The Herald (Harare)
Published by the government of Zimbabwe
25 April 2009
Harare — THE National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has moved in to secure a lion-breeding project in Masvingo that was abandoned by its owner three weeks ago, exposing the community around Lake Mutirikwi to attacks by the predatory felines.
There are 69 lions in the park but no attacks have been reported to date.
There were fears that the lions - bred by Mr Ronnie Sparrow at Lion Farm - would escape from their confines and threaten human life in the adjacent Chikwanda communal lands.
One of the lions recently attacked and seriously injured Mr Sparrow's child, Courtney, who was a pupil at Kyle Preparatory School. The child was airlifted to South Africa for treatment.
Mr Sparrow vanished about three weeks ago, leaving behind the lions at the near Kyle Recreational Park. His whereabouts remain a mystery although some reports suggest he is now is South Africa.
Authorities say they are keen to interview him.
Armed rangers from the Parks Authority have been seconded to Lion Farm to provide round-the-clock security amid fears that some of the lions might escape after some of the solar panels providing electrification for the perimeter fence of the cages were vandalised.
On Thursday, Environment and Natural Resources Management Minister Francis Nhema visited the farm to assess the situation first-hand.
Speaking after inspecting the lion cages, Minister Nhema hailed the Parks Authority for swiftly moving in to save the lions from starvation, adding that Government would support them in their efforts.
"However, I must stress that a person cannot just abandon animals just like that. But we will continue to make sure that the lions are fed and get the right treatment as usual. We really have the capacity to look after these lions," he said.
He said a number of options would be considered on the fate of the lions, but he did not rule out the possibility of releasing some of them into the wild.
Minister Nhema also witnessed first-hand as Parks officials went through the lions' feeding routine.
A cousin to Mr Sparrow, Mr Mark Sparrow, who arrived as Minister Nhema was inspecting the cages, could not shed light on the whereabouts of the project owner.
"I really do not know where he is, but what I know is that he wrote a letter to the Parks Authority asking for assistance to look after the lions as he was facing some problems," the cousin said.
Minister Nhema also toured Swartfontein Conservancy along the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway, where he was shown buffaloes and horses that were left by Mr Sparrow and were now under the care of the Parks Authority.
The minister was accompanied by Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Dr Morris Mtsambiwa and the director responsible for conservation, Mr Vitalis Chadenga, among other senior officials.
Parks officials are working with Mr Sparrow's employees and the Masvingo Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals branch to ensure that the lions' health does not deteriorate.
Meanwhile, a former Zimbabwe National Army officer was this week shot and killed at Kyle Recreational Park while poaching rhinos.
Stanford Machirori, who was discharged from the ZNA in 2005, was hunting the endangered species when he was intercepted by a patrol in the park.
The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said investigations had revealed that one of Machirori's two wives, Skululiwe Sibanda, joined the organisation as a student on industrial attachment from 2007 to 2008.
The authority said it strongly believed that this was done to infiltrate the system.
Investigations were still in progress to establish the identity of the other suspect who was with Machirori at the time of the shooting but who managed to escape
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