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Move to acquire conservancies criticised

Godfrey Marawanyika

THE Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has criticised government plans to acquire all privately-owned game parks and conservancies, saying the move is tantamount to punishing farmers who pro

vide sanctuary for animals.

WWF has since made an appeal to the Presidential Land Resettlement Committee, saying land acquisition should be based on sound ecological and business principles.

Rhino Conservancies Project official Raoul du Toit said taking private parks would have a bearing on other projects being financed by overseas donors.

“Some aspects of the draft policy document convey an impression of punitive measures against the existing conservancy members, rather than the straightforward implementation of equitable land reform measures, so both constitutional rights and investor safeguards need on-going consideration as this policy is finalised,” du Toit said in the WWF’s submission to the Land Resettlement Committee.

“Some of the investments in wildlife were funded by loan agreements, notably the loan that Save Valley Conservancy secured from the International Finance Corporation for restocking the conservancy.”

In the February report, du Toit said wildlife assets constituted the repayment guarantee for the loan, adding that obliterating the current asset value of the restocked wildlife resources through “draconian policy” would create problems.

He said the policy would affect the willingness of World Bank institutions (including IFC and GEF) and other funding agencies to provide future financial support for wildlife restocking.

The government has come up with a policy which seeks to declare all conservancies and ranches state land that should be administered by the Parks and Wildlife Authority.

Government says this will enable resettled farmers and other indigenous people to venture into the wildlife business.

Under the envisaged arrangement all land and wildlife will belong to the state and be regulated through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism or its agencies.

In the report, du Toit noted the increased problem of poaching in the conservancies, saying that could not be ascribed to resource alienation.

“Far from being alienated, informally-settled occupiers of many properties have assumed full rights of resource utilisation and making the best of latitude that they currently enjoy to reap these resources,” du Toit said.

“It could be argued that the official tolerance of invasions into conservancies and into Gonarezhou National Park has served to give the go ahead to settlers to extract ‘their’ wildlife with few or no checks and balances.”

Du Toit called for the creation of opportunities to utilise the wildlife, and controls on the levels of offtake and loss of habitats.

He said the WWF was prepared to assist the government in coming up with a proper working plan.

“It is a matter of reality that the WWF has recently been confronted with a range of serious allegations of impropriety in Zimbabwe’s hunting industry, particularly in Dete-Gwayi-Matetsi area where problems of resources pillaging were highlighted …” he said.

“If the allocation of rights to resources utilisation in the conservancies gives rise to the same level of controversy that has arisen in north-western Matabeleland, then WWF will be under extreme pressure from our international constituents to join calls for serious sanctions, notably the imposition of a ban on the importation of safari hunting trophies to the United States.

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