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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Clearing Decades-Old Landmines Will Protect Endangered Elephants, Lions And Local Communities

Press Release – Harare, Zimbabwe — APOPO, the charity famed for its use of specially trained rats in landmine and tuberculosis detection, is proud to announce it will begin clearing landmines in Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife conservation area and important elephant migration area, coinciding with new beginnings in the country.

APOPO has been tasked by the Zimbabwean Ministry of Defence with clearing the deadly landmines inside what is now the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) – the largest conservation area in the world, spanning South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The four-decades old landmines cause a serious threat to already endangered wildlife such as elephants and lions, as well as to local communities who desperately need the land for grazing and agriculture.

Laid along the Mozambique border by the Rhodesian army during the war of independence in the 1970s, the landmines represent a remnant of a troubled time.

“Robert Mugabe’s resignation after four decades of rule now marks the beginning of a new era for Zimbabwe,” said Christophe Cox, CEO of APOPO. “It is time to move forward and remove these dangerous explosives from the country.”

APOPO has been tasked by the Zimbabwean Ministry of Defence with clearing the deadly landmines inside what is now the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) – the largest conservation area in the world, spanning South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The four-decades old landmines cause a serious threat to already endangered wildlife such as elephants and lions, as well as to local communities who desperately need the land for grazing and agriculture.

Landmines and wildlife do not mix. Animals can wander into mined areas, triggering explosives that result in the loss of a limb followed by a slow, painful death. The minefield has one of the highest landmine densities in the world—about 5,500 mines per kilometer—making any movement in the region treacherous. Home to thousands of elephants, studies suggest that this huge lethal barrier is preventing traffic across the divide and may have a long-term impact on the gene pool of species.

Meanwhile communities that live in proximity of the minefield have suffered four decades of fear and terror, unable to safely access vital resources such as water, much needed grazing lands, and cross-border trading routes. Many human lives and limbs have been lost and injury to livestock still occurs regularly.

Clearing the landmines will also open new economic opportunities for the region as safari operators and lucrative, conservation-focused ecotourism will be able to operate for the first time. Kruger National Park in neighboring South Africa receives over 1.5 million tourists a year, which could potentially travel up the Sengwe Corridor and into Gonarezhou National Park without requiring a visa or leaving the conservation area. Currently Gonarezhou National Park receives virtually no international tourists.

“We are proud to be able to help Zimbabwe rid itself of these mines during an incredibly important period in the nation’s history,” Cox said. “We saw this approach work in Mozambique, which is now mine-free, and believe we can help accomplish the same in Zimbabwe.”

APOPO will begin the project using conventional demining methods (survey, metal detectors and machines) and aim to bring in the mine detection rats at a later stage after government approval.

APOPO Zimbabwe is partnered by the Zimbabwean Ministry of Defence and sponsored by the Players of the Postcode Lottery UK and the Nationale Postcode Loterij.

ABOUT APOPO

APOPO is an award-winning, non-profit international NGO that has developed an innovative method deploying African giant pouched rats, nicknamed “HeroRATs”, to detect landmines and tuberculosis using their extraordinary sense of smell. APOPO’s headquarters, training and research center is based in Morogoro, Tanzania and the HeroRATs detect tuberculosis in Tanzania, Mozambique, and soon Ethiopia.

Harnessing the highly attuned sense of smell in the African giant pouched rat, APOPO has spent the last two decades training these affectionate rodents in detecting two of the deadliest threats on the planet: landmines and tuberculosis.

For 20 years, APOPO (which stands for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling in Dutch, or Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development) has faced the landmine issue in seven countries, including Cambodia, Angola and, notably, Mozambique, where it played a key role in the country achieving ‘mine-free’ status in 2015.

The HeroRATs have helped clear over 106,000 landmines, identified over 12,000 TB-Positive patients who were missed by their clinics, and prevented almost 90,000 potential infections of tuberculosis – today’s biggest infectious disease global killer.

The Next 20 Years:

Twenty years after the Ottawa landmine treaty was signed, there is still work to be done. To this day, 58 countries are still plagued by as many as 110 million landmines buried in the ground. However, global financial support for mine clearance is declining, necessitating a faster way to find the landmines. APOPO’s goal is to become the go-to resource in accelerating the pace of landmine clearance as the world races to accomplish the Ottawa Treaty target of eliminating all landmines by 2025. In order to do this, APOPO’s HeroRATs could be the key to speeding up the decades long process.

“When we launched APOPO, the common view was that it would take another 500 years to clear all landmines from the Earth’s surface,” APOPO CEO Christophe Cox said. “Twenty years later, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and if the international community fully supports the collaboration of all demining operators, we could clear the remaining minefields by the 2025 mine ban treaty deadline.

About the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP)

The GLTP is part of a bold African vision to combine three of the world’s most unique national parks by removing all human barriers within the area so that animals and tourists can roam freely within the huge ecosystem. The GLTP aims to establish large areas for conservation by integrating vast landscapes and re-connecting ecological systems as well as deploying conservation as a land-use option. Local communities will then gain from ecotourism and peace and stability brought to the region through cross-border tourism. The initiative constitutes some of the most exciting and ambitious conservation projects in the world today.

The minefield lies just south of Gonarezhou National Park in a location known as the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, an area specifically designated to allow for the free movement of wildlife between Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe.


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