SELEBI-PHIKWE: The Department of Forestry and Range Resources here, has this year experienced an overwhelming number of phane harvesters thronging the Bobirwa area to harvest mophane worms.
Last week Friday alone, the office issued over 800 permits having opened the office around 5am. There was stampede by the office’s entrance on Monday as some phane or caterpillar harvesters arrived as early as 2am so that they can be the first to be assisted.
This led to an accident in which one phane trader was hit by a passing vehicle and was hospitalised. Heavily loaded vehicles of people going to camp in the bushes had lumped around the area even obstructing the road users. As it got hotter, harvesters pushed the gate to force entry.
The department official, Julius Modikwa said they had intended to start the phane harvest season on December 20, but they were compelled by the pressure from the huge numbers of those who are already harvesting phane without permits.
He said the period from December 20 to January was to enable the edible worms to grow to desirable size, but harvesters have already started harvesting immature worms. He said some even go to the extent of even unearthing the larvae and feared that this could lead to the worms becoming extinct.
He said last week alone, eight harvesters got lost in the bushes but were found. Currently, the search is ongoing for one harvester, a Zimbabwean national. The Tsetsebjwe Clinic has so far registered eight cases of snakebites by phane harvesters.
Modikwa said his department is continuing to do all it can to control phane harvesting and said they hold regular meetings with harvesters in the bush to sensitise them on the importance of compliance with the harvest
He added that the problem emanates from commercial phane traders who trade in bulk mophane worms as they mobilise innocent people and ferry them to the bushes.
“In most cases those harvesters to not have sufficient provisions to sustain them for the whole period they will be in the bushes,” he said.
Modikwa said this also causes harm to the environment. He said this season phane is only found in the greater Bobirwa area of Seokeng, Ilibi and Thune dam area. He added that some have come from as far as the North East and the southern parts of the country to harvest phane.
Modikwa noted that despite the numbers that have descended on the area to harvest phane, the worms are very few and still small in size.
“This year we are going to be very strict on compliance to the regulations and those who harvest without permits will be duly charged. Last year we did not confiscate phane from those who harvested illegally but this time we are going to be strict,” he said.
He added that they are working hand in hand with the relevant departments to ensure compliance and said officers will be stationed by the disease control entrances to check permits or issue charges.
Though he is positive that harvesting of mophane worms can be controlled he expressed the need for government to be strict on the gazzeting of the harvesting season as this could preserve the worms.