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Zimbabwe: Hero for Animals to Return!

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Zimbabwe: Hero for Animals to Return!

Link to this post 27 May 10

I just posted an article \"Speak Out for Elephants\" about a Zimbabwean veterinarian returning to Zimbabwe and checking on animals to be shipped to Korea. The following is a story about her.

Zimbabwe: Hero for animals to return!
December 15, 2009, 3:47PM MT
By Julia Henriques, International Network Volunteer Writer

Meryl Harrison will return to Zimbabwe in the New Year to found a new animal welfare group.

Animals of Zimbabwe, you can look forward to a better future. Meryl Harrison is returning to Zimbabwe early in 2010, as co-founder of a new animal welfare organization.

Who is Meryl Harrison?

Meryl was Chief Inspector of the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) for several years during the chaotic Zimbabwe land distribution campaign started by Robert Mugabe after he became President in 1987. Also known as the \"land invasions\", this campaign caused the forcible eviction of many white farmers from their homes and farms; most of these farmers had to leave behind their pets and farm animals, and it was Meryl\'s mission as Chief Inspector to rescue them.

Meryl faced extraordinary difficulties and personal danger in saving the lives of thousands of animals and treating wounded livestock. She usually went onto the farms with one or two ZNSPCA inspectors, sometimes with a (usually reluctant) police escort; they encountered mobs of armed, threatening men - often the very people who were abusing, or at best, neglecting, the stranded animals. Meryl kept herself removed from the politics, and stuck strictly to her mandate: she had official authorization to go onto the farms to save animals, and when she met with resistance, she persisted and usually succeeded. The pace was relentless and the work emotionally and physically exhausting; Meryl was in her 60s and suffered from a heart condition, but she did not let these things deter her, and she saved the lives of thousands of domestic animals over a five year period.

Meryl now lives in the United Kingdom; this courageous woman has received international recognition for her work, including, in 2002, a BBC Special Award for Outstanding Work in Animal Welfare, which was awarded to her and her colleague, Addmore Chinhembe.

Plans for the future

We recently learned that, on a visit to Zimbabwe in October, Meryl saw a tremendous need for further animal welfare work in the country. One of the few veterinarians who helped Meryl during the land invasions was Dr Anthony Donohoe. He and his veterinarian wife, Dr Helene Donohoe, will join with Meryl in establishing a new, private animal welfare group. Helene Donohoe told us: \"Meryl left a gap that no-one has been able to fill to this day. With the deteriorating conditions in this country there is a larger and larger need for animal welfare in both the domestic animal and wildlife populations\".

We were honored to speak further with Meryl herself about her forthcoming return to Zimbabwe. She told us her trip in October made her realize she really wants to be back in Africa, where there is so much work to be done in animal welfare. And the fact that a group of private vets has expressed their wish to have the veterinary profession play a greater role in monitoring and enhancing the welfare of domestic animals and wildlife in Zimbabwe, was \"music to my ears\".

While the political situation is still unstable, Meryl feels there is less danger than in the land invasion era. There has been a great improvement in general daily living standards, which creates a foundation of goodwill that can be built on. There are several small individual animal welfare organizations, doing excellent work, especially with wildlife, but much more work needs to be done, especially in the field of education and awareness.

Education is the key

There is a strong need for education of indigenous people in rural areas. Meryl believes that most animal cruelty in Africa is not deliberate, but rather due to poverty and ignorance. If you teach a man to take proper care of his donkey, he learns that the donkey, a working animal, will live twice as long, and be twice as productive, if it is healthy. Meryl said \"when you help people in this way you become their friend for life\". In the past, dogs were always kept only as guard dogs, never as companions; now, that is changing, and it\'s quite likely that you will be in line behind someone in a grocery store buying food for their pets, as well as for their families. Meryl will need to work with a local inspector who speaks the dialects; pamphlets will be distributed, also in the local dialect for each tribal area.

Even people who should be knowledgeable about animal welfare, often are not. For example, veterinary studies and police training courses do not cover animal welfare in their curricula; educating these groups will also be one of Meryl\'s objectives.

Meryl\'s work during the land invasion years was limited to domestic animals, but wildlife populations have also suffered greatly from poaching in recent years. Teaching children to be proud of their culture and the country\'s wild animals will play an important role in protecting these creatures.

Establishing the new group

The new organization has not yet been formed, but is a definite \"go\". Serious work will begin in February when Meryl moves back to Zimbabwe. The group will have national scope, and the first expenses will go toward the purchase of a vehicle, as well as wages for a local inspector. When Meryl was in Zimbabwe in October, a farmer lent her an SUV for a few weeks, and she was able to get an enormous amount done with just a set of wheels and a cellphone. In just one afternoon, she and one animal welfare officer resolved four different animal welfare issues, on one stretch of road:

They treated many donkeys with wounds from the harnesses that they wear for pulling carts and plows;

they gave the owners educational pamphlets on how to treat their donkeys, in their own language, Ndbele.

They checked on two lions that were being kept in cages on a farm.

They stopped a small truck that was overcrowded with 60 goats and sheep, so they arranged for 30 of the animals to be kept on a nearby farm for the night.

They encountered a policeman who had shot an impala without a permit, and reported him to the nearest National Park officials.

This anecdote highlights the need for Meryl\'s work, but it also shows how much can be accomplished in a very short time, even with limited resources.

The group expects that they will find simple office premises for free, but will need to purchase veterinary supplies and animal rescue equipment, as well as basic office equipment. Meryl\'s experience has shown that people will generously support an organization that shows itself to be proactive, not reactive; positive results lead to both monetary and in-kind donations. Meryl cited the example of a campaign to give out reflectors for donkey carts (which invariably travel at night and are not easily seen by truck-drivers): all the costs of that effort were covered by donated funds and supplies.

Eventually the group will have a physical shelter for rescued animals, probably just outside the capital, Harare, where the Donohoes own some suitable property.

How you can help

Please monitor the International Network news page for updates; as soon as we learn that the group has been formally established, we\'ll publish full details, including how to donate. For the time being, the group may be contacted by emailing Dr Helene Donohoe.

Read more

If you would like to know more about Meryl Harrison\'s heroic animal rescue story, the book \"Innocent Victims\", by Catherine Buckle, is an excellent, sometimes heartbreaking, but also uplifting, read. It\'s available at most of the usual online bookstores.

Top photo: ©Margojh / / This is a dog who looks like Nandi, one of the dogs Meryl rescued, who passed away recently.

Second photo: ©Devy / / a donkey

Article at:

Link to this post 27 May 10

"Innocent Victims. rescuing the stranded animals of Zimbabwe's farm invasions.
Meryl Harrison's Extraordinary story."


Published by: Merlin Unwin Books, U.K.

Innocent Victims is the story of how Meryl Harrison rescued thousands of animals stranded on invaded farms during Zimbabwe's land re-distribution. Meryl's mission was not about people or human rights but about animals and their welfare and there was no room for race, politics or prejudice.

Meryl, in her sixties and with a heart condition, always traveled with one or two young SPCA Inspectors and together they faced mobs of men who were often drugged or drunk and almost always armed with weapons ranging from sticks and stones to guns, knives and whips. Meryl drove thousands of kilometers to remote and abandoned farms; she and her colleagues went into "no-go areas" and faced war veterans, secret police, army and youth militia; they dismantled road barricades and went to places which even the Police said were dangerous and unsafe.

Meryl soon built up a reputation which preceded her - she never took sides and had only come for the animals. Cows which had been hamstrung and axed, donkeys and a race horse burned alive; dogs shackled and abandoned - if there was even the remotest chance that she could help them, treat them or rescue them, Meryl never said no! There wasn't an animal too big, small, slippery or furry for Meryl and she rescued cats, dogs and goldfish. She and her team caught pigs, sheep, cows, goats and chickens. They saved horses and ponies, duikers and sable antelope and intervened on behalf of lions, hippos and ostriches.

In 2002 Meryl and her colleague Addmore received international recognition for their extraordinary work and were jointly awarded the BBC Special Award for Outstanding Work in Animal Welfare. Just days later they were back at work on the dirt roads in remote areas of Zimbabwe. Meryl saw at first hand the environmental impact of Zimbabwe's land redistribution: poaching, de-forestation and massive burning.

All of the stories in Innocent Victims are the original first hand accounts taken from Meryl's personal diaries. Some of the rescues are gruesome and heartbreaking but others tell of great courage, ingenuity and joyous reunions. All tell of the extraordinary dedication and deep passion shown by one woman for the lives of many thousands of animals. Innocent Victims is the story of an unsung and reluctant hero in Zimbabwe's darkest of times.

Meryl Harrison has won international recognition for her courageous work and some of her awards include:

2002 - RSPCA (UK) Overseas Gallantry Award
2002 Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club (UK) Special Presentation for Recognition of Work in Rescuing Animals in Distress
2002 - BBC Special Award for Outstanding Work in Animal Welfare (Together with Addmore Chinhembe)
2003 - Rotary Foundation of Rotary International - Harare Club - Paul Harris Fellow
2003 - International Fund for Animal Welfare/Animal Talk - Action Award
2004 - St Anne's Diocesan College Old Girls Guild (South Africa) - St Anne Award for Dedicated Service Above & Beyond the Call of Duty
2005 - The Zimbabwe Kennel Club - Lifetime Achievement Award
2006 - Rotary Foundation of Rotary International -Borrowdale Brook Club - Paul Harris Fellow -
Book details:

Rescuing the stranded animals of Zimbabwe's farm invasions.
Meryl Harrison's Extraordinary Story."
By Catherine Buckle.

Foreword by David Shepherd, O.B,E. , M.B.E.

Published by: Merlin Unwin Books, U.K.

Classification: True stories of heroism, endurance and survival.

Available March 2009. Hardback. 352 pages. Black and white photographs.

Author: Catherine Buckle
ISBN: 978 1 906122 07 2
Published: March 2009
Format: 234 x 156 mm
Binding: Hardback
No. of pages: 352
8 page b&w plate section

Published 5 March 2009

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