Cathy Buckle: Saving Zimbabwe’s wild places – A tenuous hope amidst threats and corruption

In the mystical hours of Zimbabwe’s wild places, the delicate beauty clashes with the harsh reality of threats faced by wildlife and habitats. Cathy Buckle tells the journey of Blake, a dedicated wildlife protector, as he battles against poachers, corruption, and shrinking landscapes. Amidst haunting sounds and breathtaking encounters, Buckle’s heartfelt letter from Zimbabwe highlights the urgent need to safeguard its natural treasures before they vanish forever.

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Looking for hope for Zimbabwe’s wild places

By Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,

When you sit outside during the mystical hours in Zimbabwe’s wild places everything seems new, undiscovered, never seen before. It’s the time when the night sky looks only black, the stars only silver and the yellow moon hangs in the darkness, tracking you through the night. The long silences are pierced by the hoarse grunting of hippo in the river and the far distant yaps of a jackal. In the soft sand are the huge footprints of an elephant, mapped with creases and cracks, reminding you that you are never really alone there in the darkness in our wild places. A few hours before dawn the cold is biting and goes deep into your bones. These are the dying days of winter in Zimbabwe, frost still dusts the golden grass some early mornings, crisp and crunchy underfoot.

As I am writing this letter to you today, I am in a wild place where Venus lights the way at dusk and dawn and Scorpio is clear and bright in the night sky. Elephants pull pods from Albida trees and scuff clumps of  grass out of the warm, yellow sand while Saddlebill Storks wade in the shallows of the river. With every passing hour it feels as much of a timeless image as it does a mirage, a shimmering illusion that you know is not permanent. The mighty blue river rises and falls here every twelve hours, not at the hands of tide but of man.

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I am sitting with Blake, someone who has a fire burning inside him, and we talk about the future of Zimbabwe’s wildlife and wild places. Everything here is so raw and rugged and yet so delicate and fragile. How do we protect it for the future, make sure it will still be here for generations yet to come? How do we keep it safe from mineral hunters and gold panners who excavate, burrow and destroy but are untouchable, protected by people at the highest levels in our country? In full view our rivers are being poisoned with chemicals, water courses diverted, wetlands drying up, habitat shrinking by the day. All of us are seeing it everywhere and every day.   

Blake and I walk out into the dry and scratchy bush and the ground is baked and hard. The sun beats down on us and we stop often to look at an ancient elephant path, a civet cat’s midden, a vegetable ivory seed and the tracks of the animals that walked here. Protecting wild places in Zimbabwe is a slow and hard road for anyone in the wildlife field here as every day you contend with poachers, snares, threats, intimidation, bureaucracy and corruption, always corruption.

‘So how did you get to this point,’ I ask Blake who has been working in the wildlife industry for thirty years. ‘Just by being here’ he says, ‘a presence every day, watching and checking continuously. Never giving up, never giving in, just being here and being resolute and determined to protect the wildlife and wild places.’  

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‘It’s not about being able to say that you’ve done the right thing,’ Blake tells me, ‘it’s about doing the right thing for the right reason and doing it day after day.’ This attitude is the tenuous hope for Zimbabwe’s wildlife and wild places. If you haven’t seen them, come soon, they feel more and more like a shrinking mirage every day.

I type the last lines of this letter with the haunting sounds of a lion grunting in the river bed while a huge elephant walks just a couple of meters away from me. These are Zimbabwe’s wild places; can Blake and others like him save them before they are gone?  We applaud them and know the personal cost and risks they take as they do the right thing day after day, the right thing for the wildlife and the wild places.

I end this letter with a message of thanks to everyone who has so faithfully been reading my blogs, articles and books about Zimbabwe for the last 23 years. It has been a long, difficult and often dangerous road I have walked but it is your love of Zimbabwe that has given me hope, courage and determination and kept me writing for so long. We are coming up to elections in Zimbabwe, please watch events here, we need your eyes and your voices; ours are again muzzled through the recently legalized Patriots Act which has left us not knowing which words it’s safe to say or to whom, but they can’t stop us thinking them.  

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)
Love Cathy

26 July 2023. Copyright © Cathy Buckle  https://cathybuckle.co.zw/

Read also:

All my books are now available on Amazon, Kindle and Lulu with the hardback version of my evocative Photo-books “Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty” (the 2021 and 2022 collections) on high gloss paper available exclusively on LULU. Visit my website for full details www.cathybuckle.co.zw or click here:  www.lulu.com/spotlight/cathybuckle2018or here www.amazon.com/author/catherinebuckle

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