After weeks of urban centers and crowds, it was important to see some natural beauty.
Zimbabwe (land of stone houses) boasts a rich amount of biodiversity. According to its report on the convention of biodiversity (click here) it had:
- 5,930 vascular plant species, of which 214 are endemic
- 670 bird species
- 270 mammal species
- 156 reptile species
- 120 amphibian species
- 151 fish species
A brief history
The history of Zimbabwe goes back eons. The San and the Bantu were some of the original inhabitants. Giant stone fortresses built by the Shona marked the power of the kingdom in the 11th centuries. However, European colonizers subjugated much of the population in the 1890s. There were some unsuccessful revolts which led to large scale displacement of indigenous people’s by the white government.
In the 1930 land was divided along racial lines with 51% of the land being given to 50,000 white inhabitants and 29.8% of the land for over a million Africans. The remainder of the land was maintained by the state as property of the English Crown.
By the 1960s a revolutionary movement started within Zimbabwe (called Rhodesia at the time to honor the colonist Cecil Rhodes from the British South African company). Robert Mugabe became one of the forefront leaders and promised land to independence fighters.
By 1980 Great Britain had enough and Zimbabwe was independent!
During the 1990s the Africa’s grain and maize output rose as Zimbabwe’s output fell. At the same time, independence fighters who had been promised land for their efforts were clamoring at Mugabe’s doorstep for land. I was told he offered them $50,000 each, but they wanted land. (This article confirms part of that story).
Mugabe then enacted land reform in 2001. There was a plan to move unused land from white ownership to African ownership; however it took the form of: “If you want land, take it.” White farmers who had owned the land for generations were promptly displaced as land was immediately taken and reallocated. While many viewed this as long time justice enacted, the European and North American community decried these actions as unfair and imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe.
While many Zimbabweans knew how to farm, they lacked the capital, transportation, international connections, and marketing to perform large scale farming. Moreover, international sanctions also prevented them from selling their goods to a larger international community. It was a popular refrain to say that Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa. Certainly many people from neighboring Mozambique immigrated to work in Zimbabwian farms; however Zimbabwe wasn’t quite as successful as the claim. A great article sorts fact from fiction here (Click Here). People making the claim that Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa before Land Reform are right to say things were better economically for the country; however they romanticize the productivity and stability of the white plantation farmers.
Trophy Hunting – a side effect of poverty
Hyperinflation started and Zimbabwe’s economy plunged. With poverty the exploitation of Zimbabwe’s resources continued. Trophy hunting, which is legal for many animals in Zimbabwe, became a real way for people to make money.
It isn’t just lions that were trophy hunted in Zimbabwe
Even today trophy hunting continues in Zimababwe.
FACT: Photographic tourism, especially in places with high biodiversity brings in more money to the country than trophy hunting (Citation). However in today’s day and age where facts don’t seem to matter, people still claim that trophy hunting is good for local economies. This typical mantra is used to justify continued exploitation of a another land’s resources.
The economic situation in Zimbabwe is dire. In talking with an airport worker he stated: “People are working for a loaf of bread. The new leaders promised so much after Mugabe, but nothing has come yet.” The economic crisis pushed political crisis as recent protests started to spread (Click Here).
With this as a backdrop, we wanted the girls to see how a model for conservation might work to preserve Zimbabwe’s wildlife. We decided to visit IMIRE and see how a game park works that focuses on conservation and not hunting.
Started in 1948 by Norm and Gilly Travers, IMIRE became a conservancy in 1972 dedicated to saving endangered black rhinos. Gradually, they increased their mandate and now a great many threatened species call IMIRE’s 5000 hectare fenced space home. The Travers family still runs things, and have provided several different ways to experience IMIRE. There are day trips for game drives and overnights at the lodge, but we opted for a volunteer experience. We wanted to participate in conservancy and see what it took to make such a large scale endeavor happen.