University students in Zimbabwe are stepping up to protect wildlife thanks to Speak Out for Animals (SOFA), a local non-governmental organisation, with support from IFAW.
Founder Vimbai Everlasting “Ever” Chinoda launched SOFA in 2017 after the unauthorised 2016 shooting of Zimbabwe’s famed Cecil the Lion. She saw the urgent need to protect Africa’s vulnerable species using the legal system. Since 2021, SOFA has been partnering with us to develop wildlife law curricula at Zimbabwe universities and to empower future generations.
The SOFA student chapter at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in Harare recently held a meeting to raise awareness on issues such as animal cruelty, animal law, and exploitation. The chapter includes more than 32 animal conservation enthusiasts drawn from the faculty of law, political science, arts, environmental science, and agroeconomics—all with a common interest in securing better treatment of animals, lobbying, and advocating for a legal system that protects animals.
“We raise awareness among students on animal welfare, their rights, and the laws that protect them,” Beverly Kudzaishe Kupeta, president of the SOFA-UZ chapter. “We discuss pertinent issues at campus, local, and national levels. Our current members are truly in the club because they want to play a part in saving and protecting animals.”
Motivation for joining SOFA student chapters
Beverly is inspired by a deep love and compassion for animals. “Animals cannot speak, but we can,” she says. “Our aim is to bring awareness to other students on the importance of protecting animals.”
Her first-hand experiences with a beloved pet and encountering wildlife in natural habitats motivated her to act, especially after learning about the challenges animals face. The 24-year-old is working toward a degree in Risk Reduction and Disaster Management and after graduation intends to focus on animal rescue and rehabilitation, working with organisations that specialises in helping animals affected by natural disasters. “I want to contribute to these efforts by providing emergency care, shelter, and support to animals in need,” she said.
Another member, Phonos Nyakudya, a 23-year-old law student, appreciates that SOFA encourages and empowers its members to make a difference wherever they are. “It is a unique club. It calls for commitment to be a relevant virtue in everyday duties,” he says. “I would like to specialise in wildlife law when I finish university, especially if I get an organisation with similar interests.”
Phonos notes that the club gives him opportunities to learn and to lead. For example, the SOFA-UZ chapter recently helped organise the Zimbabwe Animal Law Conference. There, students gained practice in administration and event-organising skills, while benefiting from networking and highly informative sessions.
Future stewards and custodians of wildlife
Most SOFA club members register for the university’s elective Wildlife Law module, which is made possible through IFAW support. The module was rolled out initially at Great Zimbabwe (GZU) in 2021, is now offered at UZ, and is expected to become available at other universities with SOFA chapters, including Midlands State (MSU) and Chinhoyi.
SOFA meetings provide a safe space for members to personally improve their relationship with animals. Two members of the group who grew up Masvingo and Mashonaland East provinces of the countries admitted to taking part in community hunting, where a large group of boys and men of up to twenty, equipped with dogs, bows, arrows, and machetes, spend days out in the wilderness hunting animals like antelopes, rabbits, and kudu, to feed their families.
“We realised as we began to understand that the way we were hunting was cruel to the animals and so we encourage one another to drop practices we now realise are harmful to animals. We also take the message home to friends and family,” said one member.
Another SOFA member explained that through the organisation’s efforts, “We believe that a bright and safe future for our animals is possible.”
Effective starting February 2024, the University of Zimbabwe, Commercial Law Institute will be introducing a postgraduate Wildlife Law and Policy diploma. This program will allow ecologists, environmentalists, lawyers, and any graduate related to this field to study wildlife law. This comes after five years of lobbying and consultation and preparations. This diploma targets officials who are practicing and working with fauna and flora in various governmental and nonprofit organisations, with the aim of influencing proper decision making and policies that are in the best interests of wildlife in Zimbabwe.
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