Zimbabwe has a long history of exporting live animals around the world. Under ordinary circumstances, the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) would want to ensure that welfare standards for all captive animals are upheld in accordance with Zimbabwe’s laws.
As part of Government efforts to regulate export activities involving live animals, the former Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri appointed a joint taskforce specifically to inspect the foreign facilities of declared, recipient locations, predominantly in China. The taskforce’s objectives were to inspect these foreign facilities to determine their suitability as well as to ascertain their ability to provide for the long-term care of the animals. The taskforce comprised of ecologists from ZIMPARKS, the state agency mandated to manage the country’s fauna and flora resource, and Senior Inspectors from the ZNSPCA. Following two comprehensive visits (May and September 2016) to various facilities inside China, the taskforce concluded that the inspected facilities were not yet ready to receive elephants and that further inspections would be required before any animals could be shipped. As far as the ZNSPCA is aware, no further visits were ever made to China.
As an organisation our primary objective is to ensure that the welfare of all captive animals is upheld and enforced in accordance with the provisions of The Zimbabwean Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Chapter 19:09). ZNSPCA Inspectors are Government appointed and their terms of reference are clearly defined throughout the Act. The Act clearly provides for the care of animals in captivity, which applies when any wild animal is removed from the wild and is held within a boma, transportation cage or similar restraining device. Section 12 (1) of this same act specifically grants an appointed ZNSPCA Inspector right of entry upon ANY premises where he has reasonable grounds to believe that such entry is necessary for the prevention, investigation or detection of any offence in terms of this Act.
Further, Section 12 (2) states that any person who hinders or obstructs an Inspector in the exercise of his functions shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.
It was brought to our attention in December 2018 that ZIMPARKS had resumed the live capture of young elephants from within Hwange National Park. We expressed our concern to ZIMPARKS over the entire capture process and lack of transparency, with particular regard to the welfare and condition of the elephants. A ZNSPCA team visited the ZIMPARKS Game Capture unit at Umtsibi within the Hwange National Park and found 35 young elephants of various ages captive in bomas. While adequate food, shelter and water had been provided, the ZNSPCA team reported that the young elephants were all severly stressed. ZIMPARKS staff in attendance at Umtsibi advised our Inspectors that the elephants would be leaving for unknown destinations within one month.
Over a year later these same young elephants remained confined to the bomas at Umtsibi. We assumed that this had been as a result of legal action taken against ZIMPARKS by independent animal advocacy groups together with the uncertainty on the CITES ruling on the capture and sale of live elephants. To the best of our knowledge this matter remains before the High Courts of Zimbabwe.
On the 14th of October 2019, ZNSPCA Inspectorate offices received an unsually high number of calls from members of the public all expressing concern that the elephants being held by ZIMPARKS in Umtsibi were not in the best of health and that there were plans to ship these elephants to facilities in China. It was agreed that three Senior ZNSPCA Inspectors be despatched to Umtsibi together with a highly experienced wild life veterinarian so that an assessment could be made.
On the 15th of October 2019, The ZNSPCA team arrived at Umtsibi and, out of courtesy, stopped at the ZIMPARKS Umtsibi offices to advise officials that they were in the area and would be assessing the young elephants being held captive. To the surprise of the team they were advised that they would not be permitted entry into the facility and that such orders were being given by senior management from within ZIMPARKS.
Repeated attempts were made to speak to the Director General of ZIMPARKS, Mr Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya. Despite evidence that messages had been delivered and that his phone had been ringing, Mr Mangwanya refused to communicate with ZNSPCA. This suggested that the Director General was aware of the refusal of entry to ZNSPCA Inspectors.
Our uniformed Inspectors produced copies of the Act affording them the right of entry. The ZIMPARKS staff manning the entrance stated that although they were aware that the Act allowing right of entry to the Inspectors, instructions had been given by the ZIMPARKS Cluster Manager to refuse their entry.
ZNSPCA head office was notified of this violation and it was agreed that additional Inspectors be despatched to Hwange to reinforce their right of entry in order that they might assess the welfare of the animals being held captive.
A second attempt by ZNSPCA to gain entry to Umtsibi was made on the 16th of October, once again the Inspectors were denied entry. Junior staff manning the entrance advised the team that the orders originated from the Zimparks Hwange Area Cluster Manager Mr Samson Chibaya.
The ZNSPCA team then proceeded to Dete Police station where charges were laid against Mr Samson Chibaya for obstruction in accordance with section 12 (2) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. (CR07102019 and RB3980635)
Further attempts were made to gain entry on the 18th , 19th , 21st and 22nd of October. All attempts were blocked and the conduct of ZIMPARKS’ officials became increasingly suspicious. Apart from Mr Samson Chibaya, other ZIMPARKS’ officials, instrumental in the obstruction of ZNSPCA Inspectors were ZIMPARKS Veteninary Officer, Dr Columbas Chaitezvi and Chief Operations Officer, Mr Arthur Musakwa. Of additional concern was the presence of a civilian, Mr Paul de Montille of DART (Dete Animal Research Trust) who made jeering comments at our Inspector, reiterating that ZNSPCA would not be allowed into Hwange National Parks.
Following legal advice ZNSPCA were advised to institute legal action against the conduct of ZIMPARKS. An urgent chamber application has now been made to the High Court with several respondents being named.
ZNSPCA remains gravely concerned as to the obstruction, secrecy and lack of transparency on the part of ZIMPARKS. The total disregard for animal welfare and the rule of law are a worrying development.
ZNSPCA hereby calls for a full-scale investigation into the conduct of ZIMPARKS and its officers by all relevant authorities.