WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IN ZIMBABWE – THE ROLE OF THE HUNTING INDUSTRY
October 2015, Volume 13-5

The demise of Cecil has brought the hunting industry in Zimbabwe sharply into focus. There is a lot of hype, highly charged emotional anti-hunter outbursts, defensive statements from hunters, and a very worried Zimbabwe National Parks looking on. However, one must remember the reality that this is Africa and we do not have the luxury of being philanthropic – we operate under the statement “use it or lose it”! For conservationists, our principle concern is the survival of as much of our natural heritage as possible under what can be difficult circumstance at times.

In Zimbabwe, hunting has a very important role to play in wildlife conservation. One needs to understand the land categories, what happens in these categories, and what the future is for them. There are four categories of land involved in wildlife in Zimbabwe:

  1. National Parks – administered by National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (PWMA). These include Hwange, Zambezi, Mana Pools and Gona re Zhou. These areas are set aside as wildlife preserves, where wildlife should be strictly protected. Commercial operations here are confined to the non-consumptive market. There are several NGO’s working with National Parks in various of these Parks, and they currently do not appear to face any major threat, with the exception of Chizarira.
  2. Safari Areas – there are vast wildlife areas, administered by PWMA, and include Deka Safari Area, Matetsi Units, Chewore, Chirisa, Chete, Sapi, Nykasanga, Makuti, Tuli and others. These areas comprise a big chunk of Parks estate, and they primarily have hunting safaris on them. Forestry areas could also be included in this category.
  3. Communal Lands – generally heavily populated with limited, if any, resident wildlife (some exceptions where hunting operators have created reserves within the communal areas in cooperation with locals). Generally wildlife confined to elephant and lion, which come in from neighboring National Parks.
  4. Private Land – excluding the conservancies, most wildlife wiped out from private land after 2000. Some private land still trying to conduct safaris, but have very limited wildlife left

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority are an autonomous body, and have to raise their own revenues to fund their operations. This puts them under extreme pressure, and hunting revenues comprise a large part of their budget – they cannot afford to lose this revenue unless a guaranteed revenue stream replaces it. With this in mind, one needs to look at what the future holds for the Parks estate:

1. National Parks – they hopefully will thrive, as tourism to Zimbabwe increases, and with Parks getting support from the NGO’s, private sector and photo operators – this especially relates to Hwange, Matopos, Gona re Zhou, Matusadona and Mana Pools. A serious worry is Chizarira National Park, which has had its wildlife all but wiped out from poaching, and there is a desperate need for help here.

2.  Safari Areas – these rely on hunting revenues, and are currently severely threatened – not by the hunters, but by the possibility of a lack of hunters! This might sound very contradictory, but one has to be totally realistic. Hunting contributes I believe over $18 million a year to Parks budget, which keeps Parks on the ground in these areas. The presence of hunters is also a deterrent. Take away the hunters and the revenue to Parks, and Parks will no longer be able to protect these areas – they will effectively be written off,       and the surrounding communities will descend on them with snare lines, dogs, weapons and whatever – this sounds like a doomsday scenario, and it is! It has already happened in Zimbabwe – Chete and Chirisa Safari Areas have been wiped out by poachers already, and have land invaders moved in.

a) A summary of the situation in one of the safari areas could be :

i. With hunting: 2 % loss, 98% survival

ii. Without hunting: 98% loss, 2 % survival

b) I am not defending hunting; I am being realistic, having many years’ experience in the wildlife field.

c) I personally have experience of two areas where hunting bans have backfired:

i. When Zambia brought in a two year ban on hunting in the 1990s, I watched what was a prime game area – Sichifula – reduced to virtually nothing. On one flight over the area during the ban, I saw three vehicles shooting obviously anything for meat. The area is today still destitute of wildlife.

ii. The recent hunting ban in Botswana –what has happened is that large areas, such as Tamafupa, have been effectively abandoned, and the wildlife which had relied on pumped water has had to relocate, or has died waiting for the water to come which never happened. These abandoned blocks are also an open invitation to the Zambian poachers, who I do not doubt are shooting all the big elephant bulls there. A spin off (though not sure if welcome!!) is the amount of elephant which have now crossed into Zimbabwe, putting more strain on our system

iii. It is not possible to turn these safari areas into photographic areas for two reasons :

      • They are often not suitable for the photo market for a variety of reasons– too rugged, thick bush, sparse populations, lack of species diversity, difficult access, etc.
      • The photographic market cannot fill the options open to them in the National Parks at the moment – there would have to be a massive increase in tourist numbers to warrant spilling over into the safari areas.

3. Communal Areas – the current situation is a program called CAMPFIRE which basically allows monies earned from hunting to be channeled back to the communities – this system, although fraught with corruption and mismanagement, has put a value on any animals crossing into communal areas, and thus communities will tolerate some presence.

Take the US $ value off these animals, and they are immediately reduced to an intolerable nuisance and meat value, and all will be killed forthright. A poor starving man cannot watch his crop being destroyed by a worthless (to him) animal and worry about Western aesthetic values!

4. Private land – aside from the conservancies (generally well managed and controlled, with prolific game) there is little wildlife left on private land. The Gwayi Valley farms, with most of the game wiped out, have been at the center of the unethical hunting by bringing in the corrupt South Africans safari operators who were up to every trick in the book!

Currently in Zimbabwe, we are facing a very difficult economic time, and we have a hungry, destitute and desperate population surrounding our wildlife areas, who look to poaching as a salvation. Those who have seen a snareline of over 100 snares, with 30 or 40 animals of all ages and sexes, strangled to death, their eyes bulging, tongues out, ground scratched in a desperate struggle over days before succumbing, will realize the full horror of what fate could await our precious wildlife without protection. Abhorrent as hunting may be to many, it is the lesser of two evils as such, and before we can afford to stop hunting, we have to replace the revenue stream it creates, for the sake of the wildlife. Author: Trevor Lane, Bhejane Trust Zimbabwe