tour operators and residents quickly labelled the project a negative development that would cause a decline in the number of tourists by commercialising the natural resort.
This followed a “nicodemous” visit to Victoria Falls to carry out an EIA last week.
President of the Tour and Safari Operators of the Leisure Tourism Industry, Clement Mukwasi said the project was not acceptable.
“Victoria Falls doesn’t need a zoo by whatever name whether a theme park or anything. We are in a national park and no specie is under threat of extinction that they would want to cage it. We sell our destination as a natural habitat and our crop of tourists are mainly internationals who have zoos in their countries. They come to Africa to have game drives and view wildlife in its natural habitat,” said Mukwasi.
He said if allowed to sail through, the project would as well be in violation of provisions of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) which Zimbabwe is a signatory to.
“This might cause tourists to stop coming, especially those sensitive to animal rights. Besides the immorality of it, separating animals from their families, the place they want to establish their park is a corridor for all animals going down from the park to Zambezi River and that may lead to human-wildlife conflict,” said Mukwasi.
He called for a legal engagement of residents and operators concerned.
“The legal platform for engagement is an EIA which has not been done. They tried to nicodemously do an EIA without following procedure and we are sceptical of their intentions. We feel government might have been made to think that Victoria Falls community have acceded to the project which is not correct.
“We want them to come and engage all experts where everyone can air their views. Yes, they say this will create employment but we want engagement first. AAT should show authorisation from council because we suspect they don’t even have the $18 million,” said Mukwasi.
Others argued the project is meant to benefit Victoria Falls Safari Lodge as a breeding park for their game meat supplies.