What’s Happening in Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy?

I previously reported about some problems in Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy this past July. The hunting on the Savuli Ranch there was disrupted in June when locals moved into the hunting block and vandalized the camp. Arrests were made and a High Court order was issued stating that the disruptions must stop. But trouble in Savuli has continued and is related to challenges faced by the entire Save Valley Conservancy.

The disruptions in Savuli were caused by agents of Shuvai Ben Mahofa, a female war vet and former legislator. Mahofa was among 25 senior Zanu PF officials and retired military officers who were illegally granted 25-year leases on lands in the Save Conservancy by National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director General Vitalis Chadenga, who died on September 5, 2012. Chadenga was not entitled to issue such leases on private property, which is what a conservancy is. He later issued hunting licenses and quotas to those individuals and withheld them from the conservancy owners.

A High Court ruled that Mahofa’s claim is illegal and instructed that the operations of Forever African Safaris, the legal owners of Savuli Ranch, should not be interfered with. Regardless, Mahofa has allegedly evicted Forever African Safaris and has contracted another operator to run hunts there. A third order of contempt from the High Court was served, but Mahofa continued operating on Savuli.

Then on September 12, 2012, President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe at a Zanu PF politburo meeting chastised the military officers and Zanu PF officials involved in the Save Valley land grab. Mugabe ordered them out. I have that from Willie Pabst, a German citizen who is vice chairman of the Save Valley Conservancy and owner of the Sango Ranch. It was also reported in various local newspapers, including the Zimbabwe Independent.

“President Mugabe made it clear to everyone, including the German ambassador, that the conservancy is not subject to land reform or indigenization, but rather to community involvement,” Pabst told me in a telephone conversation at press time. (As a German citizen, Pabst’s investment in the Save Conservancy is protected by the German-Zimbabwean Investment agreement, thus the German ambassador’s involvement.)

Not only will the land leases be withdrawn, but Pabst says the hunting permits that were withheld by Chadenga will be issued to the conservancy. In a letter Pabst received the same day we spoke, he was promised that the quotas and licenses would be issued to the conservancy in proper order for 2013 as well. While it may take a while for everything to be settled, Pabst was very happy with the developments and confident that the conservancy would not only survive but thrive in the future.

According to the newspapers, however, Mugabe also ordered that all conservancies must be turned into national parks, and that a committee was created to look into the feasibility of doing that. That would put the Save Valley in the control of the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

Pabst says that is false. “He never said that. The directorate of National Parks has managed to destroy about 80 percent of their wildlife and is currently involved in a disgusting methodology of ration hunting because the Authority cannot pay its own employees and is selling ration hunts to illegal operators from South Africa. Once the issues with the Save Conservancy are resolved, attention will be on the National Parks & Wildlife Authority.”

The committee that was created, says Pabst, is supposed to review possible ways forward for the Save, including a study and a proposal recently developed by African Wildlife Foundation (www.afw.org). The AWF, according to its website, is an international conservation organization that seeks to protect Africa’s wildlife and wild landscapes while empowering Africans to be stewards of their natural resources. AWF has worked in Namibia and Kenya on indigenization programs through community involvement.

The proposal AWF has for the Save would turn the conservancy into a nonprofit corporation, eliminating the current duplicate operations on each individual property. One staff working under a chief executive officer would centralize all the operations and provide the entire area with the benefit of economies of scale and increased efficiencies. A board of directors composed of indigenous people and land owners would work together to involve and benefit the local communities. The Save Valley as a whole would also benefit as a hunting destination through centralized marketing and safari operations. The organization could easily be funded by a per diem fee paid by hunters.

With that kind of system in place the Save could then seek donors/investors from outside to get the development needed to restore degraded properties and repair about $2 million worth of fencing that has been torn down by settlers over the last 12 years or so. According to Weldon Schenck, owner of Hammond Ranch, the Save Valley has lost about 30 percent of its land to resettlements. Six properties have been run over, and there are people settled in the heart of the conservancy.

Under the current model, Schenck says, there is no money to invest in capital improvements and no one is willing to spend more on operating the conservancies under these circumstances. Right now, owners are just maintaining the infrastructure and protecting the wildlife and people as well as they can. Both Schenck and Pabst told me that no one is making money operating a conservancy. But, they say, the “partners” that were forced on them do not believe that. The “partners” for the most part, demanded a piece of the “profits” but were not bringing any capital or cash to run the operations and cannot protect the wildlife or maintain the infrastructures on their own.

The AWF report, says Schenck, also stresses that nobody in conservancies is making money. Schenck says they have shown the “partners” and the government their books. “They just don’t believe there are no profits,” he says. “They don’t understand we are not in this for the money. Conservation in southern Africa is our charity.”

Schenck says conservancy owners hope the committee will agree to something like the African Wildlife Foundation’s proposal (which Pabst says is very much like one conservancy owners proposed previously). “We are hoping to get an agreement with the government to move forward.”

Schenck says that conservancy owners voted some time ago to engage the government rather than try to stiff-arm them on indigenization. “I think everyone understands that this is a genie that has been let out of the bottle and there is no putting it back in,” he says. “We have dealt with business people put forward by the government, and government officials at the provincial and national levels offering them proposals on how best to deal with this. Other conservancies that were ‘indigenized’ have pretty much been wiped out. While the Bubye Valley Conservancy is doing well with its black partner investor, many have not. Some are marginal. Others have been raped.”

Back to this hunting season in the Save: Because of the issue with quotas and licenses issued by Chadenga, a number of PHs and others shifted their hunts elsewhere or closed their operations. Schenck got two out of 12 intended safaris done. Pabst, however, says he has continued hunting on Sango.

On Savuli, Mahofa reportedly engaged an individual named Ken Drummond to conduct hunts there. Drummond is working as a “consultant” to landowners having to take on Zimbabwean partners. He is reported to have been involved in a campaign to intimidate the remaining white farmers in the Chiredzi and Hippo Valley areas. According to Willie Pabst, Drummond has been served legal notice of claims for damages in the Save. Pabst says conservancy owners also will seek a High Court order to stop the export of illegally hunted trophies taken with Drummond and anyone else operating on conservancy lands illegally.

Here at The Hunting Report, we do not report on politics but rather the effects on hunting opportunities, the hunting industry and hunters. With that in mind we find it necessary to remind US readers that Mahofa, and several others involved in these forced partnerships, are listed on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list kept by the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls, OFAC (http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Pages/default.aspx). The SDN list names individuals, entities and organizations under US economic sanctions, and it is illegal for any US citizen to conduct business in any way with anyone on that list. You do so at the risk of stiff fines and possible prosecution by OFAC, the US State Department and the Department of Justice.

If you plan to hunt the Save, ask for a copy of paperwork showing who the concession/safari company owners are. Check those names against the SDN list. OFAC has created a search engine on its website that makes it easy to check the names of individuals, companies and properties. There are 32 ranches, for example, that are on the list. To check the list, go to http://sdnsearch.ofac.treas.gov. We have also posted the list on the Hunting Report website under Website Uploads. Look for Zimbabwe Banned List.