Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Wildlife farmers raise the alarm

Wildlife farmers raise the alarm

Tabitha Mutenga Staff Reporter


CONSERVATIONISTS have warned that Zim­babwe’s wildlife numbers have dropped to such low levels that the country’s tourism in­dustry was now under threat.

Chaos at the country’s privately owned wildlife conservancies has resulted in Zimbabwe losing more than $10 billion in potential revenue over the past de­cade or so at the many sanctuaries across the country.


 “The conservancies that were invaded by AI set­tlers lost all their wildlife,” former wildlife owner Darryl Collette told The Financial Gazette recently.


 Conservancies such as Save, Bubiana, Chiredzi River, Malilangwe and Bubye Valley in south eastern Zimbabwe that were established after cattle ranch­ers amalgamated their properties to form vast areas of wildlife habitat prior to the 2000 land reform pro­gramme and were part of the country’s top foreign currency earners, have been systematically decimated of their wildlife.


The number of wild animals in game parks and pri­vately owned conservancies has been drastically de­pleted, exposing the backbone of the southern African nation’s tourism sector.


Before 2000, landowners were given private own­ership of the wildlife on their land, resulting in ma­jor growth of the safari hunting industry. However, post-2000, owners lost their titles and government took over the land and gave it to landless indigenous farmers who introduced crop farming and livestock in the wildlife protected areas.


 Bulawayo South legislature Eddie Cross estimates that the country should easily be earning over $1 bil­lion dollars annually.


 “Potential revenue would certainly run lo more than a $1 billion a year — bigger than tobacco. It is also a labour intensive business, creating employment opportunities. In Botswana it employs nearly 200 000 people.


“Zimbabwe is probably the ‘Hunting Capital’ of Africa and it is difficult to separate the tourism part from the hunting, but total earnings must run to sever­al hundred million dollars a year. I would estimate that it probably constitutes half our earnings from tourism. The average hum in a conservancy would cost about $2 000 a day plus fees for the species being hunted,” Cross said, emphasising that for Zimbabwe to earn the $1 billion in revenue, the rule of law had to prevail.


 A wildlife owner, who declined to be named, said the main value of wildlife is in the trophy hunting or ecotourism, meaning that harvesting for meat must be sustainable.


“However, the first thing that most of the new re­settled farmers did was to harvest animals for meat sales and very few have adequate protection in the form of active game scouts on patrol 24/7, cattle/goats are also competing for water and grazing and most of the plots/farms are overstocked and therefore no lon­ger suitable for decent wildlife populations,” he said.


While Zimbabwe has received widespread con­demnation for the impact of poaching on wildlife, few reports have documented the full extent of the damage    on both private and public land. Evidence on the ground indicates that several privately-owned conservancies have been poached empty.


Pre-2000 the Bubiana Conservancy, which sits on more than 80 000 hectares, was developed to a point where it was considered to be a prime destination for both foreign and domestic tourists, enjoying abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery.


“The tourists were catered for in hunting, fishing and photographic lodges. It is estimated that the combined effort (of Bubiana) generated in excess of $1,5 million for the economy of the province and the nation,” former Mjingwe Ranch  owner Darryl Collett told The Financial Gazette.


Bubiana, which lost 91 percent of its land to resettlement farmers, was said to have a wildlife population that included 600 giraffe, 2 941 wildebeest, 1 760 zebra, 1 100 impala, 2 354 kudu, 1 760 waterbuck, 400 sable and viable populations of black rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard.        


“Agriculture and domesticated livestock farming in the greater conservancy has resulted in the de­struction of wildlife habitat. This, coupled with wire snares, dogs and spears decimated all the wildlife,” he added.


 Before the land invasions, Bubiana Conservancy was considered extremely viable, achieving an admi­rable annual growth rate in income and job opportu­nities.


 Around 2012, the Ministry of Environment under Saviour Kasukuwere issued 25-year leases to many high ranking officials for most of the wildlife ranch­es in Masvingo province, including what was left of Bubiana and Save conservancies.


These leases were discovered to be fraudulent and were later cancelled, but not before a great deal of damage had been done. In our case (Mjingwe Ranch) the claimants to the leas­es attempted to have us evicted through the courts. This would probably have worked had it not been for the timeous cancellation of the leases.


“In the meantime, working with Chiefs Mazetese and Maranda, we made many visits to Harare in an attempt to rectify the harm that had been done. Sadly, all our en­deavours came to naught. This so, and while we continued to occupy the land with the blessing of the communities and chiefs who, despite all their efforts to correct the matter, National Parks simply withheld our quo­ta and permits to hunt. For three years, we were unable to market or sell our wildlife produce and hence had no income,” Collett explained.


In 2016, the Collett family voluntarily vacated the ranch and what is left of the wildlife is unknown.


“Government’s response has been com­plete silence, which means that they are complicit and therefore responsible for the destruction, not only of Mjingwe, but all of the Bubiana Conservancy,” Collett added.







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