July 7, 2005
ZNSPCA Serves and Protects Zimbabwe's Animals Amid Land Battles and Civil Unrest
With animal cruelty laws dating back to 1824 and a large network of animal protection organizations, Zimbabwe was once far ahead of other African countries when it came to animal welfare. But civil and political chaos, a crippled economy, and an HIV epidemic have helped make the country one of the worst places in Africa for animals. Amid such debilitating conditions, it is difficult for people to give much attention to animal welfare.
To make things worse, politically and racially driven land seizures over the last five years have forced many farmers to flee their land. Most want to bring their animals with them, but that is usually impossible under such dangerous circumstances. Dogs, cats, horses, donkeys and a myriad of other companion and farm animals are left behind. Though the animals are starving and abandoned, no one is allowed on the farms to help or rescue them. No one, that is, except the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The ZNSPCA, the 2005 recipient of Humane Society International's Award for Extraordinary Commitment and Achievement, has saved thousands of abandoned horses, dogs, cats, chickens, goats and other animals caught in the midst of Zimbabwe's troubles. Covering everything from helping to prosecute animal abusers in the courts to protecting wildlife from a recent spate of poaching, the ZNSPCA remains a shining light for animals in otherwise dark times.
A Long History of Protection
The SPCA first launched an organization in Zimbabwe shortly after the country passed its first animal cruelty law in 1824. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a network of established SPCAs, with eight centers in Zimbabwe, was established in 1969. By 2000 there were 15 SPCAs in Zimbabwe. Determined to work together efficiently, the NSPCA appointed a chief inspector to serve as a liaison between the Zimbabwe centers, which formed the ZNSPCA. The goal was to implement consistent policies and procedures through the various SPCAs.
ZNSPCA also established an outreach program by hiring two national inspectors to bring animal welfare to the rural communities. The inspectors would operate from mobile units for easy movement and access to the most rural areas. At the time, the organization had no idea how important the inspectors would become.
As it turned out, they were vital to the survival of thousands of companion and farm animals as well as wildlife. The same year the mobile inspector program was established, the notorious land invasions began. The ZNSPCA inspectors jumped to the animals' rescue whenever and wherever they could. Since then they have rescued thousands of abandoned and displaced pets.
"Armed only with their wits, steely determination, and exceptional courage, they negotiated their way onto the farms," said ZNSPCA Chairman Bernice Dyer. "They faced ugly mobs, hostile war veterans, and youth militias...and were subjected to endless vitriolic intimidation and threats."
Because of their persistence and ability to remain politically impartial, the ZNSPCA inspectors were finally granted access to the farms. Now, with a team of six inspectors, ZNSPCA remains the only non-governmental organization allowed official access to the farms and animals.
Against All Odds
In keeping with its mission to protect all animals, the ZNSPCA has been working to stop Operation Nyama, a program allowed by the government that permits the killing of wild animals—mainly elephants—allegedly to help feed Zimbabwe's people. Many believe the program is nothing more than a front for poaching, which has been on the rise since Zimbabwe's civil and political unrest began several years ago.
Even in the midst of that unrest, ZNSPCA is pursuing—and winning—animal cruelty cases against those who needlessly harm animals. Because upholding Zimbabwe's animal cruelty law is one of the main goals of the ZNSPCA, the organization remains adamant about prosecuting those who violate the law. One ZNSPCA inspector has secured 12 convictions so far in his region this year:
- Operators of two abattoirs were convicted and their operations suspended for not pre-stunning animals;
- The owner of a resort club was convicted for causing unnecessary suffering to five horses who were found in a starved condition;
- Operators of a co-op in Bikita were convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to 32 pigs who were found suffering from starvation and infected with mange;
- A warden of Kyle National Park was convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to four horses found starving;
- A resident of Masvingo was convicted under the Cruelty Act and Parks Act after he was caught trying to sell an endangered pangolin on the roadside;
- Another resident was convicted for keeping a monkey chained up in his backyard.
Telling Their Tale
The ZNSPCA inspectors have more than their share of stories about the animals and people who have lost their lives in attacks—and many stories of brave survivors as well. The organization chronicled these stories in a compilation displayed at the HSI President's Reception at The HSUS's Animal Care Expo 2005, where the Award for Extraordinary Commitment and Achievement was given. The reports are inevitably filled with loss and animal cruelty, yet a few stories have happy endings.
One story describes the remarkable bravery of a terrier-Lab mix named Bokkie, who helped save his family from a house fire. When an angry group of "settlers" (Zimbabwe land grabbers) set fire to the house using a gas bomb, Bokkie ran outside and began barking furiously. Farm workers arrived to chase off the settlers, and Bokkie's family escaped the flames. But after the ordeal was over, Bokkie was nowhere to be seen. His family sadly assumed that he was killed in the fire.
When the ZNSPCA team arrived on the scene, however, Bokkie was there, sitting in the ashes where his home used to be. A gunshot had injured his hip, but Bokkie had returned home. His owners explained that the dog had been with them for two years, and was a member of the family. The ZNSPCA took care of Bokkie until he was fully recovered, then returned him to the family he loved.
Unfortunately, the people responsible for the fire and Bokkie's injury were never apprehended—not that ZNSPCA is fazed by such setbacks. The organization continues to face unfathomable obstacles in its pursuit of animal abusers and poachers.
"Despite the turmoil and dangerous situation in Zimbabwe, the ZSPCA remains committed to helping animals. Humane Society International applauds their courageous efforts," says Kelly O'Meara, HSI's program manager for Africa and Asia.
Learn more about the ZNSPCA and find out how you can help by visiting their web site.