The ZCTF was formed in April 2001, with the blessing of Francis Nhema, initially for the purpose of assisting National Parks with anti-poaching patrols with regard to fish poaching in Kariba, both physically, and by raising funds, to maintain National Parks boats and vehicles in Kariba.
The original committee was comprised of 16 representatives of various organizations such as National Parks, Zimbabwe Tourism Association, National Anglers Union, Kariba International Tiger Fishing Tournament, Professional Hunters Association, Charara Rate Payers’ Association, the Boat Owners’ Association and the 4 x 4 club.
During the first year, several anti-poaching patrols were carried out with National Parks in Kariba. Illegal nets were located and destroyed, poachers’ camps were destroyed, poachers arrested, their boats sunk and several tons of fish confiscated and given to National Parks. At the same time, volunteers from the 4 x 4 club scoured the bush and removed hundreds of wire snares.
We met regularly with Francis Nhema to give him reports as he had requested this.
As time went on, evidence began to emerge that the main poaching rings were controlled by government officials, police, army and National Parks themselves. We reported this to Francis Nhema and he refused to have anything more to do with us. We tried to continue with the anti-poaching patrols but National Parks had become hostile towards us and were not keen on working with us any longer.
As we were no longer popular with the government and National Parks, my committee members and volunteers got “cold feet” and drifted away one by one.
In April 2002, Charlie Hewatt phoned me and asked me to please try and save Gourlays Ranch, a black rhino conservancy which was on the point of being taken over by war vets. At the same time, I received an email from the Save Foundation of Australia demanding that the ZCTF do something about Gourlays. As my volunteers were nowhere to be found, I went to Gourlays alone but I was no match for 200 rabid, drug crazed war vets and the owner, Richard Pascall was evicted.
In view of the fact that the black rhino is an endangered species, I was desperate to try and do something. I tried to speak to Francis Nhema but he refused to see me so I felt the only option left was to report the matter to the rest of the world in the hope that they would bring pressure on the government to do something about it.
After my report went out, I was inundated with requests from game ranchers to also expose what was happening to their wildlife. Most of them wanted to remain anonymous because they feared for their lives and I carried out their wishes. The statistics and photos I received from them showed that between 90 and 100% of the game on most of their ranches had been slaughtered. I brought the Carte Blanche team in from South Africa and they did a very hard hitting presentation on the indiscriminate slaughter of the wildlife here.
I became “public enemy number one” in the eyes of the government and National Parks. In 2003, Mick Townsend, then a Director of the National Parks Authority, called me for a meeting and told me I was “persona non grata” and I was not allowed to enter any National Parks area. He said if I wanted the ban lifted, I had to hand all the statistics, information and photographic evidence I had gathered over to the CIO. I refused.
For a couple of years, I was followed by the CIO. My home was broken into 3 times and all my photographic equipment stolen. On more than one occasion, my vehicle was almost pushed off the road by vehicles with black and white number plates. I received death threats over the phone and I was told that my name was on a ZANU PF hit list. I also narrowly escaped being deported and it is thanks to Jonathon Samkange that I am still here.
In the meantime, I continued to raise funds for the preservation of the wildlife here, as and when the need arose. A few examples are as follows:
I arranged, paid for and assisted in treating the hooves of a herd of sable owned by Eddie Kadzombe who was at the time the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Advisory Council. The sable were being kept in inhumane conditions in a small boma. They were dying of starvation and their hooves were overgrown and badly infected. Eventually, with the help of Meryl Harrison, we were able to have the sable moved to a safe place.
I imported several vials of M99, a very expensive tranquilizer used in the darting of animals in order to remove snares. National Parks are not able to remove snares because they can’t afford to buy the drug. My M99 is in the safe-keeping of Dr Chris Foggin at the Government Wildlife Unit and it is given away freely upon my instruction whenever snares need to be removed from animals.
I hired a game capture unit and helicopter to move a number of zebra, impala and blesbuck from a game farm which was under siege by war vets, to a safer area. Meryl Harrison assisted with this.
I have managed to earn the trust of the donor community by sending them photographs, receipts, invoices etc. to prove that their donations have been used correctly. Due to this, I now find it relatively easy to raise money for the wildlife.
In September 2005, I was alerted to the fact that National Parks were unable to provide fuel for the water pumps in Hwange National Park and consequently, the animals were dying of thirst and dehydration. I immediately emailed an appeal to the donor community and I was very surprised at the response. Within 48 hours, I had raised enough money to purchase 7 000 litres of fuel. Unifreight donated the use of a truck and I loaded the fuel up and personally delivered it to Hwange.
Three days after hearing of the crisis, I managed to have water pumping into the pans, however, when I arrived there, I realized that the shortage of fuel was only the tip of the iceberg. The whole park was in a state of neglect and disrepair. Most of the pump engines weren’t working and National Parks had failed to respond to requests for spares by the Hwange staff. There was only one vehicle mobile in the whole park. All the rest were up on stands with no tyres or in the workshops waiting for spares which never arrived. The roads were in a poor state and many of the pump attendants had absconded because they hadn’t been paid for several months.
From September 2005 until now, I have been raising funds, going back and forth to RSA to purchase new engines and spares and delivering them to Hwange, supplying donated spares to get the National Parks landrovers back on the road and supplying truckloads of tyres, tools, spares, equipment, fuel, oils and clothing.
After my first fuel delivery to Hwange, the National Parks staff there were instructed by Morris Mtsambiwa not to accept any more donations from me. One warden was even fired for disobeying this order. After a lengthy battle, they finally agreed to accept my donations on condition that they were given detailed inventories with values. I complied very strictly with this condition.
Contrary to being a “liability to the nation”, since the inception of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force 6 years ago, I estimate that the nation and National Parks have actually benefited to the tune of USD500 000 calculated as follows:
USD 100 000: Donated fuel and oils
USD 200 000: Fuel used in anti poaching patrols and travelling expenses.
USD 20 000: Veterinary supplies (donated)
USD 50 000: Tyres (donated)
USD 50 000: New engines and spares for pumps, vehicles, boats etc. (donated)
USD 20 000: Game relocations
USD 10 000: Tools and equipment (donated)
USD 2 000: Protective clothing (donated)
USD 50 000: Admin costs eg. Telephones, computers, stationery etc.
The situation in Hwange National Park now is that there are 33 pans with water, 6 landrovers running, tractors and graders running, the roads have been repaired, they have fuel in their underground tanks and the employees have new worksuits and boots.
My donors will only donate to my organization because they know their donations will reach the intended destination. Some of them had previously tried donating direct to National Parks or to other organizations but found that either the goods were never used for the intended purpose, or they received no feed back to prove where the goods had gone. Many of them have stated that if the donations don’t go through the ZCTF, they won’t donate at all.