The Fate of the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe—A Conversation With Sharon Pincott

Sharon with the ‘W’ elephant family. (Photograph courtesy NHU Africa)

Since 2001, Australian Sharon Pincott has been monitoring and protecting a unique population of elephants in western Zimbabwe known as the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe. The herd was given this name after President Robert Mugabe awarded it a presidential decree in 1990. Symbolizing Zimbabwe’s commitment to responsible wildlife management, the decree was intended to protect these elephants against future hunting and culling.

Over time the herd grew to 525 individuals divided into 17 extended families on “Hwange Estate”—35,000 acres bordering part of Hwange National Park.

But now, after 13 years dedicated to these elephants, Pincott has decided to abandon her work and leave Zimbabwe. She says that a key section of the Hwange Estate has been taken over by a land claimant, as part of Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform program. The claimant, she says, has damaged conservation efforts and tourist activity and has ties to the sport hunting industry. Pincott also notes that a Government Cabinet directive to remove the claimant has been ignored.

After numerous unsuccessful protests, on April 14 Pincott wrote her final post on the Presidential Elephant Conservation Project Facebook page, announcing that she was ending her work with the Presidential Elephants because of what she says are untenable circumstances.

Since Pincott’s announcement, there have been reports of gunshots in the area.

The fate of the elephants is uncertain.

Russo: Have you fully abandoned your work with the Presidential Elephants, or are you going dormant?

Pincott: I’ve worked alone (on a full-time, primarily self-funded, voluntary basis) under the banner of The Presidential Elephant Conservation Project since 2001. The sort of conservation work that I’ve been doing over the past 13 years (including fighting the sort of ongoing battles that don’t win you many friends) can only be done with solid ministerial contacts—both in the Environment Ministry and in the President’s Office. Dealing just with local Parks Authority personnel doesn’t work well enough. I don’t believe the required commitment is there anymore from these offices, and so yes, I have withdrawn my services and closed down my project. Once I’m ready and organized, I’ll be moving on from Zimbabwe.

Does President Robert Mugabe’s 1990 decree have any value today?

In 2011 I worked, successfully in the end, to get the 1990 Presidential Decree reaffirmed, in the belief that—with hunting, mining, water, and land takeover problems ongoing—this decree did indeed hold weight but needed to be reasserted as a clear and current reminder to all.

I actually do think that if I could have managed to get in front of the president to properly explain with some passion the current situation and concerns, he may have personally intervened in this latest drama. It seems to me that his own ministers, who act on his behalf, simply don’t take time, today, to properly understand and take action. Talk, alone, is cheap. Right now, I have to say that the Presidential Decree and its reaffirmation don’t seem to hold much value at all—over and above helping to generate the public outrage that this situation is currently receiving, which is something, I suppose.

There have been reports of gunshots at Hwange Estate since you announced you were leaving. Do you believe any of the elephants have been killed?

I understand that the last worrying report turned out to be sport hunting activity, with three men stalking elephants in one of the Presidential Elephants’ key areas. One of these men, related to a government minister, has been the subject of reports by me for at least a decade now. That’s one example of a problem that never gets properly fixed. Most in the area are cautious, and indeed many are afraid—for themselves, for their businesses, for their jobs, and for their relationships with others—and therefore put all of these things ahead of doing whatever is necessary to help protect these elephants from all of the numerous threats. And I suppose that’s understandable, in a way.

I’m unable, now, to get back into the area to know what exactly is going on. I don’t know if any elephants are injured or dead.

Will anyone else be watching and documenting the herd in your absence?

Only the Parks Authority and/or the Ministry of Environment can answer that question.

Can you explain the land grab issue that has partly led to your decision to leave Zimbabwe?

The land claimant has taken (and this happens with no monetary payment; someone simply decides they want a particular piece of typically agricultural or sport hunting land, and then government issues an “offer letter” to that person) an area in the very heart of the Presidential Elephants’ key home-range, known as State Land Kanondo.

It includes two important and busy year-round waterholes, and another three smaller wet-season ones, which I’d previously arranged for a donor—believing it was protected land—to scoop [out] for depth to assist these elephants. These areas are of particular importance to monitoring efforts and also to showcasing the Presidential Elephants by way of lodge game-drives.

The claimant and her off-siders have made it impossible for tourists to easily get amongst the herd on game-drives as they used to do and have physically assaulted me during routine patrol and monitoring efforts. They have family links to the sport hunting industry, with reports revealing past unethical hunting practices by the claimant’s brother.

The government clearly realized the mistake, and the cabinet issued a directive to withdraw the offer letter in December of last year. That sounds simple enough to me! But this is now a country where even a high-level cabinet directive can be ignored—and that says a lot in itself. I have had no feedback as to the current status of the claim, but nothing has changed on the ground as far as I know.

Land reform in Zimbabwe is a government program that is meant to take land from whites, to give to the blacks. The Presidential Elephant game-drive land in question was not white-owned, and it certainly wasn’t agricultural or sport hunting land, which is the type of land generally subject to claims. It should never have been allocated.

The 'E' presidential elephant family at Mpofu pan (one of the key waterhole areas taken by the Kanondo claimant). (Photograph by Sharon Pincott)
The ‘E’ presidential elephant family at Mpofu pan (one of the key waterhole areas taken by the Kanondo claimant). (Photograph by Sharon Pincott)

Before you arrived in Zimbabwe, the Presidential Elephants had already been somewhat familiarized to tourists. Can you explain the history?

Alan Elliott owned a safari company called Touch the Wild, and he, along with his safari guides, began habituating these elephants to human presence during the 1970s. These land areas had previously been hunted, and so the wildlife was nervous of human presence. As they became unusually trusting and particularly calm around tourists, Alan obtained the original Presidential Decree in 1990 in an attempt to ensure no more hunting would ever take place in these areas.

How does this “habituation” show up today in the herd?

Today, these wild elephants will happily mingle around safari vehicles full of tourists. They are still potentially dangerous animals, however, and so tourists are not permitted to try to touch them although they may frequently be in touching distance. Even with me, the elephants are left to make up their own minds about whether they wish to approach somebody, rather than the other way around, so as not to harass them in any way. Very special relationships occur only with time.

In the early 2000s, there was a lot of gunfire disturbance when land claims first hit these areas, in 2003. These first land claimants—of this exact same Kanondo area—were eventually evicted in 2005. So I spent a lot of time, back then, re-habituating these families, who for a while, were even running away from my own vehicle.

When you came in 2001, were you asked to fill a vacancy?

There was no vacancy as such that I applied for and filled. As a regular tourist to Zimbabwe during the mid- to late 1990s, I saw an opportunity and took a chance. I was welcomed (in the days when being white and foreign weren’t anywhere near as challenging as they are today in Zimbabwe)—but there was no salary, no accommodation, no vehicle, no fuel, no field equipment, no permit, no anything,  apart from an approval to be on the land. I had to make my own way and organize and pay for everything myself.

You say you’ve been threatened a number of times since you began working with the herd. You’ve had death threats. You’ve been accused of being a spy. You’ve been physically assaulted. 

If you’re doing something wrong, you don’t want good eyes and ears around, do you? Anybody benefiting underhandedly from these elephants, and even those not doing their own jobs properly (be that something like waterhole neglect or non-enforcement of routine policies and controls), along with those shooting in areas where they should not be, will of course be very happy to see the back of me. I’ve said to the officials time and again that they should be investigating those who continually report and harass me, since I’m not the bad guy here. People (including the likes of some parks authority staff) get away with a lot, if nobody is game to report them.

What was your daily activity with the herd?

There are always family groups to survey, updating records of births, deaths, those in estrus, musth, mating, wound recovery, etc. There [are] always routine patrols and monitoring to be done, also checking on things like water flow to pans and the overall condition of those pans. And trying to arrange for donor assistance where needed. There may occasionally be a game-drive to accompany, on special request, for someone who’s after a very intimate encounter. There are books to work on for “awareness” purposes, social media sites to update, and emails to respond to. And, always, there’s some battle or another to tear your hair out over!

I drove my 25-year-old 4×4 amongst them every day, regardless of whether it was the November to April wet season or the May to October dry season. I traveled through forests of teak and acacia, spending extended time around open waterhole areas, where the elephants are forced to come and drink in the dry season. It was in these open waterhole areas where I could best see who was who, who was injured and who was missing.

The herd is vulnerable to poaching, sport hunting, and snares. Can you elaborate on these threats?

Poaching is an ongoing concern, as is unethical sport hunting. Some sport hunting areas are now simply hunted out. As a result, hunters struggle to find enough animals (or in the case of elephants, enough “trophy” specimens with heavy enough ivory) to shoot, and this has led to hunters swapping and borrowing each other’s quotas, hunting on each other’s land, and indeed hunting whenever they can get away with it. The officials may deny this (although I’ve personally had discussions with some who don’t even bother to deny it anymore). It’s a well-known fact that this happens, and certainly poachers and unethical sport hunters encroaching in Presidential Elephant areas—if proper patrols aren’t constant—is a real and valid concern. The Parks Authority has inadequate resources to worry too much about areas like these outside the boundaries of the national park itself. (Related: “Controversy Swirls Around the Recent U.S. Suspension of Sport-Hunted Elephant Trophies.”)

Snaring is also an ongoing problem. When I was last banned (temporarily) from an area, no one noticed a little elephant in the “A” presidential family who was snared. By the time I was able to get back into that area where this particular family spends much of their time, the skin had grown over the wire. Indeed, given [that] the snare was on the leg of a fast-growing youngster, the bone had also grown around the wire, making a snare removal particularly difficult at best. It isn’t enough to just have game-drive vehicles out and about perhaps noticing a snared animal, especially since this sort of thing isn’t the focus of general tourists and safari guides.

See the below videos by Pincott—first, of an elephant named Whosit apparently trying to revive her dead brother, Wholesome, who was killed by a snare at the age of three. Second, of another herd elephant removing its own snare.

Have you ever worked in partnership with any international conservation groups? Are you calling upon any of them now for assistance in protecting the herd?

Perhaps the term the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe puts international conservation groups off! During my first five or so years in Zimbabwe I tried, mostly without success, to obtain funding. None of the big international conservation groups ever responded positively to my requests for assistance. Eventually, you just have to give up and get on with it yourself. And I was fortunate to have a well-paid career behind me that meant I could carry on. But you have to understand that this latest issue is not about funding at all. It’s about the current lack of commitment, understanding, and care from the Zimbabwe government.

How did you notify the government that you were shutting down the project?

Nothing formal was done in my case. Just like with the original 1990 Decree that never even had a certificate or anything, it was only when I did the 2011 reaffirmation that I ensured a certificate (which included the bright red Presidential Seal logo-thingy as well) was produced and signed by the president. (And I didn’t ever have a research permit, since I wasn’t an academic researcher.) The fact that I had three cabinet ministers’ cell phone numbers on my mobile said it all!

Once I told Minister Kasukuwere, Minister of the Environment, that I was shutting down my project, I decided based on personal ethics that I would never attempt to go back into these land areas. I could be arrested for trespassing if I did that now, given that I’ve closed down my project.

When Minister Saviour Kasukuwere came into office, you wrote on your Facebook page that he said: “Poachers will be dealt with mercilessly. We will protect elephants alongside all our animals. This is a war we will win.” Was he a liar?

When Minister Kasukuwere was appointed to lead the environment/wildlife ministry last year—with no wildlife background or experience whatsoever—I was determined to support him as much as I could. Not long after his appointment, I was actively involved in the flyovers that confirmed the numbers of elephants dead from cyanide poisoning (indeed I was the one who spoke to Minister Kasukuwere to actually get these flyovers started—which was a concern in itself: Why didn’t the Parks Authority do that?).

Nonetheless, there was some swift and positive action at that point. But what happened then? Did anybody ever get to the root of the problem? After relatively few poachers were jailed, everything went very quiet. Silence shouldn’t be interpreted as the problem having been solved. The fact that the local Parks Authority management knew of a significant number of elephant deaths for many months before all of this became public, and simply wrote off their non-reporting of the situation as “an oversight,” says a lot in itself. I must say, though, that the parks rangers I had dealings with at the time were impressive in their determination to catch the poachers. (Related: “Elephant Poachers Poison Hundreds of Vultures to Evade Authorities.”)

Who has been your biggest ally in Zimbabwe?

Until recently, my best ally in Zimbabwe was probably Minister Didymus Mutasa, a very high-level minister in the President’s Office. It was a comfort to just know that he was there, if and when I needed special help, and that was important to me. He has of late, though, been unwell.

Sharon Pincott and Willa. (Photograph courtesy NHU Africa)
Sharon Pincott and Willa. (Photograph courtesy NHU Africa)

Are any photographic safari operators rallying behind you or the protection of the herd?

There are operators in the photographic safari industry who are expressing their own concern about the current land grab and the negative impacts on themselves, trying for support and action from Zimbabwe’s tourism minister.

Videos and photos on your Facebook page show that a number of these elephants have a deep affection for you and vice versa. They come when called. They’ve stayed with you when a family member is snared. They’ve introduced you to their newborns. Do you believe they’re aware of their increased vulnerability in your absence? Do you feel guilty for leaving them? And are there any circumstances in which you would resume your work?

I know that the Presidential Elephants—some more so than others—do know when I’m not around. This is evident in their welcome, when they see me again. At times I can actually see their temporal glands erupt with liquid as they rush towards my 4×4 to say hello. And I can feel their joy in their rumbles, that I do believe are occasionally directed specifically at me. Over many years, I have earned their trust at a very personal level, with a deep understanding of their family lives. And I believe they enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs.

I can’t let myself think about the guilt, and I must admit that answering heart-rending questions like this one does bring tears. Elephants are such intelligent and resilient beings, which I’ve had the privilege of witnessing first-hand. They will go on regardless. I think that too much trust and respect has been shattered now, at government level, for me to be able to change my mind about leaving Zimbabwe.

You had a particularly close relationship with an elephant named Lady, who disappeared in 2012. By all accounts, you do not know her fate but assume she’s been killed. You’ve said the family has remained in tatters since her loss. Can you describe what you have witnessed in terms of Lady’s loss and other familial losses?

My relationship with Lady, for example—and that with others—is a result of my own dedicated time spent with these elephants. While all of these elephants were habituated to the presence of people when I arrived in 2001, that meant that they came within a few meters of vehicles without fear. I had no other distractions (no safari operation to run like Alan did), and so over my first few years I (unintentionally) developed particularly close relationships with some of the families and individuals—to the extent that some came and leaned up against the door of my 4×4 for maybe up to an hour.

The loss of any member is mourned by an elephant family. The loss of a matriarch, or high-ranking female, can be devastating to that family. I’ve noted that sons of dead elephants leave their natal families much earlier than they otherwise would and become independent males before they’re even teenagers, giving them far less chance of survival themselves. Daughters without their mothers do sometimes fall pregnant at a much earlier age than normal, at times before they’re even nine years old, and subsequently lose their newborns. Just like with humans, deaths (especially premature ones) tear families apart, and the negative repercussions are ongoing.

Do you think there is any growing pressure from outside Zimbabwe for the Zimbabwean authorities to protect the Presidential Elephants since word of your departure was released? 

I hope that the international interest and outrage does wake up the responsible Zimbabwe officials and that better controls will be put in place to properly secure these elephants long-term. After all, what is the point of having a “flagship herd” if they represent nothing of what they were meant to (remembering that they are supposed to represent Zimbabwe’s commitment to responsible wildlife management), and if tourists can no longer even easily get on game-drives amongst them?

If Zimbabwe can’t properly care about and safeguard their own flagship herd, then what hope do all of their other elephants really have long-term in this country?

Christina Russo is a freelance journalist. For nearly 15 years, she has worked as a producer for a number of public radio programs, including NPR/WBUR’s "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. Christina also freelances for Yale Environment 360, where her written work focuses mainly on wildlife conservation issues. She is the co-producer, with WBUR, of the nationally syndicated documentary on American zoos, From Cages to Conservation. She has written numerous articles about animals, including a story about caring for donkeys in Ethiopia; a veterinarian saving horses in Sonoma County, CA; an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand; and the work of pre-eminent whale biologist Roger Payne for her hometown newspaper, The Gloucester Daily Times.
  • Margaret

    Only in Zimbabwe could they be so careless of their elephant population to allow this to happen. May Sharon Pincott go to a place where her dedication and wonderful work is better appreciated. These amazing interactions bring a lump to my throat. Thank you for sharing.

  • anja

    i am so sad

  • Shaynie

    Why is it that all great stories always end in tragedy? You dared to do what so many of us dream of, but are too scared to do. I wish you well Sharon. I wish you a place where there a no more dragons. I wish you a place that is soft and warm. I wish you peace.

  • jim duke

    Please do not let this tragedy happen to these truly majestic and noble giants. They need to have that protection in place. They are special. How can Magube allow this

  • marina button

    words fail me. ,, such wonder , may be end is there.. shame on ministers in zimbabwe

  • Sam Spence

    This is heart breaking and uplifting at the same time. There are some real heroes in this world even if some can’t see what they have in front of their noses. It is impossible to fathom what goes on in the brains of some government officials to let this happen since I can imagine this lady was one bright light to do with others’ perception of Zimbabwe and their elephants and they throw it away. Elephants deserve heroes like her.

  • Brigette

    Obama and Hilary Clinton are supposed to do something for the elephants, but it kills me that I don’t know how and when its coming. This cannot happen!! This needs to be posted on David Sheldricks Wildlife Trust Facebook Page because it has high traffic and that will help bring International Attention to it. Even the Facebook pages of Elephant Santuaries in Thailand can bring international attention. Can we get IFAW and have the Elephants moved to another place like they did in Gabon? Can we get Damien Mander and have his team patrol. I can assure you the 95 percent of the world does not want this to happen! But do enough people know this story and do they know how they can help directly? Can we get Dr. Ian Douglas Hamilton to set up his team and call in a plan to action? We can get International Attention but this story needs to be loud and advertised for everyones attention.

  • Kenny Dawson

    Sharon Pincott may not be one of the early elephant pioneers – like Iain Douglas-Hamlton, Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole in Kenya – but she has to be one of the most dedicated elephant gurus in the world today despite not being an academic in this field. This is a sad story out of a sad country and it makes me want to smack someone.

  • Lucy

    Sharon Pincott is a true heroine and it is utterly heartbreaking to know that her incredible and admirable work with the Presidential elephants can’t be continued. I really hope that this interview gets published in the NG magazine, it would reach millions of people and bring more awareness to the elephants plight which could help save them.

  • Mike Kelley

    We hope that Sharon will turn back up somewhere else once the fatigue is over. Perhaps Zimbabwe’s loss will be South Africa’s gain although I expect that East Africa is probably more appreciative of this sort of expertise. The elephants can ill-afford a loss of this knowledge, perseverence and commitment, rare to come across. Walking away from this one in Zimbabwe was the brave thing to do.

  • Adriana

    What is wrong with Zimbabwe? Are there people with any respect for what is right in the wildlife ministry? (Are there people with adequate knowledge in the ministry?) A resource made known internationaly by this lady and you blow it. A well managed land program would be admirable but how about not at the expense of one of your biggest natural resources.

  • Natacha

    Bravo Sharon! I looked on French television about a documentary on you and the elephants. It is wonderful. Thank you for your courage for these elephants. My feelings, my support. It was deeply affecting and I was moved to tears and again now.

  • Jema D.

    On the back of Sharon Pincott’s last book there is a photograph of her KISSING the elephant from the W family she named Wila (pictured here) and spent all these years with. I always wondered about that. But when you see the way Willa is peering at her in the photo here it makes more sense. How could you not react to that with a kiss! Some may not agree with it but I am certain its a relationship we elephant lovers all envy if we are honest! I also saw the documentary and Willa was the one who approached for comfort. A terrible loss to these elephants.

  • Nicole K.

    I have read all of Sharon’s books and followed her on FB for awhile now…and everytime I read about her, i cry. I loved her journey but am so heartbroken with the end result. I know she has to do this and leave the Pres. Eles. I just pray every day they will be safe and live a long, prosperous life. I think of all the animals that have been saved by her and all the emotional attachments she and they have had with one another. Sharon-thank you for ALL you’ve done. I hope Zimbabwe can get their act together-they could be a flourishing tourist Country with all the publicity Sharon has brought to them-THAT is where the money is! Not hunting…soon there will be nothing left. I hope and pray the Government is paying attention and stop being so greedy and think Long term. Thank you Nat Geo for doing this wonderful Q & A with her. We all miss her.

  • Sharon Stead

    Sharon Pincott has kept The Presidential Elephants of Hwange in the spotlight over the past 13 years. However, it is also through the dedicated efforts of numerable safari operators and local authorities in this area, that these elephants have been monitored. Whilst many will not publicly write or expose their efforts, it is us Zimbabweans, with a vested interest in wildlife, that will ensure this special clan of elephants will be cared for for future generations. These efforts have and do go far beyond the capability of one single person. We wish Sharon well and thank her for her commitment to our country.

  • AnotherHwangeOperator

    In response to the comment just read by Ms Stead of Hwange, everyone in all African countries will acknowledge that safari operators play a part in the preservation of all wildlife, however where this is the case of a country’s ‘flagship herd’, specially monitored not by safari guides looking at them, but by people knowing intimate details about their lives and their deaths and their problem areas that can only happen after many years of dedicated and intimate efforts and knowledge, as the likes of the Amboseli Elephant researchers in Kenya will confirm for sure. Safari guides often do not notice injuries either as they are looking for beauty and wonder for their clients. Safari operators also only reach the travel-agent market, not the large conservation community that dedicated people like Sharon Pincott have been able to tap into for much broader international interest and awareness. This is not to take away from the safari operators in all countries, but we all know that is like saying that the rhinos in a country will be safe by just safari guides looking at them, and doing safari drives among them, and that is just not true, alone. Sharon Pincott’s books and many articles written by others attest to the many things that were achieved – mostly alone with some donors (before it was taken land) – for these elephants, when safari operators neglected much, like the maintenance of their waterholes. Let’s not boast too much as much was not done as well.

  • Brent de Kock

    I have to wonder if the comment from ‘Hwange National Park’ and the “us Zimbabweans with our vested interest in our wildlife” is the same as the Zimbabwean sporthunters and their vested interest! that we read about, with distaste, in a previous article. It does seem to me that Zimbabweans should maybe put their egos aside and be more gracious with a (masked?) vote of thanks, when help has clearly been essential and no doubt still is. [Be careful, Zimbabwe’s newest indiginisation program will probably roll over many of these “white operators” anyway.]

  • Joyce Mayle

    I have read that the dedicated elephant ppl in Kenya were Sharon Pincott’s inspiration and nobody can dispute that without these ppl throughout E. Africa everyone would just look at elephants, and also chimpanzees, gorillas and other very longterm studied species, and just think all was fine without knowing what was REALLY going on with them. It is only with detailed knowledge and records can you know if Echo in Amboseli or Digit in Rwanda or a chimp in Gombe or Lady in Hwange was missing from their family, and how a family was coping after a death, and all of the many things that are important at a detailed level. It is fine to see a grand spectacle of hundreds of elephants but that does not mean that all is necessarily fine in that country or with that population. Who untrained can look at even a disparate group of elephants and know that? Only these dedicated elephant people can do that and I salute them all especially when they work in countries that make it difficult with nonsensical policies and alot of talk.

  • Joyce Mayle

    I do happen to be in Hwange Zimbabwe at the moment. Today we saw a lot of ellies in depths of Hwange National Park but I pointed out to the gentlemen accompanying us that there seemed to be too many young ones for the number of older ones, something that I have also read about. So lots of elephants but maybe not all okay. Unfortunately of course I could not tell who was not with the herds who should have been.

  • GratefulZimbo

    One person can’t save the world, nor an extended herd of elephants BUT one person can sure make a much bigger difference than alot of other parties combined, as Sharon Pincott did. Whether Sharon was of zimbabwean birthright or not makes no difference to me, she did more for this country’s wildlife than most. She was a huge asset to MY country and I am a zimbabwean and I can say that with my head high and with no dreaded green monster sitting on my shoulder. Thank you Sharon Pincott and we need people like you in this country of mine to help us through. Read her books and watch the All the President’s Elephants dvd if you have not already, they are worth your time.

  • Carrie

    Wonderful to see this reaching another audience but not wonderful to know that Sharon has still not changed her mind about leaving us. We Zimbabweans, at least some of us, know and appreciate an elephant champion when we have one in our midst and we, with a conscience, are ashamed of this situation by government. Holding thumbs for a change of mind and a change to attitude of others. We all here have known what it is to be bone tired of it all but still hope for hope. Most of us tho don’t have anywhere else to go. Reconsider please Sharon!

  • Boet Korsie

    Elephantine thanks to Sharon Pincott for all. It would be interesting to hear what Alan Elliot ( sitting on his farm just outside Bulawayo) has to say about all this. And I hope any prospective visitor to Hwange avoids those new operators on those elephant’s estate.

  • Mia

    Very informative interview, thankyou. Elephants are amazing animals as we see here and are fortunate to have dedicated people like this to look out for them. Zimbabwe and their elephants should be a much higher priority for that government, but in a country with so many other problems who there cares. The trouble is that when a country like this keeps getting everything for free they will never appreciate anything.

  • Brent

    TO BOET IN UK:- Yes elephantine thanks to Sharon Pincott. Interestingly I was wondering something similar to you. Click through to Sharon’s Presidential Elephant Conservation Project Facebook link on this page – no need to logon to facebook – and take the link in the comments section of the recent post re this National Geographic interview to a South African tourist update site. There you will find your answer in the form of a not unexpected type of comment there along with numerous insightful others!

  • Sally-Ann Whyte

    In this world where ‘self’ is top priority you find so few who sincerely do it for the love of wildlife and not for the love of personal progression and money. You find a few more game than me in each African country but overwhelmingly wrong wins out. People problems take top priority and they get the vast majority of resources and time. The wildlife get a few guardian angels who do it more for love and compassion than for money and then you watch them drown in the sea of evil, or if not drown then splutter until they have to give up. There is something wrong with this world. This is so sad.

  • Anteneh Belayneh

    It is really mentally painful to read such news. It is shame for Zimbabwe!
    We also faced a very severe case of population decline of African elephants in one of the protected area in Ethiopia known as Babile Elephant Sanctuary. So I call up every one who really loves elephants to rescue the Babile Elephants before local extinction. Very small numbers are left at the moment! Another Shame for Ethiopia!

  • Garth

    I read with interest the comment from Boet and I did just read the comments about this latest land claim on this web link – http://www.tourismupdate.co.za/NewsDetails.aspx?newsId=72405 I am an ex Zim resident who used to visit this area and what I would like to point out is that there used to be 4 lodges in this land area all run by that one same person. Now I’ve just been told that under ‘land reform’ each one of these 4 are controlled now by separate parties, with even more separate parties involved in between these lodges! This is a disaster for being able to gamedrive tourists around these elephants of course which does not help the situation at all. Not only that but with so many little pieces of land all separately owned/leased/controlled now, how can one (and by that I mean some-one qualified, who can really determine at an indepth level what is going on with each and every family of elephants) possibly get a broad picture of what is happening to this whole herd if not permitted to be on ALL of their range! In fact, how can anybody even try to determine that when they can now go to only small pieces of this area or maybe not go at all anymore. Just from this point of view it is obvious these elephants are at risk of nobody really knowing anything about them anymore. It is beyond comprehension that the Zimbabwean Government would allow this. God bless Sharon for her years of work. I will never forget my time in this area, although I was never lucky enough to ever get Sharon on our lodge gamedrive although I tried many times. Busy lady she was!

  • Kathy Prior

    We have followed Sharon Pincott’s FB page since she started it, not that long ago really, after reading her books and knowing first-hand of her inspiring work. We visited once and loved talking to Sharon around a night fire where her stories of babies, sons, daughters, mothers, aunties, matriarchs, made us want to throw it all in and do the same thing. But her other stories of what she has had to face were too awful to contemplate doing ourselves and we saw things like neglected pans for ourselves. It was only one meeting but I am heartbroken that she no longer feels that she can continue on with the situation as it is at the moment. Thank-you Sharon for all that you did and no-thanks to Zimbabwe for letting it come to this. A resolution is needed.

  • Sander

    Just got back from Zimbabwe and it is devastating to see what one demented person and his money grabbing ministers have done in 10- 15 years time. Since lawlesness is taking over this beautiful country the name it self Presidential El. of Zimbabwe has lost it’s value completely. I completely understand it puts off international conservationist to get involved. I suggest to change it in to the Pincott Herd or Hwange Herritage Herd. It’s heartbreaking but with the actual level of competence within the ministries of Zimbabwe this country is doomed and will son be sold to China. And we all know how that will end…

  • Jean Goodman

    Woeful and worrying time and what astonishing relationships and love! I realise that this is the lady we saw when on our morning drive when we were on a group tour to Zimbabwe and South Africa last year. We spent a few nights at hwange safari lodge. She was with two local boys heaving out bundles of weed from a water hole where we could hardly see the water that we stopped at and we were told by our guide that they were from a village not far away and they were putting the weed into the back part of her 4WD to destroy it. They looked like they could do with some help but there was only the three of them and now I ponder why the lodges and people using this area were not helping. I am also wondering if this is one of the water holes that has been taken as the tree in your foto is familiar in my own fotos that I took bringing back memories. Thank you for this article. We love animals and especially the elephants but Zimbabwe has some work to do as this is what we also thought when we were there. It is sad to see so much effort yet still such inadequate understanding of consequences of actions by others.

  • Boet Korsie

    Thanks Garth and Brent for your posts/replies. I saw the comment from Alan Elliot on the update site. I found it shameful and misleading. After all he was the MP for the area for 5 years on a ZPF ticket so he is always connected until he shows otherwise but chooses to still do the running-with-the-hyaenas thing. Oh well he made his mint ( with the help of these same eles) and he has his own farm so what more should we expect ?

  • Michael

    The idea of such an elephant herd in a country like Zimbabwe was always questionable to begin with. This herd once financially benefitted just one solitary safari operation-man (with links to the regime) and that was the biggest joke of all. More recently there were clearly attempts to turn it into something more widely acceptable and more meaningful but it is not at all surprising with the current regime in place that this has not been possible. If they put as much time into understanding the impacts as they do into grabbing what is not rightfully theirs, then, this country might prosper. It is only because tusks are so small that poachers don’t target Zimbabwe elephants more. God help them all.

  • D. Ford

    I repeat the comment from France, Bravo Sharon Pincott! The conservation world needs more long-term on-the-ground champions like you with values. The elephants need you and your kind, if not in Zimbabwe then still elsewhere in our Africa. Do not give up.

  • Abby

    There is a memorable DVD (surprisingly different to many wildlife documentaries you see) that features this lady’s work in Hwange in Zimbabwe that will make you cry – ALL THE PRESIDENT’S ELEPHANTS (Natural History Unit). If only the government representatives there would put their actions where their mouth is. It now makes them look senseless.

  • F. Brewer

    That the authorities should investigate those who continually report and harass the good guys; never a truer statement. And they should also investigate their own.

  • karen paolillo

    I have had the pleasure of being with Sharon and the elephants and seeing the absolute trust they had in her. To lose a woman like this for politics and greed is beyond logic or any form of sensibility. Zimbabwe bring back such a hero to promote your land and your wealth do not make the same mistakes that some whites have done. Show the world that you are a Country that cares about its wildlife prove it by allowing those that love Africa to benefit it and its inhabitants. Kick out those bad guys and bring back the good please.

  • Hwange Citizen

    I have followed with quite some interest and growing concern the emails, face book post and so on concerning Sharron Pincott and the so-called Presidential Elephants on the so called Hwange Estate.

    So much so that I decided to take a trip to Hwange and see for myself what was happening on the ground. Some thing Johnny Rodrigues should do once in a while rather than sitting at home and regurgitating the same old tripe he has regurgitated for years. His comments such as
    “Once she’s removed from there, the Presidential elephants will be gone. I hope they move on, but I believe the people claiming this land are interlinked with hunting operations so I don’t see any future for these animals. They will all be shot and that will be the end of the Presidential herd.”
    Published on the Zimbabwe Situation site in an article credited to SW Radio Africa journalist Alex Bell, are typically shameful and without any substance.
    I think its time for a bit of honest truth, a few facts rather than hysteria. I know Hwange; I have vested the area every year for the past 20 years. I know the people on the ground
    Alan Elliot coined the name Presidential Elephants back in the late 1970’s. A clever marketing ploy by a shrewd and successful businessman. The origin of the herd allegedly goes back to the days of the elephant culls in Hwange National Park. Elephant calves were not shot in those culls; those that were small enough were shipped to zoos around the world. Those that were too large to be shipped were kept in bomas and hand fed until they were old enough to venture out into the wild on their own. A soft release program took place, where these elephant were allowed to come and go freely from their boma into the wild until eventually they met up with wild, free roaming elephant. Thus the origin of the “herd” was 40 or 50 very, very habituated elephant. Anyone who has taken the time to visit the fabulous Hwange National Park will know that the elephant are anyway quite relaxed when compared to elephant in other regions.
    With Alan Elliot and his Touch The Wild operation in full flow there were often 40 vehicles driving on the estate, leading to the elephants becoming increasingly habituated around vehicles.
    Now lets talk about the so-called “Hwange Estate”. Touch The Wild operated four camps and two mobile camps plus carried out the came drives from Hwange Safari Lodge on this estate. Alan Eliot sold Touch The Wild in the late 1990’s but Touch The Wild continued operating in the area in one shape or form until approximately 2003, when tourism all but collapsed in Zimbabwe. By this time Hwange Safari Lodge had “assumed responsibility” for much of the area.
    This “estate” was made up of private land (where Sikumi Tree Lodge is situated), Forestry Commission land (where Sable Lodge is situated), Farm 41(where Khatschana Lodge was situated) and state land (where Kanondo Lodge was situated). Under the land reform program the private land and Farm 41 have been allocated to identified individuals. Farm 41 quite recently. Sikumi Tree lodge is still operational but Khatschana has fallen into dis-repair.
    Another section of this private land has been allocated under the land reform program to another identified individual. And while know one seems to have time for this person and indeed his operation seem questionable, the land in question has been a hunting concession for more than thirty years and the current owner does have a legitimate quota on it. So hysteria about shots being heard allegedly made by Ivory Lodge, who border this hunting area, are probably not much more than that, hysteria. Certainly National Parks investigated and found nothing-unlawful taking place.
    Ironic of Ivory Lodge really, who sit on a concession from Forestry Commission that is regarded as one of the worst areas for poaching in the region, bordering the community of Mabale as it does. Ivory Lodge have allegedly never lifted a finger to combat the poaching and indeed their own staff have been implicated in setting snares along a well worn path leading from the lodge to the Mabale Communal Area.
    Sable Lodge operates under a lease arrangement with Forestry Commission and is run by a very pleasant couple.
    A section of the state land has been leased out to a well established conservation organization, who by the way allows any of the operators to drive on the land, and the remaining section of state land has been leased out to a the individuals who have been unjustifiably castigated for daring to rebuild a lodge on the site of Kanondo. All of the leases are quite legal and appropriate lease fees are being paid. It is impossible to find any details of any lease that Touch The Wild or anyone else for that matter had on this state land until now. So it is quite likely that all past claims and operations where actually unlawful, whereas the current operations are not.
    So that is the land in question. Indeed from a marketing point of view Alan Elliot was spot on, that’s why he made so much money. Operating the area under one umbrella as he did makes absolute sense. But the current operators have legitimate rights to be there and thus it is still absolutely possible to stay at any number of lodges and enjoy seeing the spectacular wildlife.
    The big looser in all this seems to be Hwange Safari Lodge, who no longer seem to have any “estate” to drive on. And perhaps Ivory Lodge, who saw an opportunity and made side deals with Hwange Safari Lodge. Deals that are worthless so they have to go back to driving in the National Park.
    This seems to put some of the wild accusations of illegal land grabbing made by Pincott and the likes into some real perspective. Claims that the land has been allocated out with any money changing hands? Maybe in some cases but certainly not in all. What is the real motivation behind her wild claims?
    The correspondence that exists between Pincott and the current owners (remember with a legitimate lease) of the state land that contains Kanondo throws some light onto the matter. Pincott entered into a friendly email exchange advising the lease holders to keep the place private, to prevent other operators driving on the area, drawing examples with Wilderness Safaris who operate very successfully inside Hwange NP on private concessions. Private concessions meaning that no other operators are allowed to carry out game drives, thus its exclusive to Wilderness Safaris clients. Just as Alan Elliot did with Touch The Wild, so no big surprises there that this is a desirable model.
    The mood changed and indeed Pincotts position turned 180 degrees when she was told she could not enter the land either. False, indeed absolute lies about the area being fenced and so forth came out. What seems to be a typical Pincott strategy of attempting to turn one party against another. Unfounded allegations that the current lease holders will engage in hunting, just because the lease holder has a brother allegedly involved in hunting. So what if he is? My wife is a doctor, that doesn’t mean I treat her patients!! Come on; let’s have some common sense applied. She even went as far as faking that she was being physically attacked by these people! I’ve seen the video with my own eyes and it’s an absolute joke.
    The pleasant, professional couple that have the lease talk of anti poaching units, taking up responsibility, collaborating with real conservation and research, and cooperating with other safari operators. Time will tell if they do this, but they should be given a chance to prove themselves. This area has been vacant for some time, is known to be a poaching hot spot and so a responsible presence in the area is just what is needed.
    And what of Pincott, what has she actually done? What seems clear is that she burnt so many bridges. Not surprising as do you ever see a word of thanks from her to the people on the ground who have extended a helping hand to her over the years? The people who have given her free accommodation for example in an area where accommodation is in relatively short supply. Similar to her staged vehicle break down, constructed when an International Conservation Organisation was waiting for her. It was apparently a ploy by her to get a new vehicle from these potential donors. Apparently the stream of verbal abuse she uttered when her plot had been exposed was something to behold.
    There is a lot of commendable conservation and research work being under taken in the area. Work with lions, painted dogs, human wildlife conflict mitigation, provision of water for the animals and much more. Interestingly all of the parties involved in this real conservation work have seemingly distanced themselves from Pincott over the years. I wonder why? These are the same people who respond to reports of snared animals, be they elephant, zebra or buffalo and put their lives on the line to dart the injured animal and remove the snares. Something Pincott has never done. These same people carry on with that work today, regardless of her.
    In one of the most recent articles The Fate of the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe—A Conversation With Sharon Pincott. Posted by Christina Russo in A Voice for Elephants on May 12, 2014. Pincott makes a claim that she instigated flyovers of Hwange National Park following the discovery that approximately 100 elephants had been killed with cyanide. The fact of the matter is that the dead elephants were fist discovered and reported to National parks by a well-known hunting operator who was flying clients into a neighboring concession that sits outside of the National Park. From the air they spotted “something unusual” and took a detour to take a closer look. This was in May 2013. Following this discovery these same hunters made the helicopter available for National Parks on a daily basis for aerial searches and to ferry scouts et al into the area. Pincott’s later demands to be informed of every dead elephant were largely treated with contempt.
    Pincott has studied the elephants, got to know them intimately and know one can deny her passion for them. Well done. Where is all of this work? Has it been made available to any reputable institution? At the end of the day it’s hardly ground breaking stuff anyway nor is it conservation. Understanding and documenting which individual is related to which individual is pretty much regarded as base line data, ask any of the long-term elephant conservation groups in Kenya.
    So she has written some books, taken some photographs and appeared in a film. She has also fed the elephants with pods and salt, which is illegal. Has her presence prevented one elephant from being snared?
    The fact is she has contributed nothing of any substance. She has possibly harmed the fragile tourism industry in the region. As I have said, she has burnt so many bridges with the real people on the ground that none of them, not one of the current legitimate custodians of the land want anything to do with her. Is she a victim? Yes she certainly is a victim of her own self. Will the elephants survive her? They most certainly will Johnny Rodrigues et al.

  • HwangeOperator

    The commentary here by Hwange Citizen made us snigger! This scribe negatively targets the two women mentioned in Tessa Reed’s article on the South African Tourism Update website, and glorifies the rest. His personal rant takes no account of the clear want of the general populace in terms of how they are now limited in doing gamedrives to these elephants (a process that changed significantly and for the better after Mr Alan Elliott lost his grip on the area), or in fact of any of the comments on that page. Rather he favours only the want of those who have taken land in this area, and who do not want to lose what they have taken (If one party does lose the land taken by them, then the others will too we all realise, so they must now all revolt). The scribe does appear to have the hallmarks of a fellow hunter and/or supportive ties to the early incumbent and his defunct operation! Regardless, as mentioned in an earlier comment by me on the Tourism site, it seems to me that the main concern, which is utterly missed by the scribe, is to do with the “elimination” of an esteemed flagship/representative herd for our country, something that Sharon Pincott, despite his rant, has definitely done more for than these others combined. Just like her positive reach for our country, to very many internationally through many credible channels, has also done more than these others combined in terms of great publicity for us over the years. Others of course might resent her for it. Your other attempts at disrepute towards her just made us laugh out loud and are not worthy of comment (some always have to attempt to topple the one getting attention don’t they?). Somebody like Johnny Rodrigues (a person always willing to speak out under his real name) would know, more so than the scribe, that without the ‘baseline data’ mentioned nothing can be measured. I will always remember vividly reading about a huge 25percent of one presidential ellie family snared (many saved not by Sharon doing the actual snare removal, no, but by her calling in a snare removal team, as she has often written about acknowledging gratefully those who have assisted which we have read with our own eyes), and about all sorts of fascinating facts that are not just pie in the sky, and also other awful but necessary reading about who and how many in certain family units have been killed or never to be seen again. An institution is not needed to make this very valuable knowledge, that has been widely shared and read by many more than members of institutions. I can not help but assess that the scribe has missed the real point, preferring to justify the Kanondo land grab (just as Mr Alan Elliot tried to). The scribe’s point about Ivory lodge also sounds like spite, like much of the rest. I read this one point earlier today and this seems to be the whole crux of the matter from those who really care about these elephants (and not just care about their own land takeovers). It said – “To allow this land to be split up into little plots of land and be controlled by disparate, competitor parties – all making up their own rules and regulations – is nonsensical and detrimental to the concept of a flagship herd of elephants.” The informed agree.

  • HwangeOperator

    an EDIT to my comment already submitted please – of course a word or two was left out of this following sentence of mine so to avoid misrepresentation of more facts I will add it here – “Regardless, as mentioned in an earlier comment by me on the tourism site, it seems to me that the main concern, which is utterly missed by the scribe, is to do with the “elimination” of THE NOTION OF an esteemed flagship/representative herd for our country, something that Sharon Pincott, despite his rant, has definitely done more for than these others combined.” My final sentence does clarify with the quote of the concept of a flagship herd.


    i can not conceive any one who has worked with such animals so closely any where making a decision like this lightly specially with all the support and attention on her facebook. the last straw? this year seems like the worst battle, her facebook showing problems all year and even before. agree one person cant save everything but i wish sharon would stay and continue contributing as she has the world behind her and thus behind some of what zimbabwe was doing with ellies. they needed that and aided from it even if it meant not winning friends in the bush. things will go on as she said in your dialog but will we ever know the truth of the impact from here on in? political agendas will be the death of all our wildlife at the end of the day as will human jealousies greediness and other personal agendas, which is worrying that this always seems to surface at the end of the day from some people. if they cant see the great contribution made and the will to preserve what was worked for they are not worthy in the end i suppose

  • Ronny

    I took your link through to “Controversy Swirls Around the Recent U.S. Suspension of Sport-Hunted Elephant Trophies.” and read the “hysterical letter of protest” by some person named Ron Thomson. Reading through the comments now on this other elephant post it is a shame that there are at least two men of a similar kind in Zimbabwe! These men deciding they are the fountain of all knowledge will not sway those who have been following proceedings during all of the 2000’s as elephant concerns skyrocketed everywhere and many were ready to flag problem areas throughout all of this time. Well done, well done, to those who do the work and do not have to take one trip to Hwange national park to try to get up to speed.

  • Field Support

    ‘If you’re doing something wrong, you don’t want good eyes and ears around, do you?’
    I found out that for myself while doing a field work stint in the neighbouring Botswana.
    Please do not let land issues ruin it all please Government ministers who by all reports are now listening. What Sharon Pincott has taught and inspired us about is too precious.

  • Sue-Ellen Hillier

    Sharon’s your dedication to these magestic elephants has been honourable. For all the years of work and passion you’ve put it, only to be pushed out for political gain and monitary value, I’m sure, is simply heartbreaking. With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I’m saddened by your departure and wonder who will pick up your torch. Be blessed.

  • Edward

    Interesting to read the comment from Hwange Citizen who has a lot of good points to make. The Truth hurts!!

    Hwange Operator you make me laugh criticising someone for not using their name but not using your own!

    You also criticise Elliot but in his days the elephant were the most accessible.

    Apart from Farm 41, HSL / Zim Suns had not claims over the land and as such operated illegally. Maybe Elliot did as well on the sate land areas at least. Seems now those areas are under appropriate leases.

    It also looks like Pincotts “work” was not all it was made out to be. Base line data is base line data. Hwange Citizen did not say anything else, he simply called it what it is.

    Zimbabwe needs people who are prepared to take a chance and invest in the country. Like the folk paying legal leases and building camps. Not operators who just want to exploit, charge clients for game drives, that include entry fees that are not paid to anyone.

    I don’t think the elephant care too much about who owns what, and see no reason what anyone thinks they will be eliminated if this woman leaves.

  • Derek

    We have followed Sharon Pincott’s work since we got our hands on her first book about 5 years ago. There were so many struggles yet she always shone through for the elephants and we are hoping that she will again. She gave us hope for a country where there too regularly is so little. To know that there was a guardian recording the events and watching over this one population of elephants was real comfort in a land of little care for human life let alone wild life, and no care for land rights in this case either which is incredibly sad.

  • Joannah Jiri

    When this land grab issue rose up we were alterted to a hunting site by ZCTF and there this land grabber’s name was, beside her brother’s, this hunting site saying thanks to them both for opportunities to hunt in some of our country’s best wildlife areas. After the report, this grabber’s name disappeared from the site like hyenas in the day. Now they wish us to believe there is nothing sinister like the night going on. People come in with their political connections, decide something is theirs, do whatever they want, with no care of these precious elephants, the precious past work achieved, the precious need for we the indiginous people to be able to enjoy our natural resources without big money, and the hyena comes to steal it away. Everyone in government is not stupid we hope.

  • Jacob Whyte

    THANKYOU Sharon PIncott for years of dedication-motivation to this herd of elephant that I tracked closely, myself visiting more than once a year when I could. Rewarding it must have been while it lasted but you deserve better. [Never read a more ignorant reference to this lady and her work than that from ‘hwange citizen’! Had a good laugh along with you HwangeOperator. What ignorance and yes spite but thats the human race for you. If thats the quality of people who have to travel into hwange to make a judgement these elephants are dead in the water for sure.]

  • Sander

    It seems like our Hwange Citizen is deeply involved in the lang grabbing process. He is justifying and glorifying the whole idea of it. His comment “The big looser in all this seems to be Hwange Safari Lodge” I find is a very shortsighted thus typical lang grab remark. The biggest looser in this all will be the wildlife.

  • C. Milton

    Thanks to you for this interview. I have spent a lot of time re-reading much on this subject. Sharon’s invaluable work with our elephants is unquestionable. She not only knew and shared information with us about them on a very personal level, she also was a big reason many de-snarings took place after scouting, she took it upon herself to improve waterhole conditions, spent time with lucky tourists and much more. She was only one person to do it all. She fought for this land once already before only for the situation to raise its ugly big head again showing government’s processes are questionable and wanting. She fought against hunting occurring in wrong places year after endless year. She turned these elephants into a resource we could all be genuinely proud of even if few of us still really appreciated their name. We could tell that during the last year or two, efforts were intensified and progress seemed solid, and there was more hope. Then some claimant, who was living in another country, decides that they will change the balance dramatically, taking current operators out of the picture and swinging the balance on established processes. This is not for a land claimant to do, particularly not in such an area of supposed importance. The government must have had an obligation, if they respected this herd and what it signified, to keep things running smoothly for the tourists, and Zimbabwe, who are the ultimate beneficiaries. They did not do this. Without government support, the ability to game-drive extensively over the range, and someone/s in place to be able to report about their daily well-being and status, and that needs detailed knowledge of everything to do with the make-up of the herd, there is NO FLAGSHIP HERD to speak of. That is unquestionable if you really understand the facts at hand. It is the elimination of this, combined sadly with the continued and very likely worsening hunting that does go on and claims lives often never uncovered but known, that is the reason we agree we have a big problem and are so dismayed by all of this. Naturally the elephants do not care who is running lodges but if they could talk I am confident that they would want what they had and that is people caring for this land that have no links to greedy politicians, no links to hunters with unethical background, no links to those trying to segment and inhibit full-length gamedrives, and no links to those who do not want the status of the herd over its entire range known any longer. That is the basis of the petition that is circulating and it is a worthy one to those who know and seriously understand the past processes and work done. We hope that when it is delivered to government that they will act. Sharon Pincott, we will miss you allowing us into the lives of these elephants, and your own life with them, over so many years in such a personal and giving way. It was a such a pleasure to be a part of this. The herd will not be eliminated of course not, we certainly hope, but we know that in hard times you can spend days on gamedrives on this land even in the dry season months and hardly see an elephant. We will see how often this happens in the future but tragically now no one will be able to tell us what is actually going on anyway and that is why so many still hope that something can be done to right the wrongs and put government-controlled processes back in place. Zimbabwe thought we had a wildlife minister with a backbone but we are not sure about that anymore.

  • Gilfrid Wordsworth

    Thank the good Lord for our fellow people with grit and courage like this lady in Zimbabwe. If it was a kitten among the greedy and destructive wolves there would have been nothing done at all so we are happy she was no kitten as she would have been eaten long ago. But there is only so much one person should have to take in the end and then it is time to branch from the path. The World needs more people like this at the cold face to pit themselves against those intent on filling only themselves at deadly speed, with no concern of the big picture and what it could all mean for the Country at large. I wish I had the guts and gumption to get in there and continue with it myself.

  • Ray

    When there is no sport hunting craziness going on inside Hwange NP – and that has gone on illegally in past years with souls like myself seeing hunting vehicles inside there for ourselves – the Hwange elephants are pretty calm in general specifically around the camps inside the park. I understand and can support Sharon no longer feeling able to associate herself with a stunt of a christened herd outside the park boundary while there is no tangible government commitment to it and to the land in all seriousness except for their politically connected buddies to benefit from so called land reform. She then becomes a cover up for a much bigger problem and that is the height of unfairness and unjustness. These elephants will find their way to safer grounds if need be and good luck to them and to Sharon. People will get away with less corruption inside the national park itself so venture there instead and stay at dependable camps who will take you around to see great vistas of elephants. See them while they last since with all that is going on that may not be long relatively speaking.

  • Kenneth Miller

    Why am I not surprised? Look at the other disgusting things that are allowed to happen in Zimbabwe; http://africageographic.com/blog/sleeping-elephant-woken-up-to-be-shot/. Do they have a government official there with a brain, and a human heart?

  • Jed Calbert

    Another Zimbabwe land seize with political connection [this one by “the daughter of a late politician” I have now read] and unfair influence to get what they want. To see that still some people there [fortunately only a minority who come across as revengeful and dishonorable] show support of this sort of thing that cannot even be termed land reform, is mind boggling. The wildlife the big loser, always the wildlife. It is a scandal and the news out of this country continues to get worse. From a Born Free USA report – “Zimbabwean political elites, including those under international sanction, are seising wildlife spaces that either are, or are likely to soon be, used as covers for poaching operations.” – http://www.bornfreeusa.org/a9_ivorys_curse.php That the government of Zimbabwe does not act on their own edict in this case is highly disturbing.

  • Zimbabwean Citizen

    Hwange Citizen – Listen to yourself…”she contributed nothing of substance” – what would you call it then….to have the story of this herd spread throughout the world? She is ONE PERSON would loved elephants enough to dedicate 13years of her life to them. She woke people from their complacency. She gained the trust of this herd….she shared their story. How dare you say she achieved nothing of substance! Revolting….

  • Riana

    It is obvious that Sharon Pincott is a hero to many and also to me. She always will be now no matter where she ends up. Think about it, who else in this country of ours could generate such international interest and concern in our wildlife in general, and particularly our elephants? I can only think of a handful of others who have achieved this in the entire country and certainly none in Hwange! My advice to Zimbabwean Citizen, let us not waste breath on such low-life, who is so obviously full of revenge over something, and collusion with land grabbers, of which there was more of them in this Hwange area than just this one claimant all now angry with the possibility of losing grabbed land and being exposed. Those who achieve the highest in any field, especially if they are female and godforbid not born in this country of ours, although more loyal and contributing in some respects than many others will ever be, will always sadly be the target of those who have nothing better to do with their time and can only try to belittle. You get a few of these ignorant unsavoury ones in every country, not just in ours, so although embarrassing to the Zimbabwean race, let us just accept that, ignore, and move on to what really matters. And that is fixing the problem at hand if we possibly can help to do that. Pressure is mounting on government to do that now by a wide range of people, locally and around the world.

  • Ed Wright

    The tragedy of all of this is not only the land take with one connected party crazily permitted to spoil it for all and bringing unnecessary risk to the elephants, but it is the fact that Sharon Pincott had earned the trust and respect of many in the international elephant/conservation community over the years. That can’t have been easy when working in a country that many don’t respect to any great degree. But she managed that, and continued to build a solid global support base. This shielded Zimbabwe from at least some of the negativity and criticisms, at least in this field, a rose among a bed of thorns. And now Zimbabwe loses even that. That is foolish. Foolish. Foolish. Friendly elephants are not unusual today around Africa, perhaps different to 40 years ago, but a herd of over 500 that is documented and properly known and followed is still a rarity and something to be commended and valued, especially when it is one that is supposed to represent a country. To allow someone new into any area, anywhere in the world, who takes it upon themselves to ruin something like that is incomprehensible. Individual rule only destroys. How can it be allowed? It is clear that there is no sense of responsibility and understanding in the responsible ministry and that is a great misfortune for Zimbabwe.

  • DJ

    For them to get away with this its painfully obvious there are those who do not want this herd known accurately any more. We knew of people who came and went doing little over the 80s and 90s, with no one sticking it out around the clock long enough to make adequate progress with understanding and identification of what exactly makes up this herd, and how exactly, until this lady came along more than a decade ago and stuck at it to really make the difference. For everyone else it had merely been a way to get to be in our African bush for a relatively short while on a typically ineffectual jaunt that was usually a money spinner for somebody on the ground. We learnt many crucial things this past decade from Sharon’s books, not the least being that our elephants did not birth nearly as often as those who were desperate to display inflated numbers, most likely for nefarious purposes, wanted us to believe. At one stage Government was even publicly proclaiming there were 75,000-plus elephants, based on extrapolations, in Hwange! Gradually even Government reduced their estimate by half! Infiltrating the area with shady characters who decide to take it upon themselves to obliterate labours such as this is so typical of what we have come to expect out of our own country. It is a crying shame that there are no controls and apparently no one in authority with the common sense to see the scope for the surreptitious destruction that will certainly happen over time now, and do something constructive about it. It appears that they no longer even want more than a handful of tourist eyes around either and that, too, is markedly dodgy. Once again we have to sit and shake our heads over greed and ignorance. Next they will have rival lodges built on top of each other inside Hwange NP as well which does nothing to assist our wonderful wildlife either.

  • Mat

    Thank goodness that local people in Zimbabwe and not just the international community can see the error of past ways. It will be interesting to see if their petition now said to be delivered to Harare government helps to get any sort of positive outcome for these elephants. The media releases on their site stress legitimate worries needing resolution. Fully expect there will be more “passing the buck” by that government though, as there seems to have been already when you read these. More government allies are involved in grabs there in Hwange, subdividing this important area into little pieces, than has been made public yet, but more of the land grabbing story will eventually surface I am sure about that. It always takes time out of that country before we hear all the details, just look at the elephants to China saga and the recent white-farmer/daughter murders over agricultural land grabs. Tragic when people don’t care about the big picture for these elephants, only themselves and their own pockets and their own businesses. That is why a dedicated conservationist is always such a big plus in environments such as this to keep a non-aligned eye on things; aligned only to the welfare of the elephants which is what is desperately needing to be retained. Presidential protection is a joke for the country indeed if it benefits only a few connected people’s pockets giving the country and its elephants less credibility than ever now that these ones are far better known around the world.

  • Graham

    Sharon Pincott I salute you! After first reading this interview a while ago I browsed numerous fascinating published articles from varied world sources and then got hold of the two of Sharon’s books available on the internet, and although words fail me I was motivated to make contact with her to express gratitude and respect, and I do that publicly here as well. I had heard her name in international conservation circles and elephant forums but knew few details. When even the Permanent Secretary of the Zimbabwe Environment Ministry thought this population of elephants no longer existed (I suppose believing them already shot out well before then) here Sharon was still battling along alone to keep them in the spotlight internationally, to keep them and their land areas safe, to have them more widely known and regarded by those who dismissed this country and its policies pretty much outright. It is hard to get your head around how someone kept their head above water and made so many sacrifices and advances, despite, with mostly her own resources sustaining her work over all those years, having to keep going by herself against so many overwhelming odds. What an incredible inspiration to very many, young and old, and great fortune for this elephant population. The racial tension in this country that we still read about today with that famous President still raging negatively about whites and the west, I was horrified to also read of someone doing and giving so much being called (not unexpectedly in the circumstances, by a hunter involved in the land grabs) “f—king white trash”. It is ironic that it is often ‘whites’ like Sharon who make this country internationally known for something good, before the ‘non-whites’ toss it aside for the sake of “land reform”, greed and self grandeur. It is much more than a racial issue of course and I am heart sore at the tragedy of an immense loss to these elephants and to those like me who can appreciate all of the unflagging effort, since I feel even more personally affected now by this harmful wasted opportunity for more positive work for elephants.

  • Jeffrey O’Brien

    I think it was Winston Churchill who once said this – “You have enemies. Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life”. Well done. Please keep on with it, somewhere.

  • Jeffrey O’Brien

    I think it was Winston Churchill who once said this:
    “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
    Well done. Please keep on with it, somewhere.

  • Matman

    Sharon Pincott very obviously touched more lives than can be imagined. Astounding that this interview is still getting referrals from sites today. If it is true she is now Down Under let that be for short-term book writing only. Africa and elephants somewhere, everywhere, await your return Sharon. Your talents, tenacity and wildlife commitment are needed here. Be blessed until you return to your real home. We miss your solid knowledge and dedication and passion. Permitted tourist encounters in this area now, without supporting land grabbers, are sadly declining rapidly after all of the past work and complaints are increasing. Still some really very good established lodges there (with no hunting connections), sad and outrageous that land grabbers have stolen what these ones could offer previously, now restricting and disadvantaging the money-generating tourists. Stupid. But that’s Zimbabwe for you. Shame. Shame. Shame.

  • S. Duff

    Wow, we got hold of a copy of the All the President’s Elephants disc after a link to this interview and cried bucketloads, I do not remember being this moved and spellbound by a docu of human and wildlife, our children also sat in silence and awe and in tears! To have read that the main ellie featured in it has vanished forever from her family and that Sharon Pincott had her great hope and spirited work shattered by what feels like mainly greed and witlessness and ignorance of some uncaring and ill-informed humans there leaves a big pain in my heart.
    People have a lot to answer for, which we know will not happen in a crooked dictatorship like this one, and I worry for what will come next for these ….. not that anyone will now precisely know particularly when such big bodies are not always able to be located ….. and other ellies over the next decade of time.
    It is not what you see easily in the open as a Tourist but what you do not always see and hear about that is most important, we will remember all the selfless voluntary years of devoted conservation effort more than just the surface beauty and businesses that come to others too easily, which is how it should be with our wildlife everywhere. Blessings Sharon and the ellies.

  • Tony Campbell

    Just finished Sharon’s two fantastic books; easy to obtain online with no expensive postage. Fantastic eyeopening reads and what fantastic support and encouragement from many big world conservation names in each of them which is superb to see. What she did for these elephants for so long was extra-ordinary in the circumstances. No surprise there has always been some resentment there of all you tried and did achieve in that foreign, very foreign, country Sharon. You made the world wildlife conservation world proud and made real impact on lives, human and animal!!!! We need many more people like you but I do wonder how. It was an extraordinary selfless commitment. Endless thanks, and peace, being sent across the seas. I look forward to the next one which I can already feel will be maddening and sad to read in parts with more insatiable Zimbabwe politicking, greediness, ignorance already screaming out from my own mind now. Thank you AfGeo.

  • Enough Already

    Zimbabwe. What is wrong with this country? Things get worse and never better. Their treatment of elephants and elephant problems is deeply lacking and unfathomable. There has been no care and concern about problems still outstanding like with acceptable access back to this their flagship herd despite groups like Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and others who have also been trying for resolutions on this. Instead they spend their time trying to overturn the US ban on importing sport-hunted ivory. They spend their time trying to sell their ivory piles. Now they are spending their time on capturing baby elephants out of the wild, tearing them away from their families, for sale, as also now reported by ZCTF. This country has lost all credibility and the world is wild with them. Do they care? They need a new government and not more coverups and visible greed.

  • San deep

    It’s really unfortunate, however, let’s understand how it works?
    the laws of economics explains- forces of demand and supply create price for any commodity.
    So if supply is controlled, the the prices will rise, demand being the same.
    And if prices rise, corrupt officials can’t resists to turn a blind eye or even assist illegal supply
    to cash in on the opportunity.
    Now, how can the prices be reduced while keeping the supply regulated?
    This can only happen if the demand decreases.
    So to control this situation we need to combat the forces of both demand and corruption
    While corruption can be dealt with harsher punishments to corrupt officials, demand can only be reduced through education and awareness.
    Let’s educate young Chinese or Arabs with the story behind each circus or zoo elephant that amuses them. Where do they come from? and the immense trauma,
    pain and sufferings they endure before they reach here. How many of them die due to torture and injuries and inability to adapt to the change in habitat.
    Let’s educate the children of the world, the importance of free roaming wild animals, their families and the emotional bonding they develop with each other.
    Conservationists, wildlife filmmakers, television and media can make a huge difference.
    Wildlife documentaries with compelling real life stories will touch the hearts of millions of children around the world and when they grow up
    these children would never visit zoos or circuses, instead would travel to the place where they come from and as tourists,
    contribute towards their protection.

  • Anthony

    What a disgrace going on now around Hwange, Zimbabwe. These political land grabs allowed to destroy so much invaluable elephant conservation work and knowledge, planned methane and coal mining too close to important Hwange wildlife areas, and now confirmed capturing of elephant babies from inside Hwange national park for export to China and other destinations. No wonder the corrupt, greedy and uncaring don’t want champions like Sharon Pincott around. I will visit elsewhere.

  • Joice Spacey

    Zimbabwe is always in the news for all of the wrong reasons. “What hope do all of their other elephants really have?” Sharon Pincott asked 8 months ago in this interview. With mad uneducated heartless men running that country and all that is going on there now with elephants the answer will soon be – NO HOPE. I am appalled all round.

  • Yates

    Nearly TEN MONTHS after this National Geographic interview with Sharon Pincott was released, NewsDay Zimbabwe has republished part of it on Robert Mugabe’s 91st birthday (21 Feb 2015), such is the level of interest and disgust that is still blatantly obvious in Zimbabwe and around the world to do with this toxic Hwange land grab and other elephant catastrophes in that country ——– https://www.newsday.co.zw/2015/02/21/fate-presidential-elephants-zimbabwe-2/
    Such arrogance, they do not try to fix anything in that godforsaken country.

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