Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Elephant crisis situation in Zimbabwe escalates


30 September 2011

Elephant crisis situation in Zimbabwe escalates

Urgent intervention needed as authorities threaten to shoot them

Escalating land invasions in Zimbabwe are taking their toll on the country’s already decimated wildlife and a herd of 70 elephants on the Chiredzi River Conservancy (CRC) in the south eastern lowveld, close to Gona re Zhou National Park, is under serious threat.

The nucleus of this remarkable herd originated from Gona re Zhou, (place of the elephant) National Park’s conservation programme initiated in 1991/2 when there was an exceptionally severe drought in the lowveld and their elephants were dying. The translocation was sponsored by US Fisheries and Wildlife.

The CRC purchased juveniles and, as they were in a very poor condition, they were kept in bomas. Once stabilized and settled, they were released into the conservancy where they grew up and bred under ideal conditions. Among the current herd are numerous vulnerable youngsters.

As a result of their strong bond with the owners of CRC, the elephants are familiar with people and are quite placid. However, the onslaught of the invaders, who are destroying their territory and forcing them into ever smaller areas of the conservancy, is putting them under severe stress.

One of the problems is the invasion of their water sources. An adult elephant requires more than 190 litres of drinking water on a daily basis, and even higher quantities during the intense heat of the lowveld in mid-summer. Water is also very important for hygiene and wallowing, a time when the adults and youngsters play together.

The tranquil pools below the conservancy’s dams have been polluted by the invaders who wash their clothes in the water and drive their livestock down to drink, causing the mud to be churned up. The pools now reek with a bad odour and the water has become undrinkable for the elephants.

Wherever they go, the elephants are being harassed by the invaders. When they walk along the Mungwezi River to the two dams to the north, containing drinkable water, they are chased by a hostile group with dogs and burning logs, and their cries of distress echo across the reserve. They usually have to turn back as they are prevented from going to the dams to drink and are afraid of the threatening mob.

During this month (September), desperation for water resulted in the herd straying out of their normal territory, along the Mungwezi River, south of where they feel safe, into a resettled part of the conservancy, the Mugwezi Ranch area, where the bulls destroyed teachers’ houses.

Their unusual behaviour is attributed to the human disturbance and encroachment into their safe areas, where their natural habitat is being destroyed by the new invasions.

Consequently, the Mugwezi residents have expressed concern about their personal safety. Threats have been made to shoot the elephants or even poison them if the situation is not controlled.

Barry Style, vice chairman of the Chiredzi River Conservancy, has explained that it would be a fruitless exercise to shoot an elephant unless that individual was caught in the act of damaging property. While it is probable that bull elephants are causing the problems he said, it would not be possible to identify the particular culprits from a herd of more than 60 animals.

He cited a similar incident where the Eaglemont community requested the shooting of elephants earlier in the year, a request that was denied by Environment Minister Francis Nhema, who acknowledges their important role in tourism and the environment.

“I do not believe that by shooting one or two elephants, that the problem will be solved,” said Style. “On the contrary, this would likely cause the animals more alarm, confusion and aggression, thus posing an even greater threat to human life.”

Style advised that the most practical solution would be for the authorities to try to discourage further human disturbance in the elephants’ residential territory in the Wasara, Oscro and Rukatya, area there they have taken refuge.

“I am confident that, if they are given a large enough area in which to seek solitude, food and water, the elephants will refrain from wandering into villages and plundering homes and property.”

Style said he had appealed to the district administrator to reconsider the proposed resettlement of Oscro as this would have a detrimental effect on the remaining wildlife population in the conservancy and would naturally fuel the elephants’ aggressive and destructive behaviour towards people.

There is great concern because experience has shown that, once conservancies are taken over by people with no experience of – or interest in the wildlife industry, poaching increases rapidly. Furthermore, subsistence farming is not viable on land that is unsuitable for agriculture and is located in low rainfall, drought prone areas.

The damage currently being caused to the Chiredzi River Conservancy, and other conservation areas, is escalating out of control. The rapid clearing of areas is causing immediate degradation of the environment and, with the onset of the rains, severe sheet erosion which destroys the irreplaceable topsoil.

During the deforestation process, trees that have taken decades to grow, including hardwoods which may be more than a hundred years old, are chopped down and burnt where they fall. The Mopani forests are being cut for firewood, to be sold to the urban areas. There is no thought or planning for the ecosystem or for the future.

Once the areas are cleared of the scrub and big trees, they get set alight to facilitate the clearing for cropping areas. The fires are set but not controlled and vast areas go up in smoke causing unnecessary damage to the environment and killing anything in their path that cannot escape fast enough.

The dramatic upscaling of poaching is decimating the wildlife. The invaders hunt with half-starved dogs or trap the game with snares, causing terrible pain and inflicting lingering deaths. Recent reports of the poisoning of animals and water sources are of mounting concern to conservationists.

Predators within the conservancy boundaries are also poisoned or snared. Due to the reduction of wildlife and natural prey, they often resort to killing domestic livestock to enable them to survive.

Reports have come in today (29 September) of an increase in the invasions and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. While the pressure on the conservancy owners, their game guards, the wildlife and the environment continues to mount, the authorities are doing nothing to stop the invasions.

The situation for the elephants looks bleak unless there is an immediate response to their plight and to the invasions of the Chiredzi River Conservancy.

What are the long-term solutions?

The issues need to be addressed urgently at ground level.

First of all, the authorities need to move the invaders to suitable agricultural areas where they can make a living from the land and no longer rely on food aid, poaching or cutting down trees to sell for firewood.

Organisations such as Foundations for Farming, a remarkable Zimbabwean success story, could provide conservation agriculture training. The founder, Brian Oldreive, has already provided thousands of aspiring farmers with expertise, teaching them a revolutionary method of using the land to achieve significant crop yields.

Free courses are conducted across the country teach untrained or uneducated farmers to obtain a potential turnover of at least US$11,000 per season even with the smallest piece of land.

Secondly, the Chiredzi River Conservancy needs funding to employ more patrol staff to monitor the area and protect the animals from poaching.

Thirdly, government needs to pass a law that would protect conservancies under the Tourism Act, and would not allow land to be invaded or claimed.

Charles Taffs, president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, is calling for urgent action to save the Chiredzi River Conservancy elephant herd and the future of this and other conservancies across Zimbabwe.

Agriculture, tourism and mining were the three pillars of the Zimbabwean economy prior to the land invasions in 2000, but both agriculture and tourism have been decimated,” he said.

While World Tourism Day was celebrated internationally this week, Zimbabwe has nothing to celebrate.

“In 1999, our country recorded more than 1.4 million visitors,” said Taffs. Due to the political instability, the numbers had dropped by 75 percent in 2008 to just 223 000. Today there are virtually no tourists in the conservancies because they are aware of the violence-ridden invasions and the destruction of our once prized game.

“The coalition government cannot allow the lawlessness and destruction of Zimbabwe’s heritage, our future and that of our children to continue. It is critical that they now take a stand, resolve the escalating crisis and restore the rule of law.

“The conservancies and Commercial Farmers’ Union will provide support and assist with new initiatives but we cannot do this until the government has intervened,” he concluded.”


Readers can help the Chiredzi River Conservancy elephants by going to the website which is running a competition where the project with the highest number of public votes will win a grant. This would help the conservancy to protect its elephant herd from being poached or poisoned until an urgent solution is found.



Elephants and herd interaction at the Chiredzi River Conservancy:

Elephants at the waterhole as well as poached elephants at the Chiredzi River Conservancy:

For further information:

Charles Taffs


Commercial Farmers’ Union (Zimbabwe)

Tel: +263 4 309 800

Cell: +263 772 284 847

E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]

Submitted by:

Glyn Hunter (Mrs)

Glyn Hunter International

Tel: +27 31 572 2668

Fax: +27 31 562 8227

E-mail: [email protected]


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