"The Stampede" - a volunteer's perspective of the Mukuvisi March for Elephants

It is not often one can take part in a collective campaign for something good. This opportunity presented itself to me in the inaugural Zambezi Elephant Fund Mukuvisi March for Elephants on Saturday the 17th of November, which was being held in unity with the main event in Central Park, New York that very same day – Saving the Elephants 10km Walk/Run.

Teaming up with the event organiser from the Zambezi Elephant Fund (ZEF), Laura Taylor, I rode shotgun as we whizzed around collecting banners, signs, T-shirts and numerous other supplies for the event. It amazed me how many people were jumping on board to support ZEF in this endeavour to raise both awareness and funds for the conservation of Zimbabwe’s iconic elephants. From local businesses offering generous sponsorship, to individuals carrying out their own crowdfunding (as far as the Netherlands), it was apparent that these beautiful animals are dear to us all. With 2.2K ‘interested’ on Facebook, there was much speculation over how many walkers and runners would turn up on the day. We arranged to have 300 T-shirts printed and given to those who were first to register, courtesy of African Threads. Initial registration at O.G.’s Sports Club on Friday evening saw over half of those T-shirts disappear in less than 3 hours. We were all impressed (and relieved) with the number and diversity of people who had pre-registered, but how many more would skip their Saturday sleep-in and join us at Mukuvisi Woodlands to exercise for our elephants?

 Volunteers from left to right - Jane Mackie, Mel Barnes, Gemma Phillis, Laura Taylor, Farai Chapoterera and Beth-Ann Sher

Volunteers from left to right - Jane Mackie, Mel Barnes, Gemma Phillis, Laura Taylor, Farai Chapoterera and Beth-Ann Sher

Laura and I pulled into the Mukuvisi nature reserve shortly after the gates opened on Saturday morning and met with our fellow volunteers. A fresh breeze promised to take the edge off another dry, sunny day in the bush. Laura and Rick buzzed around ensuring the final preparations were in place, Mel marched off to signpost the route and marshal the field, Warwick and Tracy prepared the PA and sound systems from the tent, Richard practised his speech, while Gemma, Farai, Jane, Cecilia and I gathered around the registration point with clipboards, forms, pens, swipe machines and coffees at the ready. At 6.30am we had our first Eager Ellies registering and congregating by the starting point. Some people decided to beat the heat or appease their excitable dogs and made an early start. After half an hour of pens, paper, T-shirts and cash flying, we worked out a system for organising and registering the oncoming rush of faces old and young, familiar and new. By 7.30am we were sorry to inform people that we had run out of T-shirts. In a true spirit of generosity, someone graciously exclaimed, ‘That’s super! It means you’ve had even more support than you were expecting!’ As the 8.00am start time grew near we could hear the festivities beginning over in the marquee and still the support kept coming.

Our truly collaborative Mukuvisi March for Elephants has definitely made some noise that is being heard by those with a less keen sense of hearing.

When the elephant trumpet sounded nearly 500 people stormed the start line along with their dogs, prams, kids’ bikes, flags and water bottles. Gemma, Jane and Cecilia joined the herd while Farai and I stayed behind to register the last few stragglers. Bringing up the rear, we eventually made our way through the bush, passing many hot and smiling people returning from their walk or run. Opting for a steady stroll, we wound our way through shady canopies of indigenous woodland and couldn’t help commenting on what makes this country so special. From Arnold at Zimbarista providing the early morning caffeine and refreshing smoothies, to Mukuvisi’s team tirelessly serving up egg and bacon rolls, to the event organisers, sponsors and volunteers, to the hundreds of participants giving their support, we showcased the great importance of these magnificent elephants in our country.

Zimbabwe is home to the second largest elephant population in the world, but due to poverty, corruption and uncertain governance that has paralysed this country over recent years, it have seen numbers severely diminish from 14,000 (2001) to 3,400 (2014) in the Mid-Zambezi landscape alone. However, the strength and resilience of these animals is mirrored by our own determined efforts, which have seen poaching incidents decrease from 100 in 2016 to just 8 known cases across the middle and lower Zambezi this year. Our truly collaborative Mukuvisi March for Elephants has definitely made some noise that is being heard by those with a less keen sense of hearing.

Beth-Ann Sher

Mukuvisi March for Elephants Volunteer

November 2018