- 29/ 4/ 2014 <--Prev : Next-->
Concerns have been raised about the safety of the Presidential Elephant Herd, which is based in an area called Kanondo, near Hwange National Park, following allegations that land in the area had been illegally claimed and that hunting could be introduced in the area.
Reports that an area in Hwange had been illegally occupied first surfaced in March, along with the suggestion that the claimant, Elisabeth Pasalk, could introduce hunting in the area because of her links to a hunting safari operator.
When contacted by Tourism Update, Pasalk insisted that hunting was not permitted in the area. 'We are a photographic safari operator and our entire team is highly committed to safeguarding the wildlife in our area, including the Presidential Elephants,' she said.
According to Pasalk, Gwango Elephant Lodge is being legally established in Hwange. She says the lodge is on State land that was allocated to her mother by the Zimbabwean government a few years ago.
When asked for proof of ownership, Pasalk sent a letter signed by Hwange Rural District Council CEO Phindile Ncube. The letter states that Gwango Elephant Lodge is a registered company and the leaseholder of subdivision 2 of Sikumi Stateland, the area in question. However, Pasalk was unable to provide copies of title deeds or a lease agreement for the land.
She also denied reports that access to the area in question had been blocked but said that traffic had been limited for the benefit of the wildlife. 'Clients on game drives from our neighbours at Sable Sands, and several legitimate researchers are permitted to drive on our property,' says Pasalk.
Sharon Stead, Director of The Amalinda Collection and owner of Ivory Lodge in Hwange, says the lodge has been taking guests on to the property in question for the last 12 years, but has since been denied access. According to her, the land is leased by African Sun Hotels and it has been appropriated illegally.
Stead says that while Pasalk is not currently allowing hunting on the property, she is concerned that hunting could take place in the area because Pasalk's brother owns a concession in Matetsi, where hunting is permitted. Stead suggested that quotas issued for Matetsi could be moved to this area in Hwange.
According to Stead, while transferring quotas is technically illegal, it is not unheard of. For example, she says, a concession may have a quota to hunt five elephant a year, but the hunt will sometimes take place in another area if the hunter does not find an elephant to hunt in the concession. Stead says the US Fish and Wildlife Service suspended imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies partly because of this practice.
Sharon Pincott, who headed up the Presidential Elephant Conservation Project, has raised the same concern. Pincott told Tourism Update there was concern that Pasalk could try to hunt in the area 'underhandedly'.
Pasalk has rejected this suggestion too. She says that while her brother owns a hunting concession, he has absolutely no involvement with Gwango. 'It is not possible to transfer hunting quotas from my brother's concession or from any concession to our area,' says Pasalk.
Pincott has since announced that she is leaving the area after spending the past 13 years studying the Presidential Herd. 'I cannot allow myself to be linked to such new depths of collusion and cluelessness,' she said in a public letter announcing her withdrawal. According to Pincott, Pasalk was damaging her ability to continue with elephant conservation work in the area.
One conservationist, who chose to remain anonymous, said he did not accept Pasalk's claim. 'I personally have no doubt that there is political influence from high places involved in this latest 'take over'.' He also suggested that Pasalk had blocked access to the area. 'The most concerning thing is the future of the Presidential Herd,' he said.
An enquiry sent to the Ministry of Lands regarding the ownership and leasing of the land had not been responded to at the time of publication.