Beyond Zimbabwe’s current media image of doom and gloom there is a shining light in the country’s sustainable wildlife utilization field: the Bubye Valley Conservancy (BVC). This success story would never have been told were it not for paying sport hunters. Therein lies the secret to the project’s success.
Significant among its achievements has been the establishment of large, flourishing populations of black rhino, elephant and lion. This 3 740sq km landmass (in excess of 850 000 acres) is situated in what is termed Zimbabwe’s southern lowveld region, one of the country’s hottest and driest areas. Summer temperatures regularly exceed 40°C (104F°) and the average recorded rainfall over 45 years is 347mm (13.6ꞌꞌ).
Totally unsuited to agriculture or ecotourism, and despite the low rainfall, the BVC has an exceedingly high nutrient ecosystem that ably supports large numbers of medium-size herbivores, particularly blue wildebeest and Burchell’s zebra. This in turn means high densities of predators can potentially be sustained.
To look briefly at the BVC’s history; at the turn of the 20th century, Lemco (Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company) established a vast cattle ranching operation on this land. Most indigenous wildlife species were eradicated because they were deemed to compete with livestock for grazing; also buffalo and wildebeest had the potential to transmit disease to cattle. Cattle-killers such as lion, leopard and hyena were also heavily persecuted.
Despite all this, most of the indigenous wildlife species survived in small isolated pockets. However, by the 1990s the resident buffalo, lion and elephant populations had been completely eradicated. Black and white rhino populations which had once occurred in the area, had disappeared prior to the establishment of Lemco Ranch.
Crippled by devastating droughts in 1982/83 and again in 1992/93, Lemco Ranch was sold in 1994. The shareholders who bought the property then established the Bubye Valley Conservancy. The intention being to revert to wildlife only, and an immediate program was implemented to remove all of the internal cattle fencing.
Obviously, this reversal to wildlife habitation necessitated massive investment. To begin with a 2.1m high double electrified game fence had to be erected around the entire area. The fence follows the 440km boundary (880km for both fences) and cost approximately US$2.1 million to erect, with an annual maintenance cost of US$220 000. During 2014 a further US$350 000 was spent converting the Malangani section to the same specs as the rest of the BVC game fence.
Although a number of residual wildlife populations had survived in the aftermath of Lemco, their numbers had to be boosted through re-introductions, again at huge cost to the shareholders. Nine well-appointed safari camps were constructed across the BVC, and the internal road networks improved. Such developments always carry significant annual running and maintenance costs.
Notable annual costs on the BVC are the ongoing anti-poaching program costing in excess of US$600 000, diesel fuel at US$350 000, wages and salaries at US$1 220 000 (2015), electricity at US$70 000 and safari camp running and maintenance costs at US$850 000.
Read the full article in the December 2019 issue of Magnum.