Kuimba Shiri Bird Park: A tale of trials and tribulations

By Gary Stafford, Kuimba Shiri proprietor

The first time I came to Lake Chivero was when I was just a boy, I remember my Dad saying “wow look at the beautiful Msasa’s, the hills and the lake”. That picture is lodged in my head.

On the weekends and holidays we would come and stay in lodges or camp for weeks at a time.

My Dad would drop us off on a Monday and we would camp till he collected us on Friday. Our days were spent rowing our canoe to Crocodile Creek, we fished and played and grew up clean and hardworking citizens loving God, nature and our country.

20 years later I bought the property of my dreams, it had been on the market for years but no one was prepared to invest. There was 150 private boats in storage, we had 36 vessels for hire and had numerous day trippers. Harare had boat builders, show rooms, sales, repairs, fishing shops and a whole industry looking after recreational boating and fishing.

Now after years of poor fee charging, bureaucracy, netting, noise, smoke and pollution we have 1 boat for hire and none in storage. No International fishing competitions have been held here since 2009, no game viewing, no income for National Parks or clubs around Lake Chivero because recreational sport has stopped, and look, the trees are gone and the lake is nearly empty.

There is nowhere to play or sit and have peace; this lake is designated as a recreational area and not a commercial fishing area as it is now, the problem is that the people that make decisions affecting the lake and stakeholders have no point of reference.

That is they don’t know what Chivero was like and only see this, they have no idea what it could be like. We don’t need foreign investment; we need a business plan with stakeholders who are dedicated to rebranding Chivero.

The only business now (apart from Kuimba Shiri) is braai’s, beer, noise and netting fish. So in effort to raise money toll gates on public access roads have been set up on weekends and public holidays. This has caused delays and frustrated potential visitors with many of them turning away and refusing to come back.

Then came COVID-19, after 3 months of no income and rising wages, food costs and can you believe authorities demanding their fees, I had the world on my shoulders. The destruction of our environment got me thinking that something had to be done and the quicker the better. We see films from overseas of people cycling, or rowing, running or riding through beautiful forests or on pristine lakes.

Why can’t we have that here? We have everything right on our doorstep; we just have to manage it properly. This lead to the idea of the Chivero Challenge, so with COVID restrictions being lifted slightly the idea of running, riding horses, mountain bikes, motorbikes, marathon and to include the local fishing communities, rowing around the lake came to be. This could be the lifeline Chivero so desperately needs.

I realized that we need to do the Challenge as soon as possible to “Live Again” to take advantage of the beach area around the lake. Then to raise funds for the renovations of the bird park, a recycling collection point, fish farming projects, a nursery for reforestation and an environment reaction unit.

The Chivero Challenge has the potential to become Zimbabwe’s premier sporting event which we plan to hold twice annually with a winter Challenge in June and a summer Challenge in October, the hope is that new sports such as speed boat and jet-ski racing will be introduced with all of this being in the centre of Zimbabwe.

Next year we hope International sports men and woman will attend, our locals will be able to train and prepare for the next event. This will support the existing clubs and facilities that can provide accommodation, food and support.

With these sports men and women on the ground fish poaching, tree chopping and other negative activities will be noticed and reported for action.

The Challenge route for the horses, runners and mountain bikes will be from Kuimba Shiri, up onto the crest of the Hunyani Hills, 4km to the dam wall, across the Munyami River and spillway, into the National Park where Rhino and other animals roam freely. From the National Park the route will then head back along the water’s edge to finish at Kuimba Shiri. Due to circumstances we only intend doing 21km’s for the aforementioned sports. Next year this will grow to 42km’s and longer for other sports. The motorbikes will select a course on the east side of Chivero to avoid frightening the wildlife and horses. This will be a challenge and not a competition so individuals, teams and corporate will all be winners.

After the Challenge we face a bigger challenge and that is to bring all the properties in the “Lake Chivero Basin” together. This would form the “Chivero Basin Conservancy”. It is intended to protect Harare’s water supply by protecting and improving our surrounding ecosystems. People will be encouraged to create businesses that are sustainable and eco-friendly. This will bring tourists and locals together to enjoy our pristine environment and all the activities on offer.

For this we need strong Government assistance to create a public, private partnership company that’s totally Zimbabwean. We need tourism to return to central Zimbabwe as visitors make Sun-City in South Africa a destination so Chivero should be Zimbabwe’s destination.

Now I challenge each one of you, make Chivero Challenge your personal challenge; let’s leave a legacy for our children and the future generations of Zimbabweans. We want every Zimbabwean to be proud of their home, like I was, you too can be proud to bring visitors here and show them the best of Zimbabwe. You need to be proud and stand up for the environment, the city of Harare’s water and all the benefits of having this amazing opportunity to do something good, instead of what we are left with here today.

It’s never too late to start and now I have one question for you all here, will you all rise to this challenge?

Why not get a team together for one of the disciplines and participate in this Chivero Challenge, it doesn’t matter if you are in the Government, Corporate or private sectors as long as you are willing to participate and become part of the Chivero Basin Conservancy journey.

All journeys start with the first step, are you willing to be there for that first step?