Zimbabwe’s Presidential Elephants in peril

Sharon Pincott has worked alone (on a full-time, primarily self-funded, voluntary basis) under the banner of The Presidential Elephant Conservation Project since 2001. Over the past 13 years she worked tirelessly to keep a record of and protect the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe who are so named after they where given a presidential decree in 1990 that was meant to protect them against hunting and culling.

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Alan Elliott, owner of safari company Touch the Wild, began habituating these elephants to human presence during the 1970s. These land areas had previously been hunted, and so the wildlife was nervous of human presence. Alan obtained the original presidential decree in 1990 in an attempt to ensure no more hunting would ever take place in these areas.

In 2011 Pincott managed to get the presidential decree reaffirmed, in the belief that with hunting, mining, water, and land takeover problems ongoing, this decree did indeed hold weight but needed to be reasserted as a clear and current reminder to all. However now she says that, “the presidential decree and its reaffirmation don’t seem to hold much value at all” and she has announced that she has closed down her project.

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Recently an area in the very heart of the Presidential Elephants’ key home-range, known as State Land Kanondo, has been the subject of a land claim. The area includes two important and busy year-round waterholes, and another three smaller wet-season ones, and is of particular importance to monitoring efforts and lodge game-drives. Sharon says that the claimant, “has made it impossible for tourists to easily get amongst the herd on game-drives as they used to do and have physically assaulted me during routine patrol and monitoring efforts. They have family links to the sport hunting industry, with reports revealing past unethical hunting practices by the claimant’s brother.”

According to Sharon, “Land reform in Zimbabwe is a government program that is meant to take land from whites, to be given to the blacks. The Presidential Elephant game-drive land in question was not white-owned, and it certainly wasn’t agricultural or sport hunting land, which is the type of land generally subject to claims. it never should never have been allocated.” Sharon says that in December the cabinet issued a directive to withdraw the claim but no changes where actually put in place according to her knowledge.

A petition titled Save the Presidential Elephants Now has been raised by Kenesias Dambakurima of Chiwundura Constituency, Zimbabwe, March for Elephants and For Elephants International, calling on the Ministers for Land and Tourism to immediately evict the occupiers of the land known as Kanondo adjacent to Hwange National Park main camp. The petition letter is being prepared with the current 3700+ signatures gathered to date to be presented by fax and post to the ministers, the cabinet and the politburo, so there can be no doubt that the matter has been formally raised with the responsible parties. The conservationists will appeal to the ministers for a formal meeting in person with the relevant officials to discuss the issue. Kenesias Dambakurima, the initiator of the petition, stated, “We have the ministers attention, we will submit the petition and letter to the ministers as invited. We are hopeful the ministers will fulfil their duty and the legal requirements of the cabinet directive forthwith”.

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A recent, and worrying, report mentions sport hunting activity, with three men stalking elephants in one of the Presidential Elephants’ key areas. One of these men, related to a government minister, has been the subject of reports by Sharon for at least a decade. Sharon says that, “poaching is an ongoing concern, as is unethical sport hunting. Some sport hunting areas are now simply hunted out. As a result, hunters struggle to find enough animals or in the case of elephants, enough “trophy” specimens with heavy enough ivory to shoot, and this has led to hunters swapping and borrowing each other’s quotas, hunting on each other’s land, and indeed hunting whenever they can get away with it. The officials may deny this, although I’ve personally had discussions with some who don’t even bother to deny it anymore. It’s a well-known fact that this happens, and certainly poachers and unethical sport hunters encroaching in Presidential Elephant areas, if proper patrols aren’t constant, is a real and valid concern.”

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Sharon says that most people in the area are cautious, “and indeed many are afraid – for themselves, for their businesses, for their jobs, and for their relationships with others – and therefore put all of these things ahead of doing whatever is necessary to help protect these elephants from all of the numerous threats. And I suppose that’s understandable, in a way.”

In parting, Sharon leaves us with something to ponder, “what is the point of having a “flagship herd” if they represent nothing of what they were meant to, remembering that they are supposed to represent Zimbabwe’s commitment to responsible wildlife management, and if tourists can no longer even easily get on game-drives amongst them? If Zimbabwe can’t properly care about and safeguard their own flagship herd, then what hope do all of their other elephants really have long-term in this country?”

© NHU Africa

© Natural History Unit Africa



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