Co-founded Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force
Cheryl Ann Rodrigues, 59, instrumental in making the Cecil the lion poaching case known worldwide in mid-2015, died in Harare, Zimbabwe, on March 29, 2016.
“We have lost one of the best conservationists on this earth,” e-mailed Johnny Rodrigues, her husband of 41 years, who with his wife cofounded the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force in 1998.
“She was my best friend, my soul mate, my companion,” Rodrigues said. “Nothing will ever compare to her and there will forever be a part of me left shattered, lost and confused.
“Cheryl over the past two years had slowly been losing her memory,” Rodrigues explained, which was eventually found to be in consequence of a brain tumor.
“Due to complications in surgery, she sadly passed away.”
Formation of ZTCF
Born Cheryl Ann Whyte in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, Cheryl joined her husband in forming the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force in response to the largely uncontrolled poaching and habitat destruction that accompanied land invasions by supporters of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in the last years of the 20th century.
Promised land in exchange for backing Mugabe during the civil war that led to the transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, the land invasion leaders had grown tired of waiting, nearly 20 years into Mugabe’s tenure. About 70% of Zimbabwe remained in the possession of the 6% of the citizens of European ancestry. With Mugabe’s encouragement, mobs of “war veterans” and their families moved onto farms and privately owned wildlife conservancies.
Response to drought
Cheryl “would do oil paintings of the animal’s native to Zimbabwe to try and raise awareness and funds to help the ZCTF grow,” recalled Lorraine Randall, the eldest of two daughters of Cheryl and Johnny, whose younger daughter Brigitte and son Shane are also involved in wildlife conservation.
“The funds raised were used to help send anti-poaching units run by Johnny in the Kariba area to stop the netting of tiger fish,” Randall said. “They also raised funds towards saving Hwange National Park when it was hit by the severe drought in 2005. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force bought fuel [for patrol vehicles], spare parts for pumps, uniforms and boots, and assisted toward paying the National Park rangers’ wages during that time.”
Cheryl and Johnny Rodrigues, “on one of their first trips to Hwange, to deliver the first batch of 10,000 litres of fuel, from a total of 65,000 litres actually delivered,” installed new pumps and “witnessed the thirsty animals coming out of the bushes to drink,” Randall continued. “Many different species came down to the watering hole that day. My mother was awestruck by the euphoric atmosphere whilst the animals drank. They did not sleep that night. They sat at the watering hole savoring the moment before them.”
In many instances, Randall said, “My parents’ efforts resulted in animals being relocated to safer areas. Only a few of their accomplishments have been spoken about as there are too many to mention. This was all made possible from the proceeds of Cheryl’s paintings and the many donations that came in from animal lovers all over the world.”
The Cecil case
Back home in Harare, Randall wrote, “My mother sat tirelessly for days and nights sending out the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force reports,” e-mailed approximately weekly to a global audience, “and helped Johnny expose the truth about the famous lion Cecil, who was killed by the infamous U.S. trophy hunter Walter Palmer.”
This led to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service prohibiting the import of African lion trophies, and to more than 40 airlines agreeing that they would no longer transport trophies taken from lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and Cape buffalo.
Earlier in life, Randall recalled, her mother was mostly interested in participant sports, including soccer, softball, swimming, and racing motor vehicles.
Biking, ballet & book
“She came from a family of avid motorcycle enthusiasts and rode a motorcycle herself in her youth,” Randall said. “As a young girl, she was labelled as ‘quite a tough cookie’ and somewhat a bit of a tomboy. She also did a spot of ballet, which she hated. I think her parents were trying to encourage her to be more like a girl. She made all the clothes she wore too, and she could play the piano and piano accordion by ear fluently.”
Cheryl Rodrigues “also started writing a book about the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and Johnny, of which she only completed 12 chapters. We hope to complete it and make it available to the public so everyone can hear her story,” Randall finished.