Sustainability and conservation are central to everything we do at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, and we understand that the local community is vital to protect the park. The first CAMPFIRE programme (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) in Zimbabwe was started here, and its principles have since been replicated across Africa and the rest of the world. Clive Stockil, founder of Chilo Gorge, tells us how it all began:
“I was asked to be an honorary officer of Gonarezhou at the time of independence in 1980. The park and the local community were at war with one another and poaching was a grave problem. In 1982, I was part of a meeting with 70 Shangaan elders. I told them I couldn’t tell the government what to do, that I was only a messenger, but that if we came up with a logical strategy, they might go for it. It took five or six years to get everyone to understand that the local community couldn’t be ignored – they needed to be able to benefit from their land. They grew their corn, spent months tending it, and then one night, a herd of ‘park elephants’ would cross the river, come into their land and destroy it all, leaving them hungry. They retaliated and hunted the elephants. When the government sent in a crack anti poaching unit, tensions just got worse.
“The government were really sceptical about my CAMPFIRE strategy; a director told me, ‘Had you chosen any other community in Zimbabwe, you might have a chance of winning. The Shangaan in this area are the most difficult and aggressive.’ I just insisted that until they saw benefits, we couldn’t expect things to change. There was no school in Mahenye then – they just scraped the bark off a tree and used it as a blackboard. They built their first school [that year] with money from the project, and that was the turning point. The following year, there were just nine arrests for poaching instead of 90. I went back to Harare with a smile. It was working.”
Over the years, guns have been replaced by cameras, and local people and visitors alike have learned to appreciate the animals as they should be; unmolested in their natural habitat. In recognition of his unswerving commitment, Clive was awarded the Prince William Award for Conservation in 2013.
“If you are a conservationist, your problem is all about space, so deal with human pressures first. CAMPFIRE has turned conflict into cooperation and everyone has benefitted. The community is happy, the parks are happy and the aniamls are happy. Everyone wins. ”
Gonarezhou is Shangaan country, and has been since at least the mid 19th century, when the local tribe arrived from central Africa during the great migrations of the Mfecane. Also known as the MaChangana, or the XiTsonga, they live not only around Gonarezhou, but also across the border in southern Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.
Clive Stockil grew up amongst the Shangaan, and, with the community, he has created a unique environment where local cultures, wildlife and responsible tourism are all able to thrive and enrich one another. The local community at Mahenye Village have built a school, clinic, police station and mill from income earned through tourism.
Any visit to Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge and Gonarezhou is as much about the local community as it is about the beauty of the natural landscape and the animals. Visitors can enjoy the riches of Shangaan culture, partake in the wisdom of ages, and witness firsthand the bright promise of a truly sustainable future.
Continuing the positive momentum created by the CAMPFIRE programme initiated by Clive Stockil in the 1980s, the Mahenye Charitable Trust was set up by the Directors of Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge to help further benefit the community. The charity provides an easy way for guests and friends of Chilo to make donations and raise funds for the village, safe in the knowledge that the monies are being directed to projects that will directly benefit the local community. Projects are identified in conjunction with the village elders and the implementation supervised by members of the Chilo team.