Community Conservation Success in Zimbabwe’s Dande Safari Area

By Joe Goergen, SCIF Conservation Manager

Editor’s Note: This past November, staff from Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation traveled to Zimbabwe to co-host the 17th Annual Wildlife Consultative Forum with ZimParks in Victoria Falls. Prior to the event, they enjoyed a site visit to community areas that benefit directly from hunting safari operations. Following is a first-hand account on a visit to the Dande Safari Area, which is part of Zimbabwe’s community CAMPFIRE program.

On my first ever trip to Zimbabwe, our first stop was to meet with the elected councilor of a regional ward. We listened in over the gurgle of pumping water as school children, nurses and mothers filled their containers. The local leader explained that the safari operators in this area were responsible for installing the solar panel pump to the borehole that supplies 5,000 people with fresh water from sunup to sundown.

Next to the borehole, a clinic provided healthcare and delivered a baby every other day. Without the clinic, these people would have to travel 10 km for their basic needs. After taking a sip from the spigot, several kids left with full buckets as more showed up for their daily routine. The people here were clearly grateful for the water and in need of it as the dry season lingered on before the hope of rain.

SCIF Conservation Manager Joe Goergen with the clinician at the health clinic in Angwa

For me and the rest of the team from SCIF, it was a powerful experience before traveling on to host the 17th African Wildlife Consultative Forum together with ZimParks in Victoria Falls. The hunting operators here, along with the CAMPFIRE program, arranged this field visit for us to see the work being done by Charlton McCallum Safaris (CMS) in the Dande Safari Area.

The Dande is a vast and wild landscape of more than 500,000 acres and is home to around 87,000 people in scattered small villages and homesteads. Surrounded by open borders, Dande is vulnerable to ivory poachers crossing from neighboring Zambia and Mozambique. There is little photo tourism appeal, except on the mighty lower Zambezi River, so the entire area is managed completely through revenue raised by the CMS hunting operation. Trophy fees are split with ZimParks and other income is shared with local communities.

Despite all those challenges to running a safari business, the Charlton McCallum partnership has been resilient and focused on providing results for community-based conservation. They are deeply involved with the CAMPFIRE program, with the solar powered borehole just one example.

Solar powered borehole projects help provide a reliable source of water to remote villages

“CMS was the very first operator to go into a joint venture with the communities,” said Buzz Charlton. “We are a 50% partner.”

We were joined in the bush by several rangers from the Dande Anti-Poaching Unit. Otherwise known as DAPU, this unit was formed in 2014 to address an urgent increase in poaching. These rangers, tough as dirt, are the major reason the area has seen a drastic reduction in ivory poaching from some 40 elephant a year in the early 2010s to almost zero today. DAPU has also been successful in managing bushmeat poaching, evidenced by the piles of snares stacked in the back of camp collected from just the past couple of months, each one representing a kudu or impala saved. Thanks to the community-based approach to hunting, the CMS guys are seeing a significant comeback in the abundance of game.

“When we got here in 2010, we flew over and there was absolutely nothing,” said Myles McCallum. “And then we started picking up thousands of snares. Some of the waterholes were three snares deep.”

Snares collected by rangers from the Dande Anti-Poaching Unit ( DAPU)

This commercial level of bushmeat poaching led to the creation of DAPU with about 40 scouts now employed directly from the communities. The Dande is an extremely poor area of Zimbabwe, so these employment opportunities, intelligence rewards and other economic incentives provide a substantial amount of money to local villagers. The scouts also assist in problem animal control, often assisting villages in hazing elephants away from crops.

“Six to seven people are killed by human-wildlife conflict every year” said Claudis Majiya, CEO of the Mbira Rural District Council. In addition to the human casualties, people here must deal with predation on their domestic livestock and crop damage. “If these animals are not hunted or provide benefits to our people, we may not have reason to stay with them.”

Protein is a critical need for the communities in the Dande, so the CMS team enforces the law through DAPU while providing positive conservation incentives through a meat-sharing system, particularly important from elephant hunts. Again, all of this anti-poaching activity is funded through international tourist hunting.

Unfortunately, most people don’t see this side of the conservation story and how this area has suffered recently due to hunting trophy import restrictions. The CAMPFIRE program’s budget nationally across Zimbabwe is funded 90% by hunting, 70% of which specifically comes from elephant hunting. With the import hold on elephant trophies in the U.S. still in effect, fewer and fewer American hunting tourists are traveling here to the detriment of elephant populations and local communities alike.

“At the moment, Americans can’t import their elephant trophies home. That’s 36% of our income that is shared with the communities,” said McCallum. “So how do we pay for everything? We have some 2,000 elephants here. Nobody wants them. They don’t love lions and elephant, they hate them. If we can’t hunt and profit from them, why should these people have to live with them? How do you explain to someone that that elephant is more important than you?”

Hunting across this district pays more than $700,000 every year to the communities, ZimParks and the rural council, with the CMS operation alone representing 90% of their total budget. Hunting here is clearly an integral part of the rural economy.

Without hunting this area would see an influx of human encroachment and subsistence farming. The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to African wildlife. As Charlton concluded, “only hunting is saving the Dande from turning into a massive cotton field.”

The Dande experience is one being echoed around Africa, as an unprecedented number of community representatives joined the SCIF team at AWCF as we traveled on to Victoria Falls. At the 17th AWCF, attendees voiced the importance of the international hunting industry to rural economies and the need to engage communities as real stakeholders in wildlife conservation.

If you’re interested in supporting DAPU, please contact SCIF or look up Charlton McCallum Safaris at the SCI Convention this February 5-8, in Reno, Nevada. Please learn more by watching this video by the Conservation Imperative. Better yet, if you go on a true wilderness hunt in Zimbabwe, make sure to visit with the community members, health clinics and anti-poaching rangers, or you’ll be missing the most important part of the experience.