A storm is brewing between Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and operators in the Save Valley Conservancy over allegations of rampant poaching. The conservancy operators allege that Government's policy on wildlife-based land reform has been hijacked by a syndicate allegedly "harvesting" wild animals for meat.
However, Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director general, Mr Vitalis Chadenga, dismissed the allegations saying they were coming from people against indigenous people's participation in the lucrative sector.
In a dossier circulating, the operators have raised concern over Government efforts to impose partners to go into business with them.
"There is a general effort to impose partners especially people who are close to senior Government officials.
"We are not against indigenisation because all the efforts have been done to include partners, especially the local communities surrounding the conservancy.
"But there is a general ploy to undermine activities in the conservancy especially the protection of endangered animals including the little rhino population that is available," said the circular.
The operators also alleged that poachers are targeting the rhino and elephant population without much protection from the authorities.
"The rhino population was close to 3 000 in 1980 but because of continued poaching activities it has gone down to below 1 000.
"This year alone 10 rhinos were killed and no one has been arrested. Those that have been arrested have not been convicted or their dockets just disappear."
The operators also allege that activities, especially hunting for the current season, had been scuttled by the on-going controversies.
The hunting season starts in April and ends in October.
Tourists usually book for hunting licences and permits in November ahead of the season.
The operators also argued that besides making proposals for indigenisation more than 60 members have complied.
"We are prepared to rope in partners but there is stiff resistance because certain individuals want to impose their own friends into these partnerships."
However, Mr Chadenga said Government policy on wildlife-based land reforms sought to ensure more equitable access by the majority of Zimbabweans to land and wildlife resources as well as associated business opportunities.
"The operators were given an opportunity to choose partners over a period of three years and no meaningful progress was made in that regard.
"What we saw were cosmetic changes falsely presented as compliance with the indigenisation requirements."
Mr Chadenga said beneficiaries should have a demonstrable interest in wildlife, capacity for business development and management and ability to contribute to the asset base.
"Partners including surrounding communities are expected to produce a business plan to guide their operations," he said.
Mr Chadenga dismissed allegations that poachers have not been punished.
"Aspects of this question are designed to divert attention from the real issues and I will therefore not dignify them with a response. However, suffice to say that during the period January to July 2012, 83 people were arrested for various wildlife crimes and given custodial sentences ranging from three years to 21 years. These figures speak for themselves."
The parks director-general also dismissed reports of takeover of the conservancies.
"What is happening is that those with 25-year leases have been given an opportunity to exercise their rights.
"The following are the approved indigenisation options in respect of the wildlife-based land reform policy:-
l Current farmers team up with parks and communities
l Current farmers team up with communities
l Current farmers team up with communities and private indigenous investors."
Mr Chadenga said involving the communities was mandatory in the implementation of the wildlife-based land reform policy.
"This being the case, the issue of neglecting communities does not arise. Our success rate against poachers has been high this year as evidenced by the figures presented earlier on."
He also added that hunting in Zimbabwe was still a major revenue stream.
"It does not make sense to deny permits to those who wish to come and hunt. Any person willing to hunt can purchase animals on quota and secure a permit to conduct the necessary hunt.
"Parks personnel actually attend hunting expos throughout the world for purposes of marketing our animals," he said.
He said the authority would continue playing its part in ensuring the viability of a wildlife sector outside parks estate.
"Current operators are free to work with the new beneficiaries but their reluctance to accommodate new players 32 years after independence is puzzling and wholly unacceptable."
Mr Chadenga said most of the partners were chosen through provincial Government structures.