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Save conservationists in quandary

Masvingo — The gazebo on a hill overlooks a jungle that stretches as far as the eye can see, giving a magnificent sunset view.

BY TATENDA CHITAGU

A few metres away, a herd of elephants, with a baby limping from being snared, troop to a drinking watering point.

For starters, the breath-taking glimpse invokes excitement as the elephants are not intimidated by the human presence. In fact, they seem to have become accustomed to the visitors.

But even though his wife is enjoying the spectacle, award-winning conservationist Clive Stockhill of Senuko Ranch seems not to take notice.

Stone-faced, with one hand supporting his head, he is lost in thought, pondering on what the future holds for him and many other conservancy owners in the world acclaimed sanctuary, which has hogged news for the past three years, all for the wrong reasons.

Two years ago, Zanu PF bigwigs invaded the conservancy armed with controversially awarded 25-year leases which were however cancelled upon the intervention of President Robert Mugabe.

These include the retired Colonel Claudius Makova, Lieutenant-Colonel David Moyo, Major-General Gibson Mashingaidze, Assistant Commissioner Connel Dube, Masvingo provincial intelligence officer Shaderick Chibaya, Major-General Engelbert Rugeje and Brigadier-General Livingstone Chineka.

The list also included the late Higher Education minister Stan Mudenge, politburo member Nelson Mawema, Lands minister Douglas Mombeshora, ex-Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke, Zanu PF central committee member Enock Porusingazi and Senator Shuvai Mahofa.

After putting up resistance, they eventually left, but not before some alleged series of game plundering through poaching.

Even Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa)-protected conservancies like Masapasi were also invaded.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZPWA) is now set to take over after declaring that the conservancy would form a park that will link up with Gonarezhou National Park.

But the Save Valley conservationists are skeptical of the authority’s capacity.

“We have no problem with ZPWA officials taking over, but the question is; how do we proceed from here? ZPWA intervention is good because it secures land use as a conservation area.

“If ZPWA plays a gatekeeper’s role, I do not mind, but we just hope and pray that Save Valley will not end up like other safaris that the ZPWA has taken over; that will be unfortunate and tragic and there is no need to repeat the same mistake. We should learn from history,” said Stockhill.

Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere could not take calls from The Standard saying he was in a meeting.

Repeated efforts to contact him drew banks last week.

Stockhill says the invasions, which started during the chaotic land invasions of 2000, as well as those by Zanu PF bigwigs, had cost them dearly as all international hunters that had made bookings cancelled them upon hearing of the disturbances, prejudicing the conservancy as well as the country of tourism revenue.

“Because of the 2000 disturbances and mainly the recent invasions by Zanu PF chefs, we lost a lot of business. All bookings were cancelled. For three years, we got no business. We have been left hanging and we are like squatters. We are about to collapse business-wise,” he said.

“We were surviving on money from hunts, but then our hunting quotas were cancelled. Up to now, we cannot meet the conservation cost. We should resort to non-consumptive tourism where tourists come and pay to view game not for hunts. Wildlife is a unique selling point.”

The conservancy owners had their hunting quotas cancelled and a few were only re-issued the licences last month — way after the preferred hunting season in winter had ended.

“Hunters wanted to come but we had no permits. They usually book in January for winter, the preferred hunting season. We only had our permits renewed two weeks ago and they expire on December 31,” said Stockhill.

Stockhill, together with his parents, were born in Zimbabwe and he is conversant in Ndebele and Shona languages.

Among the conservancies in Save Valley are Harmond, Zambezi Hunters, Humani, Makore, Savuli, Sango, Musaizi, Chishakwe, Matendere, Gunundwi, Mapare and Nyangambe.

Those protected under Bippa are Matendere (Italy), Makore (Netherlands), Chishake (South Africa), Sango (Germany) and Masapasi (South Africa).

Conservancies like Mkwasine and Chingwiti have A1 farmers who were settled there by government, thus creating human-wildlife conflict.

Stockhill said the impact of the invasions is very huge as the invaders destroyed 50% of the fence while creating snares.

“360 metres of double fencing was vandalised by the invaders. 50% of the fence was stolen and there are not even poles that still remain. While I also value humans, my point is you cannot mix humans and animals. Humans are part of the conservation strategy and they should benefit because the animals destroy their livestock and fields,” he said.

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