The Benefit of All Forms of Hunting in Zimbabwe

“As in much of the world, recreational hunting has been a major force behind preserving wildlife and wild places in Zimbabwe” – Dr Graham Child – Wildlife and People.

In Zimbabwe in the less productive land areas ( natural regions IV and V) which comprise approximately 65% of the land area (Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profile – J Gambiza and C Nyama ), the authors describe Natural Region IV as being a semi-extensive farming region experiencing low rainfall and periodic droughts; farming is based on livestock and drought resistant crops. In Region V, covering 27% of Zimbabwe, rainfall is too low and erratic for even drought resistant crops and farming is based on grazing natural pastures – extensive cattle or game ranching is the only sound farming system for this region.

In Natural Region IV in the north west of Zimbabwe, the Matetsi scheme implemented in the early 70’s where government expropriated land, showed that hunting is an alternate land use to cropping and raising livestock. In these areas, and looking in particular at the South East Lowveld which has always had good game populations, the ecological potential of this area, as elsewhere with low and erratic rainfall, is low with the stocking rate of cattle being one domestic livestock unit to 10 – 12 ha. From an ecological point of view the crux of the matter relates to land use –the wise utilization of natural renewable resources as opposed to the degrading effects of monoculture /livestock farming.

As is noted by P.A. Lindsay, P.A.Roulet and S.S Romanach in the scientific paper entitled Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa – “well monitored trophy hunting is inherently self-regulating, because moderate off take is required to ensure high trophy quality and thus marketability of the area in future seasons. Low off-take rates mean that trophy hunting can play a key role in endangered species conservation (even when excessive hunting was the original cause of the conservation problem.” Such was the case in the Hwange/Matetsi and Gwaai areas, which saw a moratorium placed on lion hunting from 2004 – 2008; this was reviewed on an annual basis and saw quotas determined by research data which still remains in place and has seen the rapid recovery of lion populations.

Hunting, a review – Game ranching in Zimbabwe owes its existence to two Fullbright Scholars – Drs Raymond F. Dasmann and Archie S. Mossman who, in September 1959, arrived in the country to participate in the Fullbright Wildlife Research Programme. After a look around and following discussions with a number of organizations and government bodies , they decided to concentrate on pastoral lands, with a view to seeing how game animals fitted onto lands primarily for livestock production and also to investigate the productivity of game as compared to livestock. They thought that, on some lands, game meat production might equal or exceed the production of meat by cattle and that such production of game would be less likely to have a detrimental effect upon the land, concluding that if game were to be maintained on such land its economic value must be established

Preserving biological diversity and natural landscapes outside protected areas, game ranching satisfied conservation needs and at the same time enhanced rural production.

The Parks and Wild Life Act, 1975 was enacted to protect not only the Parks and wildlife resources but also to encourage the sustained use of natural resources in accordance with guidelines laid down in the Act with regards to different categories of land. With checks and balances it gave custodianship of the wildlife to the appropriate authority, this was revolutionary thinking and after Independence opened the door to the Safari Industry as is known today. In the mid 80’s the Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), designed to allocate the rights to use communal resources to small communities in the rural areas, came into being and is still functioning but now under the auspices of the Rural Councils.

In the rural areas where wildlife still exists – although not in the densities of a few years back – nothing is truer than the adage ‘use it or lose it’. Very few can dispute there are many areas in Zimbabwe that are unsuitable or not viable to eco or photographic tourism due to harsh conditions, low densities of game and with little scenic value. It is areas such as these that safari or trophy hunting is the realistic and sustainable alternative, giving benefit to local communities and providing the incentives to retain wildlife on their lands. John Hanks notes in the Great Hunting debate – ‘surely it makes economic and ecological sense to not exclude this option but to manage it better so that greater profits accrue to the communities and biodiversity is conserved. If trophy hunting were to be stopped in Africa (Zimbabwe) where photographic is not viable we can expect to see wildlife areas being used for subsistence agriculture, with increased human-wildlife conflict and declining large mammal populations.’

On Africa: – Kenya, unarguably one of the world’s top wildlife tourist destinations where hunting was banned in 1977, has seen a 70 – 80% decline in large mammal populations since the late 70’s. Legal hunting has been stopped and government lauds this stance to the detriment of wildlife, illegal hunting/poaching however and the trade in bushmeat, skins etc continues unabated; little if nothing is heard of this.

According to Michael Schhwartz, a free lance journalist and African wildlife researcher in a piece entitled Conservation – is it warped by a love for animals, notes that Kenya and South Africa, where hunting is permitted and encouraged, contained roughly the same number of wildlife in the mid-1970s. According to Norton-Griffiths, South Africa’s wildlife surged from about 1.5million to over 20 million now.

Botswana and Namibia – Botswana, undoubtedly influenced by animal rights movements, banned hunting in November 2012 alleging that safari hunting, and not the over population of elephant, was responsible for the decline in various species of antelope. In contrast, and across the border in Namibia where community conservancies receive full return from tourism and wildlife utilization (controlled hunting), the same species are either stable or increasing in numbers. Is it not surprising that in Botswana since hunting was stopped there has been a marked increase in human / wildlife conflict?

In Southern Africa since the 1980s, Zimbabwe was certainly at the forefront of the safari industry until fairly recently. Their professional hunters and guides are without doubt the best trained and qualified on the continent. In Government controlled Safari areas, quotas have been on the generous side which has led to a drop in trophy quality; this is by no means irreversible and with smaller quotas trophy quality will improve.

On the two main conservancies – the SAVE and Bubye Valley Conservancies where safari hunting is the sole form of income – trophy quality is by and large excellent. On Bubye Valley the careful monitoring of draw card species such as buffalo and sable have seen numbers increase, and with this trophy quality; they also run lion and leopard research programs.

In the rural communal areas poaching has taken its toll and this is particularly noticeable in the Sebungwe area, and includes Chizarira and Matusadona National Parks together with the Chete and Chirisa Safari Areas. Here elephant have been targeted by Zambian poachers and to a lesser extent by locals; game numbers have also been drastically reduced in these remote areas. Elsewhere there is also poaching but to a far lesser extent. It is in districts which contain small but viable population of game, including leopard and, in some, elephant and buffalo, that hunters’ efforts are concentrated. To stop hunting would sound the death knell for all wildlife in these areas. To the villager who owns a few head of goats and a couple of cattle, leopard are nothing more than a pest to be done away with, either by snaring or poison, similarly elephant that persistently raid crops.

Land redistribution and A2 farms in the Gwaai areas, at this point in time, is a very sensitive issue due to the Cecil incident. It falls into National Region IV, more suitable to game than livestock production and better suited to hunting than photographic tourism despite bordering on Hwange National Park though, it must be mentioned, a fair number of Gwaai operators once ran small photographic camps on their properties.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Estate – taken from D.H.M. Cumming 1990 in Wildlife Products and the Market Place: A View from Southern Africa – the Parks estate and Forestry areas used for wildlife conservation and utilization in Zimbabwe amounts to 46338km² of which 22799km² or 4.8% of Zimbabwe is National Park land(Protected areas).

Safari Areas                 –                 18450km²

Forest Areas                –                 4963km²

CAMPFIRE Areas                 –                 50000km²

Conservancies (Save & Bubye)*    6800km²

*It is not possible to put a figure to Commercial and A2 farm land utilized for wildlife.

In total some 80213km² is utilized for wildlife purposes/Trophy hunting, which is some 3.5 times greater than the land allocated to National Parks Protected areas and equates to approximately 16.8% of Zimbabwe land mass -a substantial area.

CAMPFIRE – 50000KM² embraces 120 wards in which there are 770000-800000 households with the average household family numbering 6. What this effectively means is that approximately 25% of Zimbabwe’s rural people and 2,4million children reap benefits from trophy hunting. CAMPFIRE revenue is derived from trophy and concession fees and split as follows – 55% to communities and 45% to District Councils – 26% of which, is allocated to CAMPFIRE activities such as patrolling, wages, anti- poaching etc , 15% for council administration and 4% going to national administration.

To the present – The trophy hunting industry has found itself under unprecedented pressure since the Cecil incident and the Hunting industry has embraced this potential tipping point to self reflect and defend itself.

Quotas are set on a triangular basis where a process is followed starting with the landowner or lease holder applying for a quota based on population estimates, trophy quality, hunting effort, off-take and these range from 0.5% – 2.5% across the spectrum of species. An off-take of 2% will provide jobs, community benefits where applicable, incentives, habitat security, infrastructure maintenance and development, contribute to the economy and most importantly to the protection of the other 98% of the animals. Although there are some loop holes in the system, we are addressing the problems but we are very confident that if the guidelines are followed, the system is the most cost effective and practical sound and sustainable. We are now considering introducing aging on key species into the quota system.

Provided quotas are sustainable, trophy hunting poses no threat to wildlife populations and enhances their value and that of the area.

Safari operators and Professional Hunters alike have a vested interest in the well being of wildlife, both inside and outside of the Parks Estate, and to this end the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association have submitted recommendations to ZPWMA to regulate lion hunting dated back to 2013 and are in the process of doing the same with regards to other key species. All are well aware of the challenges being faced and have been proactive as was illustrated in the “Hunting turnaround Strategy” workshop held on the 22-23rd June 2015 which was attended by all role players– Researchers, Parks, Zimbabwe Tourist Authority, SOAZ (Safari Operators), ZPHGA (Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Ass.) CAMPFIRE, the Zimbabwe Hunters Association and the Zimbabwe Wildlife Association; proposals await Parks and ministerial approval. It is of interest to note that this was muted a week before the shooting of Cecil. All are determined to protect the interests of conservation, fauna and fauna and the Zimbabwean people.

In closing as noted by Dr John Hanks: “Unfortunately an objective assessment of conservation benefits is rarely the primary concern of animal rights groups that care more about the welfare of an individual than the long term survival of the species.”

Regrettably, this ‘righteous’ approach leaves Africa’s people to pay the heaviest costs – conservationists and animal welfare groups need to listen to the African people and not dictate policy on matters they know little about.