Campfire sticks to its guns in poaching row

Campfire, the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources programme, is in the spotlight again after the shocking admission by villagers in Tsholotsho that they had been making a living by poisoning elephants with cyanide.

Villagers from Chief Sipho’s area told a seven-member ministerial delegation that the breakdown of the Campfire programme and unreliable council and national parks services had led to some of them resorting to poaching to make ends meet. The delegation, which included environment, water and climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere, had gone to the area on a fact-finding mission following the death of more than 100 elephants in Hwange national park and surrounding areas.

“I have been working with Campfire since 1987 and problems started in 2009 when the organisation’s structure seemingly broke down. Campfire stopped sending the 60 per cent it is supposed to give to village wards from the disposal of natural resources,” claimed a villager.

He added that, during the same period, park rangers stopped patrolling areas adjacent to the national park, allowing wild animals to stray into villages and destroy crops.

“People here are bitter because they were being arrested for killing the elephants yet they were destroying their crops. Poverty and hunger drove people to start this cruel practice of poisoning elephants,” said the villager. “What was raised at the meeting was just an individual opinion. The truth of the matter is that villagers have benefited from Campfire,” countered Charles Jonga, Campfire director, in an interview with The Zimbabwean.

Jonga revealed that since 2010, Tsholotsho South generated $289,576 in trophy fees paid to Tsholotsho rural district council, communities and the Campfire association. During the same period, Tsholotsho North generated $360,474. Of that amount Jonga said communities received 60 per cent, council 36 per cent and Campfire four per cent.

“Allocations for 2013 are projected figures, but about 30 per cent has so far been distributed and the hunting season is still on and it is guaranteed that all elephants on quota will be taken,” said Jonga.

Campfire was introduced in the area in 1991 and Tsholotsho South and North were then designated as hunting concessions. Gariya Safaris have been hunting in the area on one-year renewable leases. Renewals were made without tender or contract review until 2002, when Tsholotsho ditrict council entered into a new contract with the safari operator. The council under this contract gave Gariya Safaris the right to conduct hunting safaris in Tsholotsho South for a period of nine years and eleven months, terminating on February 28, 2012.

A new safari operator, Lodzi Hunters, was recently awarded the contract to hunt in the area and pays $15,600 per trophy bull plus concession fees.

Campfire was first started in 1982 and 37 districts now hold Appropriate Authority (AA) status for the management of wildlife. Around 200 villagers are estimated to benefit from trophy hunting, community based tourism, beekeeping, timber and crafts as well as fisheries projects.

The Campfire director said, despite challenges, communities were generally in support of wildlife as an important natural resource and a livelihood option. Jonga criticised the increasing incidences of poaching.

“The effect of this will impact negatively on the Tsholotsho South concession since the national park has a pivotal role of feeding into this concession,” he added.

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