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Leslee Maasdorp, Rifa Conservation Camp and Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association

Leslee Maasdorp devoted a huge proportion of her long and immensely productive life to writing educational material related to wildlife, the environment and conservation. A high proportion of this material was written for use at Rifa Conservation Camp (set up by the Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association).

This website has been granted the great privilege of being able to assist in preserving this educational material and continuing to make it available to Zimbabweans.


Leslee Maasdorp

The following is an obituary published by the Zambezi Society in HONEYGUIDE, Journal of Zimbabwean and Regional Ornithology, June 2023, Volume 69, Part 1

Leslee Maasdorp, (née Smyth) 4 November 1925 – 6 February 2023

 Leslee Maasdorp passed away peacefully at her home in Harare on 6 February 2023 at the grand age of 97. She will be remembered fondly as a dedicated teacher and life-long conservationist, whose fervent passion for the wild had an extraordinary influence on several generations of young people in Zimbabwe.

Leslee grew up on a farm near King William’s Town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, excelling at school, passing her Matric with distinction, and winning The Royal Empire Society’s Essay Competition in 1942. She went on to attain a BSc with distinction in Biology and Zoology at Rhodes University, followed by a Post-grad Certificate in Education (also with distinction) from the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1957. For 25 years, until 1982, Leslee taught Biology at Prince Edward – a boy’s school in Harare. Known affectionately by the boys as MeeMee, she championed the school’s Natural History Club, leading five field trips, including one to Mount Kenya. Many of her former pupils held her in high esteem and continued to visit her in her old age.

In 1981, Leslee achieved a Higher Diploma in Library Science from UNISA and, after retiring from teaching, went on to set up the Education Programme for The Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences. It was at this time that she also became involved in establishing the Zimbabwe Hunters Association Education Programme at Rifa near Chirundu in the Zambezi Valley. She and her husband Hugh subsequently went on to live at Rifa until 1995, expanding the Education Camp and overseeing the programme which, to this day, is an impactful wilderness and conservation experience for hundreds of schoolchildren.

She served for many years on Boards, successfully helping to prevent the Harare City Council from developing housing schemes on land at the Mukuvisi Woodlands and Ballantyne Park Nature Reserve. In 1996, Leslee was awarded the Cresta Wildlife Oscar by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism. In her 70s, she turned her attentions to BirdLife Zimbabwe, creating their Bird Awareness Programme, helping develop publications including Enjoy the Birds of Zimbabwe, a Teachers’ Resource Book and several articles in Honeyguide, including an issue dedicated to the “Birds of Rifa Camp, Chirundu, Zimbabwe, 1998 – 2014”, with Anne Cotton.

In her 80s, now working with The Zambezi Society, Leslee set about trying to influence development planning for Chirundu town to create corridors for wildlife movement through the area. She successfully achieved the designation of Mana Pools as one of Zimbabwe’s RAMSAR wetland sites, facilitated funding to purchase desks for the school for rangers’ children at ZimParks’ Marongora station, and created conservation educational materials for distribution to schools in the areas surrounding the Zambezi Valley National Parks.

 Leslee’s long life was quite remarkable. She leaves behind an incredible legacy, not only for her own six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, but for generations of Zimbabweans for whom she set a shining example of selfless dedication

Rifa Conservation Camp

The Rifa Conservation and Education Camp was created in 1981 and is managed by the Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association, whose citizen hunters wanted to expose schools to the wonders of a wilderness area they hunted in and became attached to.  Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Authority endorsed this sentiment and are partners in the project. Many of Zimbabwe Hunters Association members volunteer their time as instructors. Many aspiring guides and professional hunters have passed through Rifa and the camp is loved by all Zimbabwean conservationists.

The camp is situated along the Zambezi River just upstream from Chirundu. It is located in an untamed wildlife area and is wholly unfenced. In this big game safari area an armed escort consisting of a member of the Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association, the Education Officer and the Parks Ranger protect the pupils on walks. 

The camp and its programme is open to all Zimbabweans and the camp provides a unique wildlife conservation education program to school children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Its mission is to educate the children of Zimbabwe about the sustainable management of Zimbabwe’s wildlife.

Since its inception Rifa Camp has hosted more than 20,000 students, roughly 1,200 children annually and some schools are keen to return year after year. Priority is given to school groups who have programmes tailor-made to their needs. 

The week’s camp is designed for 30 pupils, three to four teachers, a cook and driver. The camp operates at full capacity from March to October, accommodating up to 30 children in dormitories, plus their teachers, and has a long waiting list from a variety of educational establishments including primary and secondary schools from cities and rural areas.

RIFA is home to four of the Big Five, a variety of antelope and 155 bird species – which include four vulture species. The bush makes for an excellent classroom where practical exercises in tracking, wildlife identification, ecology and conservation are conducted. Interspersed between sedimentation and drainage experiments the students learn about plants, spoor and traditional remedies    Structured lessons include geography practicals, learning about the local flora and fauna, an impala dissection and subsequent biology revision, firearm identification and shooting practice including the hunting of one impala per camp for anatomy studies, food for the school and scraps for the vulture feast.  Classes are also encouraged to observe the wildlife coming and going along the old Zambezi River floodplain on the edge of the camp.

 The students are divided into teams and take turns at camp to wash up, assist with meal preparation and produce an evening power-point presentation on their day’s activities. Impromptu learning experiences are integrated into fishing trips, informal art classes, camouflage games, reconstructing carcass bones. Light-hearted activities include volleyball on the beach and mud fights at the hot springs. After dark, with the aid of a spotlight or in bright moonlight, animals such as civet, hyena and lion may be seen.



Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association[1]

Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association (ZHA) was first established in 1947 by a group of Rhodesian wildlife enthusiasts. The Association was instrumental in the creation of the original Game Department by bringing pressure to bear upon the Government of that day, and this interest was recognized by Government which consulted the Association in the drafting of the first Wildlife legislation.

Hunting associations throughout the world not only take a keen interest in wildlife conservation, but frequently are leaders in environmental education for the youth. ZHA is no exception and in 1981 acquired a concession over the RIFA Safari Area of Hurungwe in the Zambezi Valley. This is where the RIFA Conservation Education Programme is run from and is used to give the Zimbabwe youth a ‘hands on’ bush experience.

The twin objects of game conservation and hunting naturally cover a wide field of associated activities and ZHA makes every endeavour to encourage interest in bush pursuits, whether hunting, bird shooting, game and bird watching or just plain camping in wild places away from the concrete jungles of modern civilization.

It is the opinion of ZHA that of all the bounteous natural resources of Zimbabwe, the wildlife is the most important and the most valuable. It may not be the most valuable in terms of money, but it has a value that far transcends materialism. It both arouses and satisfies atavistic and aesthetic instincts and other even more fundamental instincts which defy definition. Listening to the call of the lion and the cry of the fish eagle modern man can shed the burden of his civilization and attain a fleeting return to simple humanity.


[1] Take note, Zimbabwe Hunters’ Association is not the same as Zimbabwe Professional Guides Association (which used to be called Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association)

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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