Mass translocation of animals to Zimbabwe canceled after project partners fall out

By Farayi Machamire for Zim Morning Post

An ambitious project to move 2,600 wild animals from a reserve in southern Zimbabwe to one in the north of the country has gone up in smoke after a dramatic fallout between the parties involved.

The suppliers of the animals – the Savé Valley Conservancy and the Sango Conservancy – accuse the project’s funder, the Great Plains Foundation, of acting in bad faith.

They claim that the project’s funder created a false narrative that portrayed the relocation as a result of climate change and drought in the southern reservation, which contradicted the facts on the ground.

“The Great Plains Foundation and its staff have made numerous recent public statements that are misleading, incorrect and damaging to the reputation of Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC) and Sango Wildlife Conservancy (Sango),” said Wilfried Pabst, founder of Sango Wildlife Conservancy.

Pabst argued that the alleged misinformation and other misleading statements by the project’s funders damaged the credibility and reputation of the two conservancies.

Pabst added that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was agreed upon by the three parties as the basis for this planned two-year relocation was not adhered to.

“In 2022, Savé Valley Conservancy and Sango Wildlife Conservancy entered into a partnership with the Great Plains Foundation under which they committed to donate wildlife at no cost to the Rewild Zambezi project,” said Pabst.

“In the MOU, Great Plains Foundation and all have committed to coordinate public communication efforts with its partners and not to discredit its partners in any way. This commitment was not honored by the Great Plains Foundation.”

“SVC and Sango have repeatedly tried to get the Great Plains Foundation to honor this agreement and engage in real and truthful reporting. The Great Plains Foundation rejected these interventions and continued to make misleading statements.

“Among others and as an example, the following inaccurate statements were broadcast: “‘…animals will die if not relocated’, ‘animals would be slaughtered if not relocated’. It costs $10,000 (£8,850) to relocate each one. elephant…” “…to save 400 elephants from drought…”

“…Climate change has made food and water scarce in the Salvation…” “…Kill them or move them…” and more.”

Savé Valley Conservancy CEO Harry Idensohn said they were stunned by the alleged misleading reports.

“While we recognize that we have excess numbers of animals in certain key species, especially elephants, the reason for this excess has nothing to do with drought or climate change, although it is recognized that we are not immune to drought or the effects of climate . change, they are not why we have an abundance of animals that we would be willing to transfer to areas that require restocking,” he said.

“Furthermore, we as SVC subscribe to national policies such as the Zimbabwe Elephant Management Plan and consider it essential that any translocation destination party fully adheres to such policy documents as and to engage and seek agreement with conservation and community stakeholders in the recipient area so as to ensure that both conservation and community objectives are achieved for the greater good of Zimbabwe, its wildlife and people.”

The relocation headquarters was based in the Sango Wildlife Conservancy, a 60,000-hectare area of ​​the Savé Valley Conservancy.

So far, 101 African elephants, in groups of six to eight, have been transferred from Savé Valley Conservancy to Sapi, Zambezi Valley in northern Zimbabwe – a journey of 700 kilometers.

The 101 were to be part of the 400 elephants translocated by Project Rewild Zambezi, through the Great Plains Foundation.

The resettlement project started in June this year and was to run for two years. It is unclear what will happen to the Great Plains Foundations’ previously stated mission of facilitating anti-poaching training to secure the area where the animals have been set up for relocation. Dereck Joubert – CEO of Great Plains Conservation had previously told Zim Morning Post that the relocated elephants have adapted well to their new environment.

Asked for comment about the allegations and the withdrawal of the other two parties to the agreement, the Great Plains Foundation said it could not comment at this time.

Far from internal conflict, the project faced external opposition from wildlife researcher Dr David Cumming and Richard Maasdorp, strategic director of the Zambezi Society.

“Save Valley Conservancy has an overpopulation of elephants, but the numbers are now at a level where removing 400 elephants, from a population that is growing by five percent a year or more, will not solve their problem,” said Dr Cumming.

“To return to a manageable population of around 1,300 elephants at a density of 0.5 per square km from their current population of over 3.50, they will need to remove more than three thousand elephants over the next decade – which it’s unlikely to happen.” he added.

Maasdorp, strategic director of the Zambezi Society, said the factors causing the population decline had not been fully investigated.

“The lower Zambezi Valley has viable populations of all major species and therefore livestock relocation is not a conservation imperative. Furthermore, the factors causing the population decline have not been fully investigated,” Maarsdorp told Zim Morning Post.

“These factors range from deforestation, habitat loss, clogging of inland water sources, escarpment fires and, to a lesser extent, poaching. All of this should be fully investigated, understood and action plans developed before any more animals are moved,” he added.

This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Program funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by VukaNow: USAID Activity. Implemented by international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Written articles from the Mozambican and Angolan cohorts are translated from Portuguese. Broadcast stories remain in their original language.

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