TWO Chinese companies are reportedly exploring for coal in the protected Hwange National Park, raising concerns from wildlife activists.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) rangers reportedly arrested some Chinese nationals inside the game park who were prospecting for the mineral.
The parks rangers handed them to police only to find them back on site armed with a permit to explore.
In a statement by one of the leading wildlife conservation organisations, Bhejane Trust, said SustiGlobal and Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining Group were mining in Sinamatela and Robins Camp between Hwange and Victoria Falls.
Bhejane Trust, which confirmed authoring the statement, said SustiGlobal had circulated questionnaires seeking the views of concerned stakeholders about establishing a mine in the game park.
"Our rhino monitoring team recently found some Chinese in Hwange National Park. We managed to ascertain they were drilling core samples for coal. ZimParks arrested them and took them to police.
"However, they soon reappeared with a permit giving them the right to carry on with exploratory drilling," said Bhejane Trust, which is based in Victoria Falls.
The trust said it was worried because the exploration work was being done without any consultation, as even the ZimParks area manager was not aware of the goings on.
"They seem to feel they have a right to go wherever they like to. We followed up on this and discovered the government had allocated two coal mining concessions in the middle of Sinamatela and Robins Camp.
"The mining concessions are special grants which apparently can only be issued by the President and both have been granted to Chinese companies. A company called SustiGlobal has subsequently sent us stakeholders questionnaire forms.
"One map shows the coal mining concession SG7263 that incorporates Deteema Dam and Masuma Dam issued to a company called Afrochine Energy of the Tsingashan Group of China.
"The other concession SG5756 granted to the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining Group has also contracted SustiGlobal to do an EIA [environmental impact assessment] again with an undated stakeholders' questionnaire and again to cover initial exploratory drilling and opening of roads, building camps.
"However, they have started exploratory work in the park," Bhejane Trust added.
The questionnaires are reportedly for an EIA for the concessions, but only to cover the initial exploratory drilling and opening of roads, building camps.
Bhejane Trust said their findings were that the concessions were granted late last year and was not sure if the EIA certificate had been granted.
"We are not certain to who else the questionnaires have been sent and the questionnaires are not dated. Bhejane Trust has responded to the questionnaire and waits to hear from SustiGlobal. We will be ready to support ZimParks where required," read the statement.
The issue has raised emotions in Hwange where residents, tour operators and wildlife activists have vowed to block any mining in the national parks to protect wildlife.
Several coal mines operated by Chinese have opened in Hwange around the Hwange Colliery Company concession over the years.