A herd of 70 elephant living in the Chiredzi River Conservancy (CRC), in Zimbabwe’s south-eastern lowveld, is under threat from communities who settled on the conservancy since 2000 as part of the country’s fast-track land reform programme.
So reported Charles Taffs, president of Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmer’s Union (CFU). In September, some of the bulls destroyed teachers’ houses in the resettled Mugwezi Ranch part of the CRC, allegedly resulting in threats to shoot and poison the elephant.
The CFU represents several conservancy owners whose land has been settled, with its wildlife subsequently destroyed. Taffs said the CRC is classified as Region 5, or arid and unsuitable for farming.
“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,” he said.
Vitalis Chadenga, director-general of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, confirmed that the CRC “is settled by beneficiaries who were allocated plots in the context of the country’s Land Reform Programme. It is also true that the initial phase of the resettlement programme witnessed severe rates of resource degradation and poaching.”
Chadenga puts this down to “a perception that (the) wildlife resource, which is a public asset, was a preserve of a few with the majority receiving little or no meaningful benefits.” He claims that government outreach programmes “have resulted in a significant decrease in poaching and greater appreciation of the role of wildlife as a legitimate land use option.”
Non-governmental conservationists, by contrast, are looking seriously at translocating the animals to ensure their survival. “We have somewhere for them to go, but the cost of the translocation is our biggest problem,” said a source. Taffs argued that it would be far less expensive, and in the national interest, to simply remove the “invaders”.
“In 1999, our country recorded more than 1,4 million visitors but 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,” he said. – Sean Christie