Across the globe, U.S. support for clearing landmines and explosive remnants of war saves lives and opens new economic opportunities for communities recovering from conflicts, but did you know that it also facilitates critical wildlife conservation? In Zimbabwe, the United States supports demining non-governmental organizations such as to clear landmines and other explosive hazards left by the Liberation War of the 1960s and 1970s.
APOPO, established in 1995, is a registered Belgian NGO and U.S. non-profit organization that has tackled both landmines and tuberculosis around the world for 20 years. In Zimbabwe, they have supported the United States in landmine clearance since 2020, playing a critical role clearing explosive hazards that threaten human security, block economic development, and impede conservation efforts. Their task: clearing approximately 7.23 million square meters (an area approximately the size of 1,351 American football fields) of the Cordon Sanitaire minefield (CORSAN) that effects the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, which runs between the Kruger National wildlife park in South Africa and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe’s Southeast Lowveld. Clearing landmines and other explosive hazards from this corridor makes the land safe for cross-border communities who seek to engage in agricultural development, promote eco-tourism, and protect wild animal migration. This effort, along with U.S.-supported conventional weapons destruction programs implemented by other NGO partners, including the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid, is making communities across Zimbabwe safer and more secure.
A Sengwe Wildlife Corridor free of mines will make the Gonarezhou National Park available to the millions of wildlife tourists who come to southern Africa and reduce the widespread harm to the vulnerable wildlife in the Gonarezhou and Kruger National Parks. The clearance of minefields not only increases Zimbabwe’s ability to conserve land and life but also contributes to regional stability.
During the Zimbabwe Liberation War from 1964 to 1979, the Rhodesian Army laid millions of landmines to create a barrier between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Today these landmines, along with explosive remnants of war from the conflict, litter the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, continuing to kill civilians and animals. The CORSAN minefield is one of the most densely laid minefields in the world with an estimated 5,500 mines per square kilometer.
Landmines are hard to find, generally stay in the ground for years, and continue to be a threat to civilians long after conflicts end. The remaining R2M2 landmines in the CORSAN minefield threaten civilians seeking water and grazing African wildlife as well as limit the expansion of safe eco-tourism into Gonarezhou National Park.
Gonarezhou means “The Place of Elephants,” a suitable name to describe one of Africa’s last great, mostly untampered, wildernesses, inhabited by herds of lions, zebras, and over 150 other mammal species. The Sengwe Wildlife Corridor connects Gonarezhou and Kruger National Parks, which are part of the larger Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) in southern Africa, spanning multiple countries. Making sure these separate preserves are safely part of the greater GLTP ensures vulnerable wildlife, like elephants, can breed and maintain healthy populations on reserves that are safe from the buried mines.
The United States, through APOPO, also funds gender diverse demining teams to clear contaminated areas in the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor and provide explosive ordnance risk education to local communities. As of 2021, APOPO had released 1.97 million square meters of land, the approximate size of Monaco, back to communities for safe use and destroyed over 6,200 landmines. In conjunction with this clearance, APOPO has delivered explosive ordnance risk education to over 6,100 members of local at-risk communities, saving lives, and increasing economic opportunity for families living in the area.
The 15,000-plus additional landmines APOPO expects to find and clear in the CORSAN minefield by 2023 will not only enable the cleared land to connect nature preserves for safe wildlife transit but also grant access to agricultural lands and enable safe passage for human populations in the area.
Opening the wildlife corridor to safe passage will allow the millions of eco-tourists on safari in Kruger National Park to safely cross into Gonarezhou National Park. This has the potential to create additional revenue that could be further invested in conservation of the beautiful ecosystems of southern Africa while also employing the local population.
The United States is dedicated to helping eradicate the threat posed by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Since 1998, the United States has invested more than $25.7 million in demining assistance to promote peace and prosperity in Zimbabwe. In addition to saving life and limb, this assistance has helped connect both civilian and animal communities whose movements were previously restricted by hidden mines. By clearing the deadly legacies of former wars, Zimbabweans are empowered to pursue economic development opportunities, advance conservation goals, and live their lives free from the threat of mines.
The United States remains the world’s largest international donor to Conventional Weapons Destruction, providing more than $4.6 billion to support humanitarian mine action, physical security and stockpile management and associated activities in over 100 countries since 1993. For more information on how the State Department is strengthening human security, facilitating economic development, and fostering stability through demining, risk education, and other conventional weapons destruction activities, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter .
About the Author: Tate Russack is an active duty Army EOD officer and recently served as a Military Advisor in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.