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Saturday 21 December 2013

Update on the Shearwater elephants captured from Hwange

In November 2006, Shearwater Adventures located in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, captured twelve wild juvenile elephants from Hwange National Park for the purpose of training the animals for use in the elephant back riding industry. Once ZNSPCA heard about this capture, Inspectors visited the premises where the elephants were being held. One elephant had died a day after it had been captured while another female elephant had escaped from her enclosure. The remaining ten elephants were in a state of shock and showed clear symptoms of stress. After vet reports on the elephants were obtained and photographic evidence taken, the ZNSPCA appealed to National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMA) for permission to stop the training of these wild elephants and release the animals. NPWMA granted ZNSPCA permission to release the elephants.
On the day the elephants were scheduled for release, however, ZNSPCA Inspectors were told by a deputy Minister of Parliament to leave the elephants alone. Inspectors subsequently filed twelve counts of animal cruelty charges against Shearwater Adventures at the local Police station and submitted photographic evidence to prove the cruelty. Shearwater Adventures subsequently banned Inspectors from entering their property in order to examine the elephants. Two obstruction charges were filed against Shearwater Adventures with the Police. During the next few weeks, the docket for animal cruelty against Shearwater Adventures was "lost", ZNSPCA replaced it, the docket was moved to another police station, and finally all charges including the obstruction charges against Shearwater Adventures were dropped by the Police due to "lack of evidence".
ZNSPCA fought to gain access to the elephan/ts in the High Court for over a year. During time another two elephants died. Inspectors approached elephant specialist, Dr. Joyce Poole, for assistance. Dr. Poole submitted an affidavit regarding the cruelty involved in capturing and training wild elephants. Furthermore, she wrote a motivated request to the Attorney General requesting the ban on future capture of wild elephants (note that these documents were used by ZNSPCA in the subsequent Sondelani case as well). During this period the story was widely publicised in the press and on the Internet, causing the near collapse of Shearwater Adventures' business. Shearwater Adventure was, thus, forced to stop the High Court battle and asked ZNSPCA Inspectors to visit the elephants. Unfortunately, by this time, the intense and highly abusive training was over and Inspectors were unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that cruelty was continuing to take place.
NPWMA would not fully commit themselves to banning future captures of wild elephants, but shortly after issuing the release permit to ZNSPCA, verbally communicated that they would not be issuing further permits without ZNSPCA's knowledge.

Friday 20 December 2013

Govt avails more land for Victoria Falls expansion

THE Government has availed more land to the Victoria Falls municipality to help ease accommodation shortages in the resort town, an official has said.About 5,000 people are on the council’s housing waiting list in the town.

Patrick Chitumba Victoria Falls Reporter

Victoria Falls Mayor Councillor Sifiso Mpofu told Chronicle yesterday that plans were under way to avail more land for expansion purposes.

He said the new land would be given to residents on the housing waiting list to build their houses.

“We are happy to note that our boundary is now reaching the grid, about 10km from the town along the Victoria Falls-Bulawayo Road,” Clr Mpofu said.

“The department of physical planning is still to give us the actual size but that is a positive sign towards addressing housing shortages in the resort town.

“The town has limited space or land since we are in a parks area and therefore we welcome this development.”

Clr Mpofu said the local authority was also working with different partners on a combined Victoria Falls master plan to come up with a satellite township on the periphery on the town.

This, he said, was meant to ease congestion in the town and help address accommodation shortage. Clr Mpofu also said council business was lagging behind because there was no a substantive Town Clerk.

“The thing that is making our job difficult in the council right now is the unavailability of a substantive Town Clerk. We are failing to make proper decisions for the benefit of the town,” he said.

Source: Govt avails more land for Victoria Falls expansion (17/12/13)

Victoria Falls no more?

Date: 18 December 2013

The recently announced ZANU-PF proposal to rename Victoria Falls has attracted mixed reactions from tourism players with some raising fears that a name change could make the resort town unpopular and affect tourism.

Zanu-PF resolved at its annual national conference in Chinhoyi that Victoria Falls and several other institutions must be renamed. The Zanu-PF committee on sports, culture, religion and liberation heritage chairperson Ignatius Chombo said it did not make any sense for colonial names to remain in place in an independent Zimbabwe.

Chief Mvutu, whose jurisdiction covers Victoria Falls, yesterday said he had no problem with the renaming of the resort town, but expressed scepticism at officially marketing one of nature's grandstands as Mosi Oa Tunya (the smoke that thunders) as it was originally called by the local Tonga-speaking people.

He said marketing the name Mosi Oa Tunya would be tantamount to handing over all the Victoria Falls tourism business to neighbouring Zambia since that name was widely used in that country. "It has been long since the place was known as Victoria Falls and a name change is not bad," Chief Mvutu said. "I will suggest that they call it Mapopoma Falls. I am running away from using the name Mosi Oa Tunya because in Livingstone (Zambia) the name is widely used for lodges, parks and other institutions which will definitely take business away."

The national parks at the premier tourist resort are Mosi Oa Tunya National Park on the Zambian side and Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwean side. On the southern banks of the Zambezi River is the Zambezi National Park extending 40km west along the river.

However, Chief Mvutu warned the authorities against rushing to change the name saying they should first market the new name vigorously before officially renaming the resort town. "There is a danger that we are going to lose a number of tourists as they would not know about the new name. It's highly unlikely that our Zambian counterparts will change from using the name Victoria Falls, which will give them an advantage of tapping in on the influx of tourists," Mvutu said.

The Employers' Association of Tourism Operators (Eato) president and Shearwater Adventures public relations manager Clement Mukwasi said the government should engage a professional co-ordinator to manage the transition period as there was a risk of making Victoria Falls an unpopular destination thereby grossly affecting tourist arrivals which have been increasing tremendously in the past few months.

"The place is known as Victoria Falls in all international bodies such as the Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and international marketing agencies, so an abrupt name change will make the destination unpopular," Mukwasi said.

"The transition should be professionally managed so that people know of the new destination. Otherwise Zanu-PF as the ruling party is free to have a name change of the resort area."

Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) Victoria Falls Chapter president Jonathan Hudson said millions of dollars would be needed to market the place and that would be costly to the country to re-establish Victoria Falls as a popular international destination.

"There is nothing wrong with changing the name, but it would be costly to tourism," Hudson said.

"We would have to spend millions of dollars to market the place to put it back on the international market. We need a vigorous marketing drive," he said.

Source: Zanu-PF warned over Victoria Falls renaming (18/12/13) 

More on this story: Zimbabwe to rename Victoria Falls in anti-colonial name bid (18/12/13)

Botswana minister in canned lion controversy

Source: Africa Geographic Blog
Date: 12 Dec 2013

Botswana’s Minister of Agriculture, Christian de Graaff, is under fire after he exported a large shipment of lions to a canned hunting outfit in South Africa last month.

De Graaff sent 22 lions to the Makhulu Game Farm near Boshof in the Free State (South Africa). Employees at the facility, owned by Henk Vorster, openly discuss how the lions are hunted and their skeletons sold to Asian buyers. Some are bred for sale to international zoos.

At the game farm, a popular local tourist venue about 80km from Kimberley, 18 young lions were crammed together in a small quarantine enclosure of about 30m by 30m this week. With no shade and only a tiny corrugated iron-roofed hut to protect them, they were panting furiously in the blazing heat.

According to Werner Böing, the Environmental Management Inspector at the Free State Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Vorster is an “approved predator breeder in our province and his facility is up to standard”. Permits have been issued to move the 22 lions from Botswana to the Free State, he said.

De Graaff’s involvement in the breeding and hunting of lions was exposed by Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper in September. An investigation revealed that in 2005, the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks captured and donated two “problem” Kalahari lions, a male and a female, to De Graaff’s company, Phologolo Botswana Safaris.

The lions were kept at his Tautona Lodge in Ghanzi and had multiplied to 32 by the time he sent his shipment to the Free State in November. According to Mmegi, a dispute has arisen between De Graaff and Botswana’s Minister of Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, over whether the lions belong to him or the Botswana government, which has banned trophy hunting.

This is not the first deal De Graaff has done with commercial game farmers in the Free State. In 2011, he was given permits to export 26 lions to a farm called Smal Deel Unissen.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Zimbabwe to rename Victoria Falls in anti-colonial name bid

 At its conference last week, President Robert Mugabe’s party said it did not make sense to continue having colonial names and instead these should be replaced by local ones.

David Livingstone was not the first person to see the Victoria Falls, they (the falls) must be rebranded Mosi-Oa-Tunya

“Institutions bearing colonial names must be changed and be given indigenous names . . . School syllabuses must also change,” the party resolved.

“We should teach our children about Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, General (Josiah Magama) Tongogara and other gallant fighters of our liberation struggle.”

Victoria Falls was named after the British monarch, Queen Victoria by a missionary, David Livingstone, the first white person to set sight on one of the world’s seven natural wonders.

At independence in 1980, Mugabe’s government set out to rename most major towns and landmarks, although a number were left untouched.

A leader of an association of ex fighters for Zimbabwe’s independence, Jabulani Sibanda was on Tuesday quoted saying there was no going back on the resolution.

“We still have institutions like Allan Wilson School, what an insult, considering what that man did to our country.

“David Livingstone was not the first person to see the Victoria Falls, they (the falls) must be rebranded Mosi-Oa-Tunya. We have soldiers living at KG (King George) VI (Barracks),” he thundered.

“How can we have our barracks continue to be named after a foreign king?”

But there are fears this could have a negative effect on tourism, at a time the country is desperate for foreign earnings.

But a belligerent Sibanda maintained that if European tourists want to see the legacy of Queen Victoria “her grave is there in England and they are free to do so. Very soon they would be landing at Robert Mugabe International Airport”.

Some in Mugabe’s party have for long called for radical action to rid the country of its colonial past, but have surprisingly been stopped by the country’s 89 year old leader.

A lobby group within Zanu PF once wanted to have the remains of Cecil John Rhodes exhumed from the Matopos Hills and thrown into a river.

Before independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe was called Rhodesia, after Rhodes.

Another group wanted the removal of David Livingstone’s statue from the Victoria Falls, but again their efforts came to nothing.

More recently, the government tried to rename all schools with colonial names after what it terms liberation war heroes, but this failed spectacularly and it was forced to abandon the plan.

Source: Zimbabwe to rename Victoria Falls in anti-colonial name bid (17/12/13)

Friday 6 December 2013

Batoka Dam project secures US$6M funding from World Bank

Source: Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe)
Date: 05/12/13

ZAMBEZI River Authority (ZRA), a company which manages the water resources of the Zambezi River on behalf of Zimbabwe and Zambia, has secured US$6 million from the World Bank for the updating of feasibility studies for the proposed Batoka Gorge Hydro-electric dam.

ZRA’s public relations and communications manager, Elizabeth Karonga said ZRA would next week announce the winning bidder to update the feasibility studies. Work would start in February 2014.

“Yes, the US$6 million funding required for the updating of the feasibility study has been secured from the World Bank,” she said in a telephone interview from her base in Lusaka, Zambia. We will evaluate the bids submitted by the six shortlisted companies and the winning bidder is expected to be announced next week and work will start in February next year.”

ZRA is also evaluating the bids for six shortlisted consultants for the Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA). It is also evaluating bids submitted by shortlisted transaction advisors. The company said only after the above processes have been completed would it inform those who expressed interest to develop the Batoka project on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. The companies involved were 26 and have since been ranked but not yet informed about the results.

The US$2.5 billion Batoka project is expected to generate 1,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity to be shared equally between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Should captive animal interactions be allowed in National Parks?

Captive animal interactions aimed at tourists, such as elephant-back safaris and 'lion walks' have been popular tourism activities in Zimbabwe and Zambia in recent years.

Despite obvious concerns over the welfare of animals kept in captivity and exploited for financial gain it appears that tourists leave their moral and ethical compass at home when they travel. Many of these captive animal interactions claim 'conservation value' in their work, however the merit of these projects is highly debatable (see for example the debate on captive lion interactions or 'lion walks') and their methods controversial.

National Parks, on the other hand, are designated to protect and conserve wild animals in their natural habitat. Occasionally, such as the case of the Elephant Orphanage Project in Kafue, Zambia, captive animal facilities may operate within National Parks. The EOP is a legitimate wildlife sanctuary, rescuing injured and orphaned elephants in extreme cases of hardship and rehabilitating wherever possible. It is operated as a charity, and in no way profits financially from the animals.

Against this background, tourism operators in Zimbabwe have in the past even captured baby wild elephants from the wild, removing them from their maternal herds and enslaving them into captive operations. Operators using lions have large-scale breeding programmes to supply a constant production line of young lion cubs suitable for walking with tourists and resulting in large numbers of adult lions being condemned to spending the rest of their lives in captivity.

Do either of these types of captive-animal tourism interactions have a place in National Parks? One would have thought that the answer was an obvious 'no', but two operators in Victoria Falls are currently trying to obtain concessions in the Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe, to operate their captive elephant and lion interactions within the National Park itself. The ALERT Lion Encounter and Shearwater Adventures both have controversial histories (see links below).

There are many and detailed arguments against the operation of captive animal interactions within National Parks, and it remains to be seen if these two operators will be able to bend rules and entice National Parks with their promises of financial returns and other sweeteners in order to achieve their aims. However, the fact that both these operators are pursuing this course of action suggests that they are confident that they have a chance of success.

As increasing pressures drive Africa's prized wildlife resources towards extinction, the value of our National Parks to protect and conserve species diversity for the future increases. National Parks need more legal, financial and human resources to protect increasingly threatened wild animals. The challenge for conservationists is to connect protected areas, not divide them with fences, excluding wildlife from tradition seasonal movements.

The operation of captive animal interactions within National Parks should not be seen as a short-cut to delivering conservation aims or a 'safari experience' to tourists - indeed many tourists can go and see elephants and lions in captive game parks in their home countries - and are certainly not in keeping with the wild Africa which the tourism industry promotes so strongly as a drawcard for tourism to the region. Safari tourists want to see wild animals in the wild - not captive bred or trained animals in a captive environment.

Conservation of Africa's valuable wildlife resources depends on the protection of large, inter-connected natural areas which need to be actively managed to protect and promote wildlife. The establishment of captive animal interactions does nothing to help achieve these aims, and even undermines them. For this writer there is no place for profit-based captive animal interactions in Africa's National Parks, and those who believe there is are promoting a future where Africa's great wildlife treasures will exist only behind fences and in captivity.

Let's hope that Zimbabwe's Park and Wildlife Authority see through the charade and reject these proposals. If not, their reputation, and that of Zimbabwe, for wildlife conservation and as a top African safari destination will surely be negatively affected. As will, of course, the conservation of wild animals in the Parks themselves.

Time for tourists to vote with their feet and stop supporting operators and agents who promote captive animal interactions and instead visit national parks for a true safari experience and witness the majesty of Africa's wildlife in the wild. You'll be doing more to help conserve Africa's wildlife just be being there than these captive animal operations will ever achieve.

Further information:
Keeping lions wild
Wild elephants captured for elephant back safaris

Bear Grylls survival academy to launch in Zimbabwe

Source: Telegraph Travel (UK)
4 December 2013
Bear Grylls, the adventurer and television presenter, will launch a new ‘Survival Academy’ in Africa
The academy will give intrepid travellers the chance to learn the same techniques used by the Briton in shows such as Born Survivor, which was screened for several years by Channel Four, and Get Out Alive, which aired this year on Discovery Channel.
The first academy will take place in January at the Stanley & Livingstone Private Game Reserve near Victoria Falls. Participants will learn survival techniques such as fire lighting, emergency shelter building, knife skills, foraging for grubs and rodents, as well skills including rappelling, river crossings, and white water rafting.
The course has been designed by Bear Grylls, and will be run by a team of highly-trained experts. It follows the launch of a similar academy in the Scottish Highlands last year, and one in the United States in November.
“The greater Victoria Falls area provides the perfect backdrop for Bear Grylls Survival Academy course to launch,” said Scott Heffield, lead instructor. “Topography, the rivers, the incredible Victoria Falls, extreme weather conditions and African wildlife are all important factors to consider when looking to recreate an environment that simulates real life Bear Grylls survival situations.”

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Botswana accused of allowing fracking in national parks

Source: LA Times
Date: 3 Dec 2013

The government of Botswana has quietly allowed international companies to explore for natural gas in some of the country's most sensitive national parks using the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing, according to a new documentary released in South Africa.

American filmmaker Jeffrey Barbee obtained a government map that appears to show that authorities in Botswana allocated vast exploration concessions in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park and Chobe National Park without a public debate about the possible environmental and health consequences.

After initially denying the claim, Botswana’s government last week admitted that some hydraulic fracturing -- known as fracking -- had taken place during coal-bed methane exploration.

“There are currently no fracking operations going on in the country except exploration drilling by various exploration companies,” the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources said in statement.

Government spokesman Jeff Ramsay said prospecting licenses had been granted in many parts of Botswana, including in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but did not elaborate. He acknowledged that fracking had occurred in some areas in the past, but offered no details about when or where. He said authorities were adhering to environmental regulations.

Botswana runs Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park jointly with South Africa, but a spokesman for that country's environment department had no knowledge of exploration concessions in the park.

Among the companies granted concessions are South African energy giant Sasol, whose spokesman told Barbee that the company was not required by Botswana to produce an environmental management plan, although it considers the practice worthwhile. Other companies include Anglo American, Tlou Energy, Exxaro, Kalahari Energy and Tamboran Resources.

Fracking involves shooting water infused with sand and chemicals at high pressure into coal beds or shale formations to unlock reservoirs of natural gas. The practice is the subject of intense debate in the United States and elsewhere, with activists citing methane leaks from gas well heads and possible contamination of the air and groundwater.

Barbee's film, “The High Cost of Cheap Gas,” contends that natural gas extraction is “dirtier than the industry will admit.”

But for Southern African countries struggling to provide adequate affordable electricity to their populations, promises from energy companies of jobs, hefty returns and reduced dependence on coal-fired electricity are galvanizing. Botswana imports half its energy from neighboring countries.

“This [film] is for the people across the region to know what this industry might entail, so that they can take the best decision,” said Richard Lee, a spokesman for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, a governance group that funded Barbee's project.

Excerpts from the film were screened Sunday night on South Africa's popular investigative news program, Carte Blanche.

Barbee, who now lives in Johannesburg, was exposed to fracking in his home county of Garfield, Colo. He said some of those who once supported fracking there now wish it had never come to Garfield.

When energy companies proposed fracking in Southern Africa, he decided to make a film -- a kind of letter from Garfield, one of America’s most intensively fracked areas, to southern Africans.

“Where I come from in Garfield, Colo., the gas industry came into the area with very little fanfare," Barbee said in an interview Thursday. "Fifteen years later, we are left with an environmental problem in our valley so huge that we don’t yet understand what has been harmed and what has been lost.”

Barbee spoke to activists in Garfield and elsewhere and also interviewed experts from the University of Colorado who cast doubt on assertions of how clean natural gas extraction is, because of emissions and leaks from well heads.

A 2012 Colorado School of Public Health report cited “acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites.” The study focused on toxic emissions in Garfield County from 2008 to 2010. Drilling in Botswana's national parks, where tens of thousands of elephants roam, is causing particular concern.

Barbee interviewed Botswana farmer Ben Moller, who said the elephants depend on clean water from bore holes along their migration route.

“These elephants bank on these bore holes. If it happens that these bore holes get contaminated, it will be a huge disaster for the elephants,” Moller said in the film.

Coal-bed methane extraction requires pumping large amounts of water out of the ground. The water can be clean, but can also be highly saline or radioactive, according to studies cited by the film.