cecilIt has been the policy of this site to date to avoid direct discussion on this very emotional and contentious issue. The following is what we believe is both a positive and balanced view that we have finally agreed to post by way of voicing an opinion.

Firstly, let us say  Vic Falls 24 is a site that is home grown in the region of Africa that we call Zambesia.  A region that encompasses some of the world’s few remaining pristine habitats, habitats that cross country boundaries at will, and a region that gets its name from  the Zambezi River.  We believe that far too many news sites around the world have taken to many liberties in posting, flighting and disgorging populist, inflammatory viewpoints to enhance their own readership. Recently there have been those out there that have encouraged a more sober, balanced view on the scenery that has formed the back drop for wild Africa’s infamous story of “Cecil”, and those we applaud.

Let us set the scene…

On just another glorious, winter morning in Western Zimbabwe a teenage Ndebele boy is sent with his sisters to collect water from a nearby well. The walk is only two kilometres and so as the dawn rolls in across the African bush, the four sisters  giggle and natter about the trivial things,  whilst Moses is stern about keeping them on the path and keeping their voices down. Maybe they will spot the old male bushbuck that lives near the path, seeing him is always a good start to the day. As the happy group passes through a vlei ( a sort of open river line of low lying grass ) the temperature drops and the steam from the mouths of the kids mingles with the mist that has sunk into the depression, forming a straight line of thin cloud just two meters above the ground.

The morning sun has reached the top of the trees and as it filters through the Msasa leaves onto his back Moses feels the warmth of another exciting day coming. In the distance Moses hears the voices of another family ahead on another path and privately curses the fact that Obert, who is from a village close to a nearby kopje ( rocky outcrop ) is going to beat him to the hand pumped borehole.  The competition between them is most likely lost for the day. He hurries his sisters along and they break into a trot for the last 800m.  Maybe they can reduce the gap.

As the family approaches the well the area is criss-crossed with paths. Moses studies the tracks on these paths and sees that a herd of eland (Africa’s largest antelope ) must have also beaten them to the water, and may be standing at the waterhole.  The waterhole is pumped by a solar pump that brings the water to the surface. Both the hand pump and the solar borehole were installed by a local hunting company, using funds donated from an American client. He cautions his sisters to keep their voices down as he knows that upsetting the Eland whilst at the waterhole is something his father dislikes.

During the time it takes the girls from both families to untie and fill the 10 litre containers they have carried empty from home, the two boys retreat to a safe distance and discuss “mens’” things whilst also keeping an eye on their sisters. Obert asks Moses if his father has returned yet from his elephant hunt.   He has been away almost three weeks and Obert knows there will be good stories to hear when Moses’ father returns. Moses shakes his head but looks to the horizon with a gaze that does not hide his excitement. No small part of his emotion emanates from the pride he has in his father, and the fact that his whole community look forward to his return.  Japhet Ndlovu will bring with him gifts for the women that were carefully brought across from Europe by the client, and meat for the entire community to share.

He will arrive in his old land cruiser that he managed to buy and fix using the tips he earned on the many safaris he tracked over the last 12 months. He will be carrying with him the chef and the skinner Alfred and Mike, they will be laughing and teasing each other.

Suddenly the sound of the girls singing stops.  They are finished filling the plastic containers with water. Moses’ thoughts return from his father’s white teeth and his delightful tobacco smell to reality. The girls must each place a ten litre container on their head, and Moses must lead them back home where their mother waits to make their breakfast. Moses waves to Obert whilst miming a catapult shot reminding him about their plans to chase the baboons from their small crop of pumpkins growing close to both homesteads.

Half way home seven year old Grace, the youngest, has a sore neck from carrying the water and asks her brother if they can rest for a moment. Moses agrees and whilst the other girls want to proceed home, Moses cautions them and tells them all to wait. He reminds them that only yesterday they saw the spore of a lion on the path. There are many lion in the areas around where they live and Moses knows that as long as they travel together they are unlikely to have any problem from the lion. Generally these lion are following the herds of eland and buffalo and with this steady food supply, the lion has little interest in the local people.

The fact is that the single largest threat to wildlife in Africa is habitat loss. It is the battle for viability of land, whether it be in terms of a Safari Area designated for consumptive tourism ‘hunting’ that is controlled by National Parks, or it is a community area such as Moses’ area that is bounding onto a National Park, like Hwange or a Hunting area like Matetsi. Whether it is on a commercial scale or on a subsistence scale it is vital that the land that wildlife currently survives on remains viable in the short, medium and long term. If for now it is hunting that pays the bills, then we should allow it to happen albeit with the correct controls and quota systems until such time as photographic tourism can take its place.

VF24 do not “like” hunting.  The very thought of killing animals is sad. However the story runs deeper than this and before making a stand and voicing your personal views that could result in effecting the short and medium term viability of this habitat, habitat that if lost today may very likely never be recovered in the future, we ask you to think about some of the many stories such as Moses and his family who live every day on land for which they must be brave and respectful.  Their lives depend on it. The fact that they love their way of life is an added bonus.  We dream of the day when all of the young boys and girls like Moses in Zambesia turn into Photographic Professional Guides and have daily work.

An insert from one of our Zimbabwean contributors –

In Zimbabwe we are blessed with large areas of natural, pristine bush and wildlife and with also with a government who truly believe in the preservation of this wildlife for future generations, if this were not the case these areas would have been lost already as with some much of our continent. Yes we do have problems with our systems and we need to work on these and ensure more engagement, accountability, acceptable policy and implementation across political, governmental and commercial representative bodies. There is no doubting that we need to improve on this.

However it has been difficult to do this with a back drop we have had in our country which has resulted in many photographic markets avoiding Zimbabwe and thus the the wildlife industry leaving it to rely, to a large extent on Commercial Hunting for income. To help us solve this problem visit Zimbabwe and the region on your next safari. Stop grandstanding and make your say count by putting your feet on our ground ..

Editor, Vic Falls24

19 August 2015