TSHOLOTSHO Rural District Council (RDC) has been accused of selling elephants for a song to concession holders under the Government quota system.
Communities living near national parks are allocated a number of elephants among other wildlife that they sell to develop their areas.
Tsholotsho District is allocated 25 elephants each year for sale and the funds that are generated are used for community development.
It is said an elephant rakes in between US$40 000 and US$60 000 but the local authority sold elephants for US$10 000 each.
The local authority claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic affected international travel resulting in concession holders proposing a discount so as to engage local hunters in the absence of those from abroad who traditionally pay more for safari hunts.
It is alleged that Lodzi Hunters which has a concession in Tsholotsho South and Mathuphula Safaris with a concession in Tsholotsho North requested a discount for each elephant.
A concession holder has authority to hunt in a specified block for a period of time.
Sources said Lodzi Hunters offered to pay US$10 000 per elephant while Mathuphula Safaris offered US$23 000 per elephant.
A councillor who spoke on condition of anonymity said despite Mathuphula Safaris offering US$23 000, some councillors pushed for both concessions to buy the jumbos at the same price of US$10 000.
“So, they resolved that the elephants be sold for US$10 000 for both Lodzi Safaris and Mathuphula Safaris,” said a councillor.
A local chief, who spoke on condition of anonymity said of concern is that even traditional leaders were not consulted when council decided to lower the elephant prices yet they have a huge stake in the matter.
“The community should benefit from the elephants as they are the ones who get attacked by the animals. In the past council, the four chiefs: Chief Siphoso, Chief Tategulu and Chief Mathuphula and Chief Gampu were consulted by council in the selling of elephants as 60 percent of the funds obtained from selling of elephants would go to community while 40 percent goes to council. But this time around we were never consulted.
We don’t know what is happening in council yet in the past we were even engaged to observe what was happening in council,” said the chief.
He said eyebrows had been raised after some councillors bought cars after the elephants were sold and the source of that income is unclear.
“It will be prudent that institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission conduct investigations at council. We are aware that it’s not all the councillors who might be involved in underhand dealings. Since when did council start offering so low prices on elephants? The council we know would request for more money not to further discount a reduced price,” he said.
Tsholotsho RDC chief executive officer Mr Nkululeko Sibanda defended the council saying everything was done above board.
“When the first Level Four lockdown was promulgated by His Excellency, the President, all travels were banned and the business people who do hunting are from outside the country, Europe and by virtue of that there were no flights coming to Zimbabwe.
A quota that you are given per year is not carried to the following year and through consultation we agreed that we engage local hunters who cannot pay as much as foreign hunters. That was tabled to council from relevant committees up until a resolution was made,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said it was resolved to sell elephants at a lowered price.
Mr Sibanda confirmed that they sold the Tsholotsho South elephants for US$10 000 but added that for Tsholotsho North they went for US$23 000 each.
He said while there was a resolution for the sale of Tsholotsho North at US$23 000 he could not state the rationale of selling those from Tsholotsho South at US$10 000 as the decision was made before he became the CEO.
He said even though he was working at the local authority, he was not the person at the helm when that decision was made.
He also said council was not obliged to consult chiefs on issues regarding elephants.
“The communities were consulted because we have Campfire communities from those concession areas. We consulted the community through the councillors. And a resolution is made by a full council. There is nothing that has changed.
I have been in council for the past 18 to 20 years. I don’t remember when we were doing contracts for elephant hunting where chiefs were consulted. What you are talking about I don’t know,” he said.
Tsholotsho RDC chairperson councillor Esau Siwela also said everything was done above board.
Lodzi Hunters director Mr Paradzai Nemashakwe said the Covid-19 pandemic forced his organisation to seek discounts for elephants.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, clients have been hesitant to come to the ground. And we had to make a special arrangement for those who forced themselves to come to conduct business. We asked to pay US$10 000 to the council for each elephant. Although, I don’t know what is happening with the other concession, I understand they also got a 50 percent discount, I don’t look at what they are getting,” said Mr Nemashakwe.
“Last year and this year have been difficult, we still have elephants that we are failing to sell. Our clients are like anyone else, they take advantage of the situation and if there is drought you can see people selling cattle at US$50.
That is the same with this situation. You cannot gamble and say you will sell the elephants at a high price.”
Tsholotsho District Development Coordinator Mr Aaron Gono said his office was informed of the council’s plan to offer discount on elephant sales.
“Yes, it was agreed that due to Covid-19 the two concessions requested that the price of elephants be lowered from around US$40 000 to US$23 000 and it was agreed at council level to accede to that. So, elephants were sold at US$23 000. As an office we are not aware that elephants were further discounted to US$10 000. Probably it was reached in our absence,” said Mr Gono.
“And the unfortunate part is that council is not submitting minutes right now. If they were submitting minutes to us and these minutes, we are supposed to forward them to the Provincial Development Coordinator and we are also supposed to submit them to our headquarters so that they can also check, so that even the minister can give advice.
We have written quite a number of letters to the council chief executive officer requesting for council minutes. That is where another challenge is coming from. How can we advise them if we don’t have this correspondence?”
He said although they have not received official complaints, they have also observed that some councillors were seemingly amassing wealth after joining the council.
“We have seen some councillors buying cars but as an office we cannot relate it to anything. So, anything is possible, people might be getting kickbacks or they might be using their own means. But we are seeing lifestyle changes with some of these councillors,” he said.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said the authority does not regulate the prices of elephants.
“We do not have a standard figure that elephants can be sold for and at the same time those with quotas are allowed to have a figure as long as there has been a formal and official agreement, we have no minimum or maximum amount,” said Mr Farawo.