The Bubye Valley Conservancy was once a legendary ranch, one of the largest in Africa. Situated in southwestern Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, it was originally staked out in the then Southern Rhodesian lowveld in the 1930s by the cattle ranching family of Baron Justus von Liebig, supplier of canned bully beef to World War II armies, and the inventor of the Oxo cube.
For decades, the Liebigs Ranch cattle competed with the indigenous wildlife for the nourishing sweetveld grasses upon which they fattened and thrived. Liebigs even hired professional hunters to rid the area of wild herbivores, at one point paying two shillings and sixpence for every zebra or wildebeest tail turned in.
Liebigs company was succeeded by Lemco and then Unilever, and the ranch continued to raise beef into the late 1980s.
Under the Parks and Wildlife Act of 1975, land owners had been given the control and ownership of the wildlife on their properties. The concept of wildlife ranching was born, helped along with ecological studies that indicated that wildlife would generate higher returns than cattle in these drought-prone areas. Many Lowveld cattle ranchers grouped together with their neighbours to form vast wildlife conservancies, removing their boundary fences, allowing the natural habitat to bounce back and re-stocking the land with indigenous animals. Several famous Conservancies were formed such as the Save Valley, Chiredzi River and the Bubiana Conservancy, which was specifically dedicated to rhino conservation.
In the 1990s, after a series of devastating droughts, the vast Lemco ranch was put up for sale. It was purchased by Charles Davy who motivated a consortium of international investors. The property was re-named after the Bubye river, which ran through it, and converted into a wildlife reserve, sustained by profits to be generated from venison and sport hunting. Davy managed the massive wildlife re-stocking exercise, and over the years the perimeter was secured by thousands of kilometres of new electrified fence. A ferociously efficient anti-poaching unit was set up to protect the new Conservancys animals, including an internationally-monitored population of black and white rhinoceros.
International efforts also participated in restoring this African Eden. The International Rhino Foundation translocated eighty-two black rhinos from unsafe areas to the Bubye Valley Conservancy in order to establish a new breeding population in the reserve. This return of habitat to an endangered species was the largest exercise of its kind anywhere in Africa at the time.
Today, the hunters legends live again in the Bubye Valley, where populations of animals have had the time and the space to grow to maturity. Thriving herds live in balance on the open savannah, the mopani woodlands and in the dense riverine forests. The diverse habitats found in the Bubye Valley Conservancy now support an astonishing 35 species of wild, free-ranging game animals including the classic Big Five.
Today the 850 000 acre territory is a hunting ground like no other, and one that would have been familiar to the great Frederick Courteney Selous, who trod these bush trails a century before. Owned by a consortium of keen conservationists, the Conservancy now offers low-density, high-value hunting concessions, where the annual offtake of mature animals is carefully regulated and managed to ensure sustainable use. The professional outfitters are required to operate under strictly ethical practises, and most offer their clients an authentic hunting experience in the manner of the great safari hunters immortalised in the literature of the last century.
Ox of Okavango Award
In 2012, Charles Davys efforts were recognised when he was presented with the prestigious Ox of Okavango Award by the A.P.H.A. (African Professional Hunters Association).
This magnificent silver trophy is presented annually to: the individual full member of the A.P.H.A. (or, under exceptional circumstances and for extraordinary work, the A.P.H.A. honorary member) who has contributed and achieved the most for big game conservation and its habitat. The awards wider significance is to demonstrate that the leading Professional Hunters in Africa contribute immensely to the conservation of game and habitat.