Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

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Elephants and wildlife under severe threat in Chiredzi River Conservancy

MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

30 September 2011

Elephants and wildlife under severe threat by invaders at the Chiredzi River Conservancy in Zimbabwe

The Chiredzi River Conservancy, part of the Trans Frontier Conservation Area, is an internationally renowned wildlife conservancy in the south eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe. It is once again being over run by destructive invaders and its elephant and wildlife population is under threat and in severe danger of being wiped out.

The Chiredzi River Conservancy was initiated in 1987 to give wildlife a value and place in Zimbabwean culture and to protect the drought-prone prime woodland areas, notably along the Chiredzi River.

Reports indicate that the destruction of its fragile ecosystem and wildlife has reached such serious proportions that its very survival is under threat. Local environmentalists are appealing for the government to intervene before the destruction of the environment in the conservancy - and in all areas of Zimbabwe - becomes irreversible.

Most conservancies in the country have taken a major battering since the Zanu PF- initiated land invasions began in 2000. These invasions totally disregard the long-term impact of attempting to turn low rainfall woodland areas into subsistence plots for cropping, and grazing areas for their herds of cattle and goats.

The conservancy is situated in an area classified as Region 5, which means it is arid and unsuitable for agriculture. The invaders have destroyed vast areas by burning trees, some species – notably hardwoods – are well over a hundred years old, and are over-grazing the fragile woodlands. Hundreds of cattle are being brought in illegally and there is no management or guidance from the authorities.

After 11 years of settlement and attempted farming, these invaders are still relying on food aid because the area is too hot and the rainfall too low to enable crops to grow successfully. Although there is funding available to help them move to areas more suitable for farming, their numbers continue to grow and the authorities turn a blind eye.

While game scouts are employed to patrol the conservancy, their jobs are extremely dangerous and they live under constant threat from poachers, politicians and the invaders. Despite their relatively small numbers, they are the most abused and assaulted of all farm workers in these areas.

The invaders have no respect for their authority to protect the wildlife. Eleven years of no accountability for their illegal activities and the vast damage they have caused, has made them complacent. Zimbabwe has become a country where the rule of law is no longer supreme.

Today there are only a handful of wildlife ranches remaining, compared to the staggering 640 ranches that existed 10 years ago.

According to Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force statistics, it is estimated that more than 90% of the game on private game ranches has been lost to poachers and illegal hunters during the last 11 years. The loss on conservancies is estimated to be 60% and almost 40% in national parks. Despite these shocking statistics, the slaughter of wildlife continues unabated.

The seventy elephants that reside on the Chiredzi River Conservancy are currently being harassed, chased and snared by the invaders. Some calves have gone missing, while at least two young adults have been killed, decapitated and their ivory removed - one of them a lactating cow.

In another separate incident, an elephant which had a snare embedded in its flesh, causing great pain, has since died.

In an effort to protect the elephants in the area, Mr Francis Nhema, Minister of Environment and Tourism, was approached for assistance, but when asked if the elephants could be relocated to a safer area, he was adamant that they must stay in the Chiredzi River Conservancy. According to local residents, while he acknowledged that the invaders were there illegally, no attempt is being made to relocate them or address the issues on the ground.

The wanton destruction of the region includes massive deforestation, notably of prime riverine forest and the near eradication of all species of wildlife. Other problems emerging are the commercial exploitation of timbers, the burning and sale of hardwoods for firewood, constant poaching and loss of game, the poisoning of predators and raptors, and the introduction of diseased settler cattle which results in the spreading anthrax of foot-and-mouth disease.

In January this year, it was discovered that war veterans settled near Humani Estates in the Chiredzi district were using poisoned cabbages at animal drinking points to trap rhinos so that they could cut off the animals’ horns easily once they had died.

This also resulted in the death of cattle and goats, since the animals drank from the same sources or from small dams nearby which had been similarly poisoned. Scavengers and raptors, which play an important role in the ecosystem, fed on the poisoned carcasses and died.

On September 18, 2011 the media reported that poachers had also begun poisoning waterholes in some of the country’s biggest game parks, including Gonarezhou, located close to the Chiredzi River Conservancy, and Mana Pools, Zambezi, Charara and Matusadona national parks in the north. This is an extremely concerning development.

The Chiredzi River Conservancy needs more funding to employ patrol guards and put security measures in place to counter act poaching. Since the onset of the land reform programme, destruction of wildlife has been uncontrollable. Invaders have not been able to grow crops due the extremities of the climate and, as a result, exploit the wildlife and the environment.

Once they’ve decimated one area, the invaders move into another and the cycle of destruction continues. The main concern at present is that, if there is no help from the government or relevant authorities to stop the destruction and move the invaders to suitable farm land, there will be irreversible damage; wildlife species will become extinct and abject poverty and hunger will deepen countrywide.

“It is increasingly critical for the coalition government to pass a law that protects conservancies under the Tourism Act so that conservancy principles are adhered to for the protection of wildlife and the environment,” said the president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, Charles Taffs.

“Every day streams of people already occupying land illegally in the Chiredzi River Conservancy are heading to new areas with choppers and snares, causing havoc, and this has to stop,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force has also stressed the gravity of the situation on their website: “The invaders are waging war with the environment by chopping down the trees, destroying the riverine forests and decimating the game. Concerned only for their own material gain, they may believe at this point that they are winning, but the loss for the country, and for future generations, will soon be irreversible.”

FUNDRAISING PROJECT

Readers can help the Chiredzi River Conservancy elephants by going to the website http://sunsuperdreams.com.au 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.

ENDS

PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE ELEPHANTS – LINKS

Elephants and herd interaction at the Chiredzi River Conservancy:

https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=27bf59b76e4c2cda&Bsrc=Photomail&Bpub=SDX.Photos&id=27BF59B76E4C2CDA%21190&sff=1

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

https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=27bf59b76e4c2cda&Bsrc=Photomail&Bpub=SDX.Photos&id=27BF59B76E4C2CDA%21219&sff=1

For further information:

Charles Taffs - President

Commercial Farmers’ Union (Zimbabwe)

Tel: +263 4 309 800 Cell: +263 772 284 847

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Submitted by:

Glyn Hunter (Mrs)

Glyn Hunter International

Tel: +27 31 572 2668

Cell: +27 82 774 2284

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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