PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday renewed a 21-year-old pledge to protect and conserve a herd of elephants that roam the Hwange National Park in Matabeleland North.
The President issued a decree to have the herd protected from poachers and other dangers in 1990.
The protection order has resulted in the elephants, which are on the international list of endangered species, growing in number from about 200 in 1990 to nearly 600 this year.
The figure represents one of the most spectacularly successful conservation stories in Africa.
In a speech read on his behalf by the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Francis Nhema yesterday, President Mugabe said the Presidential Decree was a sign of the country’s dedication to the preservation of wildlife.
“In 1990, under my patronage and as a symbol of my personal commitment and that of all Zimbabweans to conservation and wildlife management, the elephants that roam the Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe were declared protected,” said President Mugabe.
He said the protected herd was then named the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe.
“It is my great pleasure 21 years on to reaffirm this Presidential Decree and Zimbabwe’s commitment to the ongoing protection of this wild clan of elephants,” said President Mugabe.
He said the Presidential Elephants had earned their place as one of Africa’s great wonders and constantly attracted tourists to the country.
“Tourists compare these exceptional creatures to the magnificent gorillas of our East African neighbours,” said President Mugabe.
He said the country, like Governments the world over, was facing challenges in balancing the conflicting needs of man and the environment.
“Zimbabwe has a sound wildlife management infrastructure combined with capacity to recognise the need to protect this exceptional resource. I pay tribute to the invaluable contribution made by all of us to the ongoing preservation of this flagship herd,” said President Mugabe.
The President said it was everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the elephants continued to roam freely within the beauty of Hwange Estate.
He re-iterated his protection of the unique herd.
In an interview after the event, Ms Sharon Pincott, the guardian of the Presidential Herd, welcomed the President’s reaffirmation for the protection of the elephants.
“The reaffirmation of the decree comes at an excellent time and will ensure that tourists continue pouring into the country to see these magnificent creatures,” said Ms Pincott, who has been monitoring the herd for the past 11 years.
She said the herd had grown from four family groups to about 17 family groups, since she began “keeping tabs” on it in 2000.
She said during the time she has been observing the elephants, about 20 of them had been lost to suspicious activities (poaching).
“However, activities that threatened the herd, like snaring and water shortage, continue to be addressed over the years as stakeholders educate locals about them.
“The locals have since taken ownership of the animals,” she said.
Ms Pincott is affectionately known as MaNdlovu by the people living in the Hwange area.
The event, which was held at Ganda Lodge, a few kilometres from the Hwange National Park Main Camp, was attended by stakeholders, who included Chief Nelukoba, officials from the Ministry of
Environment and Natural Resources, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe, Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe and the police.