Spent 13 years trying to protect Hwange herd & habitat
HARARE, Zimbabwe––Upset by alleged land grabs and poaching involving people well-connected within the Robert Mugabe government, Australian elephant researcher Sharon Pincott on April 16, 2014 e-mailed to ANIMALS 24-7 that she is reluctantly leaving Zimbabwe and giving up a 13-year effort to protect the habitat of the herd known as the Presidential Elephants, about whom Pincott wrote two books.
The herd has included as many as 400 elephants in 20 family groups.
Explained Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force founder Johnny Rodrigues, “The Presidential Elephants roam in an area called Kanondo, near Hwange National Park. A few years ago (actually in 1990, 2009, and 2011) President Mugabe promised to take these elephants under his wing and stated that nobody would ever be allowed to shoot them. Sharon Pincott has spent the past 13 years living in the area and studying these elephants. She named them and spent many hours getting to know them, and has done everything in her power to protect them.”
Unfortunately, elaborated Alex Ball of SW Radio Africa on March 26, 2014, “A woman who calls herself either Elisabeth Pasalk or Elisabeth Freeman has claimed ownership of the land in the Kanondo area, despite a 2013 directive by Zimbabwe’s cabinet that offer letters for the land be withdrawn. The woman has claimed 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 ignored. Instead, the Kanondo land claimant has forged ahead with building a safari lodge.
“The new land ‘owner’ has also been blocking outside access to the land,” Ball reported, “including game drives full of tourists on photographic safaris in Zimbabwe specifically to see the Presidential herd. The caretaker of the herd [Pincott] has also personally been threatened and manhandled for continuing to monitor the herd on the Kanondo land. The Kanondo area is now being referred to as the Gwango Elephant Lodge, which claims to be a conservancy opening for tourism business in April 2014. 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.”
An August 27, 2013 web posting by a company called Hunting Legends announced that “We have secured unique hunting opportunities in the well known Matetsi One Conservancy area in Zimbabwe. With the help and assistance of our friends and concession operators Rodger Madangure, his wife Gaynor and sister Elisabeth Freeman (USA based), we now can offer you access to certainly one of the most prestigious hunting concessions in all Africa.”
But the mention of Freeman was later deleted. The web sites for Freeman’s lodging and photo safari businesses, as of April 23, 2014, did not mention hunting. Rather, they appeared to describe an approach to developing non-lethal tourism somewhat resembling ideas that Pincott herself had advanced since 2001 through her Presidential Elephant Conservation Project, but without finding the investment capital to realize.
“There was once a proposal that this area be turned into a Presidential Park, so that key things like game-drive capability amongst these elephants to benefit the maximum number of tourists possible could be properly managed; so that the number of, and distance between, competitor lodges could be properly and sensibly controlled; and so that those trying to underhandedly hunt could be properly dealt with,” Pincott wrote in a statement meant to be her “final post” from Zimbabwe.
“This proposal was rejected by the previous environment minister, Francis Nhema,” Pincott recounted. “Under his watch, land areas were snatched and underhanded hunting activities went on. When Saviour Kasukuwere stepped in to head the environment ministry last year, he initially brought a ray of hope that things might improve.”
Pincott cited a December 3, 2013 cabinet directive and a February 6, 2014 statement by Kasukuwere that “The Presidential Herd will be protected. This is very important to Zimbabwe and our tourism industry.”
But the Freeman project went ahead, with “blocking outside access to the land” perhaps serving a purpose similar to Pincott’s ideas for regulating tourist traffic and lodge encroachment on the habitat.
Elephant fertility research
“As for the elephants,” Pincott concluded in her “final post, “I take pride in the fact that I dedicated to them 13 long years. I can only hope now that they become one with Hwange’s general elephant population, finding safety inside the boundaries of the better secured Hwange National Park, as they have done before in tragic times.”
Pincott in 2006 published data from her Presidential Elephants research indicating that the sound of gunfire from hunters and poachers might cause female elephants to fail to conceive. Later in 2006 she announced that she would leave Zimbabwe, but “After preparing to move to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, to work with eles there, I was persuaded to remain in Zim,” she told ANIMALS 24-7.
(See also Gunfire no aprodisiac for African elephants. )