Vanishing forests

The dense foliage around the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is fast disappearing

Published: Sunday 31 October 1999

the dense foliage around the Hwange Victoria Falls in north western Zimbabwe may soon be relegated to history if several species of hardwoods continue to disappear at the present rate. The booming tourism trade and the subsequent sale of curios made of wood is posing a grave threat to indigenous woodlands. Aggravating the situation is the rampant illegal felling of trees that ensures a regular supply of wood all the year round.

Not all trees serve the purpose of the wood artisans. Since only a certain kind of wood is suitable for carving, the selective cutting down of trees threatens the existence of some species. Pointing to his wares, Mwape, a curio-carver from the Ndlovu Camp area of Victoria Falls, said: "Not so long ago, I used to get the wood that is used for making the tall giraffe a short distance from my home. But now, the nearest place where it is available is in the Forest Estate, across the main road from Bulawyo." This is the second largest city in Zimbabwe. Further, the felling of huge and mature trees spells two dangers: while on one hand it alters the landscape, on the other it reduces the capacity of the trees to seed and multiply. This rampant destruction of the vast tracts of forests is in need of immediate action by the authorities.

A forestry extension officer says that they have been trying for a long time to educate the carvers about the environmental problems associated with their trade. "We tell them to try using the dead trees for their curios. They instead come up with the alibi that they buy their wood from wood peddlars -- the ones who do the actual harvesting," says the officer, adding: "However, they refuse to divulge the names of the peddlars."

What escapes the attention of these carvers and those involved in the trade is that it is the pristine nature of the region -- with its virtually untouched forests and fauna -- that attract tourists, and not the wooden curios that are sold by the roadside.

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