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Zimbabwe UNESCO Site Eyed for Oil

FILE: Elephants are seen in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, in the Hurungwe district of Zimbabwe, May 2021. The country's elephant population has grown in recent years, climbing to 100 000. But now, the park may be opened to oil.

HARARE - A pristine wildlife habitat in Zimbabwe designated as a World Heritage Site by the U.N. is being eyed for oil and gas exploration by a mining firm, official documents released Tuesday show.

Zimbabwe company Shalom Mining has applied for a prospecting license in the northern Mana Pools National Park, a tourist magnet near the Zambian border, according to a notice published in the government gazette.

"The applicant intends to prospect for petroleum oil and natural gas within the area," the notice says.

Mana Pools, a 6,766-square kilometre reserve famed for breath-taking landscape and rich fauna, is listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations' cultural agency (UNESCO).

The agency describes "great cliffs" that overhang the Zambezi River, and a reserve home to "a remarkable concentration of wild animals", including elephants, buffalo, leopards, cheetahs and Nile crocodiles.

Prospecting activities risk scaring away tourists and pushing wild animals into nearby villages, leading environmentalist Farai Maguwu told AFP.

The project was against Zimbabwe's "national interest," he added.

"I'm very shocked that they have even considered to accept that application," Maguwu said by phone.

Objections to Shalom Mining's application need to be filed to a government mining board by May 19, the gazette notice says.