The world-famous Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a World Heritage Site, is surrounded by the 2 340-hectare Victoria Falls National Park and the 57 000-hectare Zambezi National Park. Home to numerous plant and animal species, these state protected areas have in recent times been subjected to poaching and destruction occurring at alarming levels.
The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) is a privately funded and managed anti-poaching unit that works together with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police to patrol a 50 km2 area surrounding the Victoria Falls.
The Unit was established by Charles Brightman, local safari operator and conservationist in 1999. Since then, numerous successful operations have taken place, capturing several hundred poachers, and removing over 16 000 snares from this area alone!
The bushmeat trade is at alarming levels and has led to local depletion of mammal species such as kudu, impala, eland, common duiker, warthog and buffalo, mainly through snaring. A large number of elephants in the area have been shot and their tusks taken.
In attempting to reduce the damage done by snares, two volunteers with Chemical Capture and Restraint Licenses have dedicated time to work with the VFAPU, darting and treating mammals wounded by snares. However, the costs for the immobilisation drug and antibiotic drugs are extremely high and these drugs are not always readily available.
Wood poaching is rife in the area, as one of the only means of getting fuel for basic needs, such as cooking; vast quantities of wood are being removed from the protected areas on a daily basis. Thus, in addition to snare removal and poacher apprehension, emphasis is also placed on educating the local populace, reinforcing the benefits of conservation of their natural resources.
A major income generator for the unemployed is the sale of carved wooden curios and souvenirs to tourists. Unfortunately, these carvers destroy a number of indigenous hardwood trees such as African Ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis), Pod Mahogany (Afzelia quansensis) and the Mukwa (Pterocarpus angolensis), in order to produce their wares. An alarming statistic shows that in VFAPU's operational area, 82% of Mukwa trees have now been hacked down!
To prevent further destruction, the VFAPU works with the Forestry Commission in finding alternative means for convicted wood carvers to earn a living. Carvers are now able to purchase wood from the Forestry headquarters, with free transport to and from this base provided. A number of the 'poachers' are women, and VFAPU is working with other organisations to offer alternatives to this trade: training programmes to teach skills such as weaving and embroidery have been established.
However, this aspect of the Unit is not yet fully developed; there are an estimated 5 000 curio vendors in the Victoria Falls area!
The long-term intention is to employ a team of professional scouts large enough to cover the area surrounding Victoria Falls Village so as to effectively control or at least minimise wood and mammal poaching.
The Unit is also developing a controlled environment for sales of wood to curio carvers and vendors, together with the Forestry Commission and to develop additional commercial facilities that will encourage the sales of curios manufactured by hawkers.
In addition, it intends to further develop ways to involve the tourists to Victoria Falls in an education programme regarding the importance of preserving and protecting the environment, and to establish Conservation Clubs at local schools.
The Unit would like to thank all those who have supported us throughout the last ten years.
Summary of Statistics for 2012 by the end of June.
Snares located: 147
Persons apprehended within National Park estate: 119 - (6 x mammal poachers, 20 x illegal miners, 85 x wood poachers, 4 x Illegal vendors, 4 x fish poachers)
Mammals darted: 4 (2 x warthog, 2 waterbuck)
Mammals poached: 10 (6 x impala, 3 x warthog, 1 x kudu)
Summary of Statistics for 2011 so far:
Snares located: 105
Persons apprehended within National Park estate: 122 - (5 x mammal poachers, 14 x illegal miners, 68 x wood poachers, 28 x Illegal vendors, 5 x Illegal entry into parks estate, 1 x drug dealers, 1 x selling game meat illegally)
Mammals darted: 4 (2 x warthog, 2 x elephant, I x kudu)
Mammals poached: 13 (1 x eland, 3 x kudu, 1 x elephant, 1 x hippo, 2x buffalo, 1 x waterbuck, 2 x warthog, 1 x porcupine, 1 x impala)
Annual Report 2011
The role that the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) continues to play in the Victoria Falls region is crucial – the poaching situation would be far worse without all of our joint efforts to fight the crime of poaching. It is very encouraging to report that there has been a marked improvement in game sightings in the region, with good sightings of sizable herds of elephant and buffalo, giraffe, zebra, kudu, eland, waterbuck as well as other plains game including sable. There have also been sightings of lion, leopard and wild dog recently.
VFAPU would therefore like to express its gratitude to the Wilderness Trust for its continued support, the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Victoria Falls Municipal Police and the Tourism Police for this opportunity to work together in a combined effort to conserve Zimbabwe wildlife for everyone’s benefit, present and future. This support plays a vital role in this challenge that continues to face us. Below are details of our operations during the year 2010.
Summary of Statistics for 2010
Snares located: 443
Persons apprehended within National Park estate: 328 (5 x mammal poachers, 20 x illegal miners, 256 x wood poachers, 19 x illegal vendors, 10 x illegal entry into parks estate, 2 x drug dealers, 2 x thieves, 9 x fish poachers, 4 x border jumpers and 2 x smugglers)
Mammals darted: 14 (4 x buffalo, 5 x warthog, 1 x elephant, 2 x kudu, 2 x impala)
Mammals poached: 44 (12 x buffalo, 12 x impala, 2 x elephant, 2 x kudu, 2 x eland, 3 x waterbuck, 8 x warthog, 1 x sable, 2 x spotted hyaena and 1 x wild dog).