HARARE (April 1, 2005) by Don Heath -- The big-game hunting season in Zimbabwe has just started, as usual with the cheaper “wet season” elephant hunts. What does the rest of the year hold, though? The continued turmoil over the land acquisition programme has kept most of the plains-game hunting areas in turmoil, with many illegal or corrupt practices taking place.

In select areas, notably the Save conservancy and some private game ranches with a component of foreign ownership, plains-game hunting continues unabated. In the CAMPFIRE (tribal land) concessions, hunting is the main form of revenue for the people. Unfortunately this has led to increased settlement in areas that are doing well, and also to heavy increases in poaching in many areas. The severe shortage of maize, which is now in its fifth year and growing worse, has exacerbated the problem and we have seen steadily declining buffalo trophy quality over this period in many CAMPFIRE areas.

The parks areas remain unaffected by poaching or excessively high quotas, although the recent awarding of six prime concessions to politically connected individuals, without going through the correct government tender procedure, leaves one wondering how long the Parks & Wildlife Authority can hold off the pressure to increase quotas above sustainable levels in the name of short-term gain – especially in view of the fact that the “political” concessionaires have only one-year leases and can be kicked out with any change of minister.

On the whole, though, the hunting situation in Zimbabwe remains good. Prices charged by the better operators have risen 15% in US$ terms over the last five years and look set to continue rising with demand for buffalo, lion, and leopard outstripping supply.

One of the problems causing budget hunters untold grief is the number of fly-by-night operators exploiting the current lawlessness and confusion over the land invasions to turn a fast buck. Many of these are local operators who in normal times were forced to comply with accepted standards of ethics, but who are now free to do as they like. Others are foreign nationals or companies operating here totally illegally but with the now almost-customary impunity. The problem for the visiting hunter who uses one of these outfits is that he frequently doesn’t get his trophies, or finds his own police investigating him for receiving stolen property. In brief, there are no bargains to be had in Zimbabwe hunting, aside from elephant.

The government has stipulated legal minimum rates that an operator may charge as both the daily rate and for each species of animal. The legal minimum for a buffalo hunt, for instance, is now US$4750, but a written explanation will have to accompany any hunt -- and there will be an audit – as to why the price is so low. The exception is elephant, which Zimbabwe has in over-abundance. Bulls on trophy quota are subject to the usual minimums -- trophy fee of US$8500 and US$500 per day for ten days -- but there are a large number of non-exportable cows, tuskless and “wet season” bulls available, which operators are having difficulty in selling. The minimum daily rate still applies but the trophy fee is entirely negotiable.

Visiting hunters need to be aware that there are many operators (mainly small, some South African, Italian and American based, as well as Zimbabwean) that are operating illegal hunts on occupied land, both for plains game and big game. If you are hunting on private land, under Zimbabwe law (and therefore enforced by the USA and EU) you require the legal landowner’s permission to hunt. The fact that the land has been re-allocated is irrelevant. Title has not changed. Also, you are required to hunt with a licensed Zimbabwean PH and a Zimbabwean operator. These details and the legitimacy of the whole hunt can easily be checked with the association (e-mail zatso@mweb.co.zw) or on the web site www.soaz.com.