A land locked country in southern Africa, Zimbabwe is about three times the size of England.
Agriculture was by far the most important economic activity in the country, with responsible landowners doing everything they could to protect Zimbabwe¹s rich heritage of wildlife.
All this was to change as in 2000, a wave of land invasions washed over the country. Farmers were forced off their land, often overnight, losing everything they possessed. Thousands of farm workers and their families were subsequently displaced and lost their homes and livelihoods.
Thousands of animals were abandoned, maimed or killed—they were hacked, slashed, burnt, caught in snares, starved or beaten to death. No species avoided this horror - domestic pets, livestock and wildlife, all became the "innocent victims" of Zimbabwe¹s land invasions. Uninvolved, and uncomprehending, these innocents of a man made situation often bore the brunt of the viciousness of the politically inspired lawlessness. On one farm alone, the commercial farmer¹s staff picked up 1,452 snares, another farmer reported that some of his ostrich had had their legs chopped off and were left fluttering on the ground.
One evening, I sat & watched TV footage of a farmer's dog being repeatedly beaten and stoned by a gang of farm invaders—I realized immediately that The Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) of which I was the Chief Inspector, must have a role to play in rescuing and protecting the animals on the occupied farms. Little did I realize that we would be involved for the next five years.
On the whole, domestic animals were reasonably easy to rescue, usually the situation on the farms would be very hostile, but we were in uniform, in a marked vehicle, told the invaders that rescuing the animals was our only agenda—and if we were lucky, were escorted by one or two members of the Police or Army. However, in many instances they were too nervous to accompany us & we had to go it alone!
The rescue of wildlife was much more complicated for us—we had neither the knowledge, equipment, or funding to undertake these rescues. To dart wild animals one has to have a license—understandably, vets were reluctant to go onto farms where they would be seen to be siding with the commercial farmer and therefore could be in danger. So it was left to ZNSPCA to do the best we could!
On Vermont Farm in the Karoi area, we had a problem with two hand-reared lions - Ben & Storm - that the new "owner" wanted removed—their real owner, a well-known farmer in the area, who had already been evicted, wanted to delay this for as long as possible as Storm was heavily pregnant (He had had Ben neutered, but not soon enough!). He also needed time to find another suitable home for his beloved lions - not easy with so many farmers loosing their farms—whole situation not helped by the fact that the Police kept arresting him "for having dangerous animals". To move them required a Movement Permit from the National Parks Dept—that took weeks, with me contacting their offices every day!
Two days before the move was planned, Storm gave birth to two tiny cubs, sadly with all the stress of being separated from her beloved owner, she rejected her cubs. One died a few hours later, the other was taken to experts in this field & he is now a handsome teenager! Assisted by a friend in the wildlife department who darted the two lions, we accompanied them to their new home where they have settled well—their owners have never been allowed to return to their farm.
We became involved in the rescue of hippos, sable, duiker, kudu, snakes etc - in many cases we were unsuccessful as the invaders claimed that all the wildlife on the farms they had occupied were now owned by them, in some cases farmers went to court over it, but with most of the judges in Mugabe's pocket, they lost their claims.
It is estimated that 60% of Zimbabwe's wildlife on commercial farms has been killed, slaughtered or snared. We suggested to Government that there should be a total ban on hunting for a year, or until it is established just how much wildlife is left—our request was ignored. Instead, hunting of Zimbabwe¹s wildlife has increased and become a big money earner for Mugabe's cash-strapped government—with permits being issued to some very unsavory characters, in areas that have previously been protected. The official quota for hunting leopards is still 500 a year—this, when no official survey has ever been carried out on just how many leopards Zimbabwe has.
I worked with a small team of dedicated black Inspectors who were brilliant, and I believe that the obvious success of the thousands of animal rescues that we carried out, was due to the fact that we were totally non-political - the welfare of the animals being our only agenda.
Photos by  Bill Dow  2017 The Roar Foundation
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