Zimbabwe had a proud record of excellence in wildlife management and nature conservation. That no longer applies to the majority of land for wildlife today.
Some 28% of Zimbabwe’s land mass is reserved for wildlife, in itself an incredible statement of how much importance Zimbabwe has given and continues to give to this national asset.
But an asset implies that it provides returns for those who own it, in this case the Zimbabwean people.
If the asset of wildlife is well managed, this will maximise the return in income and wealth creation, job provision and enhance the reputation of the country, thus driving tourism and related activities.
Yet, a varied reply will have to answer the headline question.
Is wildlife indigenised? Who owns the resource?
Based on government information, indigenous players, the government, rural and district councils, Community Areas Management for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) etc control 26,1% of the land mass of Zimbabwe and allow wildlife to roam on it.
That translates to a staggering 93,2% of this industry in indigenous hands.
Only 6,8% of the entire wildlife land mass in Zimbabwe is in (partly) private hands of which two-thirds is held by foreign investors, who are overwhelmingly passionate about conservation.
Hence, the wildlife industry is by far the most extensively indigenised industry within Zimbabwe.
The huge responsibility of maintaining and conserving wildlife is not the “privilege” of a few, but that of many.
National Parks by admission of one of its former directors-general generates about 95% of its income from auctioning hunting concessions under an often contentious tender system.
The parks should generate their income from tourism of any kind rather than hunting, but that is hardly possible today.
Due to the lack of management or correct allocation of resources many animal species have suffered.
National Parks are said to have some 50 000 elephants too many, a species which in over-abundance destroys the habitat for many other species.
Hence, wildlife management in national parks leaves plenty to be desired.
In addition, camps and roads are often in poor condition, keeping tourists away.
And Zimbabweans must understand: there is plenty of excellent competition in our neighbouring countries.
Hence, the need for visitors to come to Zimbabwe only exists if we make ourselves attractive to them.
But the current director-general of national parks has an impossible task:
Parks have little income and thus no funds to actively do what they should be doing: game counting, assessing the habitats and active game management, all of which is costly;
Vehicles, computers, camps, roads, fences, water supply, etc are in dire need of replacement or repair;
The Parks Investigative Unit employs good people but a few “bad apples” have rendered the unit untrustworthy to the rest of the industry.
Therefore, active or proactive anti-poaching activities are hampered severely, as evidenced by the very poor results of combating rhino poaching.
When anti-poaching is not treated as a national priority this affects the protection of species;
Offers by European countries to assist in rebuilding national parks have been made but unless government engages on these offers, no help will be forthcoming.
Unfortunately, the government has not engaged.
Question: what happened to Zimbabwe’s wildlife, the attractive national parks, why were these assets permitted to deteriorate to their current sorry state?
Private Wildlife Management: By contrast the country is fortunate to host a private wildlife industry better known as conservancies.
As stated above, the private industry represents less than 7% of all wildlife land mass in the country.
The majority of these, 6,8%, is owned by foreign investors, who came to the country at the invitation of government.
The conservancies are a model of local and foreign investors coming together with the passion for environmental development, embracing local communities directly and through Trusts, by providing employment and job training from the lowest educated upwards and with the ability to earn foreign currency income.
Whether private or investor owned or controlled by government or councils, the wildlife in question makes up the total of Zimbabwe’s wildlife herd and collectively is the national wildlife asset.
That is a fact, unless we expect foreign investors to carry their animals back to their home country, as impossible as that may seem.
Zimbabwe used to be second to no one, not even South Africa, in the field of wildlife management. That is different today.
As most of the assets and animal herds in national parks have deteriorated, it is today the almost miniscule private sector, which guarantees the quality of wildlife conservation in areas, which, through their surplus of animals – now represent the breading nucleus of Wildlife in the country.
Politically forced “indigenisation”:
Success breeds contempt and envy.
Under the disguise of “indigenisation” a group of politically allied forces in Masvingo Province have tried massively to either force partnerships onto the private conservancies or threatened to destroy them.
Laws of Zimbabwe, International Law of Cross-Border Investment, bilateral investment protection treaties between Zimbabwe and other countries are ignored.
Contrary to the country’s policy, a former governor relocated the poorest in the province to these wildlife areas, thus destroying the resident wildlife, and the job-creation it could offer by rendering the livelihood of these people unsustainable.
Wildlife is the only legal and physically possible form of land use in most of the areas in question.
The land in question is unfit for agriculture or cattle ranching. It is either wildlife or nothing.
Relocating humans into these region five areas is cruel and irresponsible.
Wildlife left to flourish will represent one of the three largest employment sectors in Masvingo Province.
CITES and Zimbabwe’s Global Reputation:
Zimbabwe’s reputation in the world is tarnished.
Whether we agree with the reasons or not, the fact remains.
This reflects on tourism figures and visitors to the country at large. The effect on the private wildlife industry has been dramatic and most owners / operators have struggled to contain their losses over the past several years.
The private Wildlife Industry is known for high capital investments and slow as well as low returns.
Anyone without the passion for Wildlife is unlikely to put his or her capital into this business.