MEDIA RELEASE: 7 June 2014
By Kenesias Dambakurima,
in collaboration with March for Elephants and For Elephants Int.
__________FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE___________
Hundreds of concerned Zimbabwe citizens hand over 8000 signatures to Minister Mombeshora’s office to save the Presidential Elephant Herd.
On Thursday 5th June 2014, Kenesias Dambakurima of Chiwundura Constituency, Zimbabwe and thousands of supporters, called on the Ministers for Land and Resettlement and Tourism to immediately evict the occupiers of the Presidential Elephant game-drive land known as State Land Kanondo, adjacent to Hwange National Park Main Camp.
Mr Damakurima, flanked by a 30 strong contingent from the hundreds waiting outside the offices, presented the ‘Save the Presidential Elephants Now’ petition which has been signed by thousands of Zimbabweans, including many in person in Harare and over 6000 internationals. The petition calls on the Minister of Lands and Resettlement, The Minister of Tourism, The Minister of the Environment, the Cabinet and Politburo to enforce the Cabinet Directive of 3rd December 2013. The petition requests that the illegal occupier of the land, Ms Elisabeth Freeman (also known as Pasalk) be evicted as per the Cabinet's orders and the land reopened for tourism operators and the conservation project she banned. The area, adjacent to the Hwange National Park Main Camp is renown for the President’s own flagship elephant herd, which became known as the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe following a 1990 Presidential Decree, that was reaffirmed in 2011.
Mr Dambakurima stated “Of course all of us who attended the Minister's office and our 8000 plus supporters are very disappointed that despite our best efforts to engage directly with the Minister or his Permanent Secretary we were unable to do so. We have on record the signature of receipt that the petition was delivered to the Minster's Office; there is no excuse now that the Ministers and Cabinet have not been formally informed of our concerns. We have done our level best to put this issue squarely in front of the responsible Ministers.” He went on to say “We will continue to agitate for the Politburo and Cabinet to do the right thing and enforce their own 3rd December Cabinet Directive. We do this for the on going well-being of the Presidential Elephant Herd, equity in the tourism industry for the good of the general tourist who comes to enjoy these elephants on game-drives and to ensure this prime land and until now, safe, elephant habitat is not compromised by links to political heavyweights and known unethical hunting ties."
Ms Freeman is the daughter of the late politician Isabel Shanangurai Madangure. Ms Freeman's brother is a hunter from the nearby Matetsi sport-hunting area known to have hunted without a quota. There are ongoing fears of this claimant bringing underhanded and unethical hunting activities into this important land area, heightened by her demand that this area now be closed off to others.
“It is of deep concern that Ms Freeman has stopped the formal monitoring, recording and patrol efforts of a conservationist who had been dedicated to this work for the past 13 years. The authorities must ensure that all Presidential Elephant areas are open to this important work, which is crucial to knowing the ongoing status of this flagship herd across all land areas.” Damakurima reiterated.
Earlier reports of Ms Freeman’s connection to hunting operations, her building of a lodge (which she has called Gwango Elephant Lodge) and advertising long stay safaris all fuel the concern that this was to be no ordinary photographic safari operation. A tourism operator, who wished to remain anonymous, said “We have been bringing clients to this area for years, now these illegal boundaries are in place and we cannot access prime waterholes. Our clients, from South Africa, Zimbabwe and foreign visitors, have spent thousands of dollars to visit our lodges precisely because of where they are located. They are disappointed that we cannot take them into the prime area – it reflects so badly on Zimbabwe’s tourism sector to have one individual with political connections lock up land like this.”
Responding to the charge that Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is being harmed by advocates who speak out about the occupation of the land and voicing concerns about the safety of the herd, Mr Dambakurima, stated "We want tourism to be fair and sustainable for the operators and the animals in Zimbabwe. If the Ministers give a directive about the lands that are used for tourism, and are important to the conservation efforts of a flagship herd, then the occupiers must listen to that directive and vacate and the Ministers must enforce it. We have not gone public on this to generate bad publicity - we have done this to create the best outcome for the elephants, tourism operators and wildlife conservation efforts in Zimbabwe. It is not us that has caused this situation it is the Ministers and Cabinet for not following through on their own orders. When one woman can lock up prime land for a personal business when the area was already flourishing – that is bad for Zimbabwe Tourism and the perception of Zimbabwe as a whole towards its wildlife, and especially towards its flagship herd of elephants."
CONTACT FOR COMMENT
CELL PHONE: Kenesias Dambakurina on: +27833 579 901
EMAIL: kennydamba [at] gmail.com