By Alex Bell
An estimated 8,000 people from around the world have called for the government to intervene in the illegal takeover of a piece of land in Hwange, which makes up the home range of the Presidential Elephant Herd.
That petition, addressed to the Minster of Lands Douglas Mombeshora, urges the Ministers of Lands, Environment and Tourism to enforce a 2013 Cabinet directive that offer letters for the land be withdrawn.
The petition was handed over in Harare last week by a group of concerned Zimbabwean citizens. Leading them was Zim activist Kenesias Dambakurima, who told SW Radio Africa that there has not yet been a response to the petition from the authorities.
"I went with about 100 people and some people from the media to hand over the petition last week. I took about 30 people into the Minister's office and the Permanent Secretary, who was supposed to receive the petition, was afraid to come out when she heard there were all the people with me. So she sent a lady named Mrs. Nyamayaro instead, who was not a high level official and couldn't comment for the media," Dambakurima said.
He added: "We are disappointed that the Minister didn't come to engage with us. But we are happy the petition is in the hands of the Minister."
Questions about the future safety of the Presidential Elephant herd have been raised ever since a woman who calls herself either Elisabeth Pasalk or Elisabeth Freeman claimed ownership of the land in the Kanondo area earlier this year. The woman says that she inherited the property from her late mother, who in turn was given the land by the government.
The Cabinet directive of 2013 has been completely ignored and instead, the Kanondo land claimant has forged ahead with the building of a safari lodge. The Kanondo area is now being referred to as the Gwango Elephant Lodge, which claims to be a conservancy. The claimant, Elisabeth Pasalk/Freeman is understood to be an American resident, but concern has been raised amid reports that she is the sister of a known Zimbabwean hunting safari operator named Rodger Madangure.
Another significant blow was the decision by the herd's primary caretaker to step aside in April, because of the illicit land seizure in Hwange. Sharon Pincott, who founded and ran the Presidential Elephant Conservation Project since 2001, announced she was stopping her work and cited corruption and mismanagement at government level for the rampant takeover of 'protected' land areas.
Conservancy land across the country has been parceled out to ZANU PF and military officials in recent years, despite grave warnings about the impact this has on conservation and wildlife protection efforts. It is understood that it was this wildlife based land 'reform' which formed part of a decision by the US wildlife department to issue a ban on the import of hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
That ban, which also affects Tanzania, has since been upheld by a US Judge, after a hunting association challenged the move in court.