News on Zimbabwe this month includes government-issued travel warnings, safari companies affected by the SDN List and advice on that nasty cholera outbreak. As I write this in late December the US State Department has issued a Travel Warning against Zimbabwe. Canada's Foreign Affairs and International Trade Department followed only days later with its own Travel Warning. And although the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not yet issued a blanket travel warning for Zim, it was advising against all travel to certain parts of the country, including the city center of Harare.
The wording in the US Travel Warning is not particularly scary, but it cites civil demonstrations, riots by soldiers and an overall deterioration of government services and infrastructures, including, of course, the collapse of public health systems and the recent cholera outbreak. Add to this the very scary news coverage of supposed assassination attempts, "plots of terror" and a ploy by the government to call a state of emergency, and one just may be inclined to follow the State Department's advice to bypass Zimbabwe right now. Fortunately, the Travel Warning was issued at the end of the safari season when few hunters are traveling there. But what does this mean for anyone booking a hunt this coming safari season?
I called Sally Bown, executive secretary of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) for her on-the-ground perspective at press time. While she did not want to contradict the US State Department and admits there are severe problems, she says that the safari industry continues to operate as usual. "The stresses that we have to deal with, such as telephones not working, power outages and shortages of supplies, are not anything the client needs to handle, as it is the operator's job to ensure the client isn't even aware of these," Bown says. As for security, she says that short of a revolution, hunters should have no trouble as long as they do not get involved in political activities and demonstrations in urban areas, and they stay out of areas where humanitarian efforts are underway.
Despite what we see in news broadcasts, Bown says it is safe to overnight in Harare. She has again offered to meet arriving hunters at the airport this coming season and escort them to a very nice lodge on the outskirts of the city. Otherwise, hunters arriving in Harare should immediately take an air charter or be driven to their hunting area. "Obviously, situations change," Bown adds. "Check in with your operator before leaving for a safari this coming season," she advises.
You should also have a frank discussion with your operator regarding his plans to get you out of Zimbabwe should the political situation boil over while you are there. Come up with your own contingency plan as well. Make sure you have a satellite phone and keep the emergency numbers for the US Embassy (263-4-250-593/4; after-hours 263-4-250-595), as well as your booking agent's, tucked inside the phone's case.
None of this is a recommendation that you disregard an official US State Department Travel Warning. The issuance of a warning voids some insurance policies (including some trip cancellation policies) and may have implications for some hunters' employment contracts. Be certain of your status before traveling to any redlined country. Also, State Department Travel Warnings are never issued in a vacuum, or for purely political reasons. A Travel Warning reliably indicates that there is some level of risk involved.
The other recent development in Zimbabwe that affects American hunters is the revised Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List released by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. This is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the economic sanctions implemented by the US State Department, and the SDN List is the list of foreign nationals that American citizens cannot do business with in any manner. An updated version of the list was released November 25, 2008 and included at least one person with previous ties to a hunting concession and one with ties to the general tourism industry in Zimbabwe. The first is Billy Rautenbach, who at one point held the lease for Chewore North, and the other is John Bredenkamp, who owns Scottlee Resorts.
Officials at the US Embassy in Harare are investigating the possible involvement of Rautenbach and Bredenkamp in the safari industry, and were under the impression that Rautenbach was still associated with the Chewore North lease. That lease is hunted by Chifuti Safaris, whose directors Andrew Dawson and Paul Smith tell me that Rautenbach is no longer associated with the company that controls Chewore North. "Big Five Safaris is the lease holder for this area," Dawson wrote The Hunting Report in a faxed note. "Rautenbach is no longer the owner or director of Big Five Safaris. No client of Chifuti Safaris has hunted or will hunt in any area that is owned or operated by any individual who is currently on the US State Department banned list." I also spoke directly with Dawson's partner, Paul Smith who promised to send me copies of the lease, showing who the holder truly is. He also said he would be providing documentation and other evidence to the US Embassy in Harare that would clear Chifuti of any alleged association with individuals on the SND List.
Just to be clear, neither Chewore North nor Chifuti Safaris or any of its owners/directors are mentioned on the SDN List. Besides Chewore North, Chifuti also operates in three other areas in the lower Zambezi Valley that are not associated with the lease holder of Chewore North. They hunt Sapi Safari Area, operated by Zimbabwe National Parks, which auctions hunts there each year; Dande North, leased by Swainson Safaris, which is owned by Daryl and Cyril Meredith; and Chewore South, for which Chifuti is the sole leaseholder under the subsidiary name of Safari Air Services.
I learned at press time that the Embassy also is looking at a number of other concessions hunted by various companies. I could not get definitive answers on these before going to press, but hope to have a complete picture for you in the next issue. I realize that will be post-SCI Convention, and the Embassy's findings could well affect bookings to these concessions. If I receive word of anything urgent, I will issue an E-mail Extra Bulletin and post the news to our home page. I will also have information at our booth (#3905) at the convention. Do stop by to check on any last-minute developments before booking a safari to Zimbabwe at the convention.
It's important to understand that the sanctions prohibit financial dealings not only with a person listed as an SDN but also any entity owned by, controlled or acting on behalf of anyone on the SDN list - officially, or under the table. The penalties for violating the US economic sanctions against Zimbabwe are serious, including criminal fines ranging up to $250,000 and up to 10 years imprisonment for each criminal violation. In addition, civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation may be imposed. Hunters booking a safari to Zimbabwe should download the Zimbabwe section of the SDN List, review it and have their operator provide written confirmation that they are in no way affiliated with anyone on that list. The consul at the US Embassy also recommends doing a text search of the SDN List for the words "safari," "lodge," or "resort" then googling those company names online to see what comes up. For example, the SDN List includes Scottlee Resorts. A Google search turns up Sanyati Safari Lodge on Lake Kariba. This lodge is owned by John Bredenkamp.
You can download a copy of the SDN List from our web site (www. huntingreport.com). Just scroll down to the Special Forums box and click on "The Zimbabwe Crisis." If you do not have internet access, we can mail you a copy of the list for $7 to cover costs and shipping.
Still on Zimbabwe, a number of subscribers contacted me with concerns about the terrible cholera outbreak there. At press time in late December, more than 20,500 Zimbabweans had contracted the bacterial disease and more than 1,100 had died of it. Here's what you need to know about cholera and how to avoid it no matter where you are hunting, thanks to correspondent Steve Scott, who spends extended periods traveling the Dark Continent each season filming for his cable TV show, Safari Hunter's Journal. He writes: "Although this epidemic has sickened thousands, it is highly unlikely that a tourist hunter using an ounce of prevention and common sense will be affected by the disease. Cholera occurs almost exclusively in developing countries without proper or functioning water treatment and sewage systems. This is a waterborne bacterium that causes severe dehydration, which, if left untreated, can result in death. It is usually transferred by the ingestion of contaminated food or water, with symptoms occurring from less than one to five days. In severe cases, profuse diarrhea leads to profound dehydration, which can be fatal. Without basic medicines, treatment is re-hydration, but when the hydration source is contaminated water, the process compounds and worsens.
"While the situation is tragic, it is important to understand, most of this sickness and death has occurred in the urban poor populations, primarily among those in high-density housing projects, where treated or filtered water is not available.
"The hunting community is acutely aware of the situation, and great lengths are taken in the camps to protect the water supply for visitors and staff alike. Water, usually from a ground well, is processed through large filtration systems, removing virtually all contaminants. Fruits and vegetables are acquired from reputable sources and properly washed and peeled to avoid any possibility of infection. As you would expect, bottled water and soft drinks are in ready supply. And while most camp operators have taken steps to provide a safe environment, the hunter can take a proactive role as well.
"The first step is talking with your outfitter. Find out what they are doing to protect their clients' water source. Ask pointed questions. If they hedge or trivialize the issue, move on. A professional hunters' first obligation is to protect the client, and that protection should extend to your camp as well.
"Use common sense. Do not eat produce from questionable sources like roadside vendors, nor drink water from an unknown source. Cholera can thrive on the outside of fruits and vegetables and can contaminate clean liquids if the container used was washed in contaminated water, so knowing the source is critical.
"Cholera can be killed or prevented with antibiotics. Tetracycline or doxycycline, which is also used for malaria treatment or prevention, is effective as treatment or prophylactic, as are ciprofloxin (Cipro) and azithromycin (Zithromax)...."