Savé Valley Conservancy

Project LocationSouth Eastern Lowveld, Zimbabwe
Endangered SpeciesBlack and white rhino, elephant, African wild dog, cheetah, leopard, lion
Land Area Protected3400 km2
Benefiting Locally3,000+
Local People Employed450
Schools Supported100+

Savé Valley Conservancy

For many decades, white and black rhino were hunted relentlessly throughout Africa. This resulted in huge reductions of both numbers and distribution; the population decline was particularly dramatic in Zimbabwe, where black rhino numbers fell from more than 1,775 in 1987 to just 315 by 1995. In response to rapid losses in the Zambezi Valley, a translocation programme was undertaken to move black rhino to private game ranches and conservancies where more resources were available to protect them. 

Forty-nine black rhinoceros were translocated to what is now the Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC) in the south east lowveld of Zimbabwe. The rhino translocation spurred ranchers to remove fences and combine their land to enable the collaborative management of the rhino population, making SVC among the largest private conservancies in the world (3,450 km2). Today, the Savé Valley Conservancy is an area of rare beauty and exceptionally high African biodiveresity.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, with intensive protection, the black rhino population in SVC increased, reaching over 120 individuals by 2006. That year, 30 white rhinoceros were also reintroduced into SVC, as a result, the conservancy became home to the largest rhino population in Zimbabwe.

Recent History

During the last five years, poaching of rhino for their horn has re-emerged as a significant conservation threat in southern Africa. In Zimbabwe, this threat is greatly compounded by political instability, catastrophic economic decline, and the land reform programme which resulted in the settlement of thousands of small-scale farmers on game ranches and conservancies. In SVC, for example, around 33% of the land was settled by ‘settler’ farmers, creating a mosaic of farmland and natural habitat. This scenario makes protecting rhino from poaching far more difficult.

Simultaneously, there has been a reduction in the effectiveness of, and respect for, the rule of law in the country. Under these circumstances, poaching has surged, and from 2005-2009, SVC lost more than 30% of its breeding stock of female black rhino. During 2008 to mid-2009, the rate of loss escalated and 22 black and 3 white rhino were poached. Since then, SVC has heightened anti-poaching efforts, made largely possible through donor funding, and has succeeded in slowing wildlife losses.

Anti-Poaching, Training and Monitoring

Anti-poaching efforts have increased and conservancy members have held training courses for their anti-poaching staff. Within the conservancy, there is a heightened awareness of the rhino poaching challenge and of the need for concerted action. As a result, strategic translocations of black rhino have been undertaken to move rhino from high poaching risk areas into safer zones within the conservancy.

SVC recently developed the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to respond immediately to poaching incursions through the deployment of adequately trained and equipped personnel. The QRF operates in conjunction with government law enforcement personnel and with trackers from the SVC Rhino Anti-poaching Unit.  Intelligence systems have been developed, and the information gathered has enabled the QRF to intercept would-be poachers. This will continue to be a major focus in SVC’s anti-poaching effort.

Intensive rhino monitoring is maintained throughout the conservancy to confirm the presence and health of each rhino. To ensure proper identification, annual ear-notching operations are undertaken by the Lowveld Rhino Trust. During this management operation, strategic dehorning and the fitting of radio horn transmitters is undertaken to discourage poaching and improve monitoring. Rhino distribution information gathered through rhino monitoring is used by the anti-poaching team to maintain the best possible protection.

Economic Benefits

SVC generates income through high quality / low density wildlife tourism with several lodges located throughout the Conservancy. SVC is surrounded by Zimbabwe’s most densely populated and impoverished rural areas. The economic benefits that the Conservancy generates are shared with the surrounding communities, ensuring that local the people see direct benefits from protecting wildlife. In addition to direct employment in the Conservancy, SVC provides opportunities for local communities to participate in cultural tourism as well as marketing of arts and crafts. The survival of the Conservancy will ultimately depend on establishing the principle of wildlife and conservation as a preferred land use option.

Savé Valley Conservancy, with support from Tusk, remains a strong-hold for conservation in Zimbabwe amidst a challenging political and economic climate. With an emphasis on preserving the black and white rhino, SVC continues to make strides in anti-poaching efforts and environmental protection.  

Notes from the field
The years of experience and wealth of knowledge garnered by the members of the SVC over the last two decades and more will now serve to create new opportunities in the area as well as further contribute to Zimbabwe’s irreplaceable wildlife heritage. The new and inclusive approach is breaking moulds and setting new standards for conservation projects throughout Africa and there is every indication that the SVC and its partners will once again be setting the pace for modern conservation projects.
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