With 50 years hands-on experience in wildlife management and big game hunting, Roger Whittall is one of Africa´s most distinguished and respected safari operators/conservationists, and the driving force behind Roger Whittall Safaris. As far back as the 1960s, in an era dominated by cattle ranching, Roger was championing wildlife − translocating herds of plainsgame to his land, (Humani, in Zimbabwe´s south-east lowveld), from areas where they were being shot out, to make way for cropping projects. Roger´s visionary ideas pertaining to wildlife and the pioneering work he carried out in that field was work that would ultimately lead to the formation of the Savé Conservancy, so many years later.
During the 70s and 80s, Roger introduced rhino to the Savé Valley − both white and the critically endangered black species − initiating what is arguably the most successful black rhino conservation story ever. During this period, Roger also harboured the only elephant herd remaining in the Savé Valley, in the face of staunch opposition from his neighbours. Whilst the majority of landowners felt that cattle and wildlife could not co-exist, Roger knew they could and better − that wildlife was the more sound option, both environmentally and financially.
In the 1970s, Roger teamed up with another highly respected member of the African hunting/conservation community, Barrie Duckworth, and began conducting big game safaris throughout southern Africa, fast gaining a reputation as an outstanding operator and professional hunter, a reputation he maintains to this day.
To find out more about Roger Whittall Safaris visit their website at www.rogerwhittallsafaris.com
To discover more about the Savé Valley Conservancy visit the website at www.savevalleyconservancy.org
What is the history of the Whittall family in Zimbabwe and how did they become involved in ranching?
Jimmy Whittall came to Zimbabwe in 1929 from Turkey and worked on tobacco farm in Mvurwi for a year. He then came down to the Lowveld and worked on Devuli Ranch for approximately two years. He then found Humani and moved here where he started cattle ranching. In those days there was no one living here so he had to go and look for labour.
What is the history of Humani Ranch and its transition from agricultural land use to wildlife?
Humani started as a cattle ranch but there was already a lot of game here due to it being uninhabited. Citrus was started along with many other crops which have since fallen by the way side. Citrus is still going and green maize under irrigation and centre pivot are the current agricultural crops.
How degraded was the ranch at the transition and how long did it take to recover? What work had to be done in order to restore a wilderness environment?
The ranch was not degraded under cattle although there was a bit of bush encroachment but that has improved since wildlife was restocked.
The Turgwe River.
How does Humani Ranch fit into the greater Savé Valley Conservancy jigsaw?
Humani is in the centre of the Save Valley Conservancy.
How was the Savé Valley Conservancy affected during Zimbabwe’s tumultuous recent past?
In 2000 settlers moved into the Save Valley Conservancy and pulled down boundary fences and settled in some areas of the Conservancy. Most of the settlers are on Humani and they have taken over half of the place.
What happened in Zimbabwe to wildlife, (and protected), areas like Savé Conservancy when due to the aforesaid political turmoil, photographic tourism all but dried up?
We were able to carry on with the hunting, photographic's a relatively new area that some of the properties have started.
If Savé is comprised of private ranches and land areas upon which fences have been removed, (a Private Wildlife Conservancy), what level of protection is extended to it by national Wildlife and Governmental authorities? How does it compare to gazetted National Parks for instance? What has happened to the conservancy through the land claims process?
We do all the anti poaching with our own game rangers and somehow manage to keep it under control although at times it is rampant. In the early years it was difficult at there was no support from the Police or the courts but that has just recently changed and we are getting better convictions now.
How is Humani involved with local communities?
Humani is very involved with local communities. We have repaired irrigation pumps for schemes and brought back approximately 500 ha’s into production which had been standing for a number of years due to the farmers not having any finance. We are also very involved with surrounding and our own school. We do educational trips for schools outside the Save Valley Conservancy and have had teachers come from Nyanga to do educational trips.
How many of Humani’s staff are from local communties and what positions do they hold? What opportunities and training do you offer and how are you involved in empowering said communities?
Most of our staff come from local communities and a lot of them were born on the farm. Some are workshop managers, citrus managers, clerks etc. There is a trust fund for member of staff that we feel has potential to go and do something with their lives. All school fees for the Humani children are paid by the same trust fund.
Savé Valley Conservancy is held up as example of where sustainable trophy hunting can and does benefit conservation aims. In Humani, how does trophy hunting benefit wildlife conservation aims? Why trophy hunting and not photographic tourism?
If trophy hunting is conducted properly and strict quotas are adhered to then 2-3% is the off take. All trophies are measured to see if there are any trends of trophies going up or down. This gives you a very healthy wildlife population as sometimes large males can control large herds and may not be able to handle them. Hunting brings in more money than photographic so therefore anti poaching and many other areas to do with conservation can carry on and water can be pumped to pans.
How can photographic and hunting tourism co-exist in the same area? What affect does trophy hunting have upon wildlife’s behaviour?
Yes photographic and hunting can co-exist in the same area. On Humani we have designated areas for photographic. Trophy hunting if done properly and no hunting from vehicles etc., then the wildlife will remain quiet.
What methods are used on Humani to establish wildlife numbers and from this, how are quotas set and by whom?
We conduct yearly aerial surveys although not accurate it can give an idea of the trends on the game population. National Parks and Wildlife set the quotas and then the quotas are divided up by a committee in the Save Valley Conservancy.
When some other African countries are introducing hunting bans, (or at least restrictions), what do you see as the future of trophy hunting in Zimbabwe? What would happen to Humani should trophy hunting be banned in Zimbabwe? (Would such a ban, as in Botswana, affect private ranches?) What about if there is a ban on certain species, I.e., lion, elephant?
Trophy hunting should not be banned. If trophy hunting was banned in Zimbabwe then the poaching would get out of hand and there would be little or no wildlife left in country. If there was ban on lion and elephant hunting it would have a negative effect on the country as no money would be coming in.
As a comparison between trophy hunting and photographic safari tourism, how important is each for wildlife conservation in marginal wildlife areas?
Both are equally important in any wildlife area as tourists like to see the Big Five and many other animals.
How wild is Humani in comparison to other wildlife destinations? And, for those who don’t hunt, what is offered for photographic tourists? What sightings can be expected and what can be experienced that perhaps elsewhere cannot offer?
This is a difficult question to answer but Humani compared to other areas in the country and the Save Valley Conservancy is very wild. Photgraphic tourists can do game drives, walks, birding, game counts around waterholes, night drives and black rhino tracking. All the Big Five are here but sometimes it is difficult to see the lions and leopards. We have animals in the Lowveld that are not seen in areas like Mana Pools and the surrounds.
How difficult is it for Savé Conservancy to attract international travellers, especially photographic tourism when there are so many other appealing destinations in Zimbabwe? What marketing strategies are the Savé operators adopting to promote the conservancy to an extended audience?
It is quite difficult to attract international travelers to the Save Valley Conservancy. We feel we have the product here but little is known about this area. The operators that do photographic tourism are using Facebook and at the moment we are trying to get the word to the international fairs overseas.
How do all of Savés tourism, (whether hunting or photographic), and conservation stakeholders work together and with The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Authority with regard to wildlife conservation aims and environmental protection?
We all work well together but it can be frustrating at times to work the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority.
Anti poaching team sets out on patrol.
What type of poaching occurs in Savé and how much of a problem has it been for you on Humani Ranch - what are you doing to prevent it? And aside from poaching, what are the other conservation concerns for you?
All types of poaching occurs on Humani and it is a very big problem because at the moment there is no food so therefore they are snaring in order to feed their families. It is costing a lot of money to try and protect the game. Other concerns are invasive plants and degradation by erosion.
How is the Savé Valley Conservancy incorporated into The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park? What does this mean for the conservancy’s aims?
The Save Valley Conservancy joins onto the Transfrontier Park which incorporates Gona-re-Zhou and other nearby areas. We are hoping that more tourists will come.
What is the future for Humani Ranch and Savé as a whole?
This is a difficult one to answer due to the fact that there has been turmoil since 2000 and who knows what the future holds, it is in the hands of the government.
All images courtesy and copyright of Humani Ranch/Roger Whittall Safaris.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.