Zimbabwe Bird Sanctuary has 400 species, which are not enough tourists

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Harare, Zimbabwe: A fish eagle swoops into the water to catch a fish in its locks and then flies into its nest.
Nearby are a martial eagle, a black eagle, an Egyptian vulture and hundreds of other birds. With an estimated 400 species of birds at a delightful site in Lake Chivero, Zimbabwe, about 40 kilometers (25 mi) south of Harmare, the Kuimba Shiri Bird Sanctuary has been attracting tourists for over 15 years.
The only bird park in the southern African country has survived several times, including violent land invasions and devastating economic collapse, but the coronavirus outbreak is proving to be a rigorous test.
“I felt I had survived the worst, but this coronovirus is something else,” owner Gary Strafford said. “One-third of our visitors are from China. They stopped coming in February and when we stopped in March, it was incredible.”
A lifetime bird enthusiast, 62-year-old Strafford founded the Center for Injured, Orphaned and Abandoned Birds in 1992 and tourism has kept the park operational.
With Zimbabwe’s inflation exceeding 750%, tourism establishments are reeling from a worsening economic downturn with new coronovirus travel restrictions.
Tourism of Zimbabwe was already facing problems. According to official figures, the country recorded just over 2 million visitors in 2019, an 11% decrease from the previous year. However, tourism remained one of the country’s largest foreign exchange earners, along with minerals and tobacco.
Now, the country’s National Parks Agency spokesperson Tinashe Faravo said, “Tourism is dead due to coronovirus.” National parks and other animal sanctuaries such as Kuimba Shiri are battling to stay, he said.
we are in trouble. We all have been relying on tourism for our protection, what do we do now? He asked.
Kuimba Shiri, meaning bird song in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, was closed for more than three months. It is located in one of the longest-term bird sanctuaries, one of the protected global sites under the United Nations Convention on Wetlands, has been closed.
On a recent weekday, the only sound of life was the singing of birds tied to the sides of large enclosures, usually at a place where children accompanied them on school trips. Lahore grazed on grass and weeds on horses, zebras and sheep.
A parrot standing on a flower pot at the entrance repeatedly shouted “Hello!”
“He misses the people, especially the children,” said Streford, who founded Kuimba Shiri on a 30-acre site on Chivero, Harare’s main reservoir. It is now home to many rare species including falcons, flamingos and vultures.
“This place is a dream place for me,” he said.
The situation worsened when the then president, the late Robert Mugabe, carried out a once-violent land redistribution program, in which farms owned by whites were confiscated in 2000 for redistribution to landless blacks.
Strafford said the animal sanctuaries were not spared and Kumba Shiri was targeted “30 to 40 times”. Eventually, the sanctuary was supported by Mugabe and returned to a measure of stability.
According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2009, Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in the form of hyperinflation. Struggled to complete the sanctuary. Many birds were put to death, while those who could fight for themselves were released into the forest.
“We sold our vehicles and a tractor to feed the birds. When it got really desperate we had to kill our horses,” he said.
Now, a decade later, Strafford is again being forced to sell some items as coronaviruses and a new economic crisis takes its toll. A land digger, a boat, a truck, a tractor and sheep are among the items he hopes to sell immediately.
But there is some hope. As Zimbabwe relaxes its restrictions, the sanctuary is now open to a limited number of visitors.
On a recent weekend, Strafford showcased his trained hawk and other raptor talents in a small group for the first time since March.
Strafford enthusiastically described the various symptoms of birds and supervised as a barn owl on the gloved hand of a 5-year-old boy.
“Everything got to start anew,” he said after the show. “I have started training the birds again. We are flying again!”

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