Sustainability and conservation are central to everything we do at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, and we understand that the local community is vital to protect the park. The first CAMPFIRE programme (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) in Zimbabwe was started here, and its principles have since been replicated across Africa and the rest of the world. Clive Stockil, founder of Chilo Gorge, tells us how it all began:

“I was asked to be an honorary officer of Gonarezhou at the time of independence in 1980. The park and the local community were at war with one another and poaching was a grave problem. In 1982, I was part of a meeting with 70 Shangaan elders. I told them I couldn’t tell the government what to do, that I was only a messenger, but that if we came up with a logical strategy, they might go for it. It took five or six years to get everyone to understand that the local community couldn’t be ignored – they needed to be able to benefit from their land. They grew their corn, spent months tending it, and then one night, a herd of ‘park elephants’ would cross the river, come into their land and destroy it all, leaving them hungry. They retaliated and hunted the elephants. When the government sent in a crack anti poaching unit, tensions just got worse.

“The government were really sceptical about my CAMPFIRE strategy; a director told me, ‘Had you chosen any other community in Zimbabwe, you might have a chance of winning. The Shangaan in this area are the most difficult and aggressive.’ I just insisted that until they saw benefits, we couldn’t expect things to change. There was no school in Mahenye then – they just scraped the bark off a tree and used it as a blackboard. They built their first school [that year] with money from the project, and that was the turning point. The following year, there were just nine arrests for poaching instead of 90. I went back to Harare with a smile. It was working.”

Over the years, guns have been replaced by cameras, and local people and visitors alike have learned to appreciate the animals as they should be; unmolested in their natural habitat. In recognition of his unswerving commitment, Clive was awarded the Prince William Award for Conservation in 2013.

“If you are a conservationist, your problem is all about space, so deal with human pressures first. CAMPFIRE has turned conflict into cooperation and everyone has benefitted. The community is happy, the parks are happy and the animals are happy. Everyone wins. ”