Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe's largest game reserve, but due to economic hardships in the country, the number of animals being snared for food by local people living on the boundary of the Park has increased dramatically. Large animals such as elephant, buffalo and zebra are strong and usually break the wire snares from their fixings, resulting in the animals suffering from terrible wounds as the wire snares cut into their necks or their legs. Wilderness staff regularly sees, within its concessions and often while on activities with guests, animals dragging a snare around and once sighted, the guides report the sighting and qualified staff members rush out to help.
Wilderness Safaris sent two of its managers on a Dangerous Drugs Course, which gives them a permit to use powerful anaesthetic darts to immobilise the animals. In addition, Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust has provided the equipment and drugs so that staff can dart the injured animals, remove the snares, treat the wounds and get the animal up and on its way again. To date, a number of elephant, buffalo, baboon and zebra have been rescued in this way, resulting in its name: W.A.R.T-hogs - the Wilderness Animal Rescue Team!
Over the past few years there has been an increase in subsistence poaching - probably due to the economic hardships currently facing Zimbabweans. As a result of this, the anti-poaching efforts have been stepped up: An anti-poaching camp was erected to accommodate National Parks scouts during their anti-poaching patrols. Wilderness staff assist the anti-poaching scouts with rations and whenever possible with transport to deploy patrols in order to apprehend and deliver poachers to the police for sentencing. This activity takes place outside of the concession and along the borders of the Park. It is in no way an obligation of the concession contract and although there is undoubted benefit to Wilderness Safaris, this is a role Wilderness staff have taken on in the interests of supporting the activities of National Parks and ensuring that Hwange National Park continues to function effectively.
However, not having a dedicated vehicle for this project meant that a full time presence was lacking patrolling the areas and therefore anti-poaching activities could not be kept fully under control.
In the past, Wilderness staff have been proactive in trying to control the poaching in its concessions, which encompass an area of 500km2, working closely with Zimbabwe's Department of National Parks & Wildlife Authority for many years. It was then felt that the effort needed to be extended outside the concessions, focusing on the south-eastern boundary of Hwange. South of this border is a communal farming zone and this and the fact that the railway line from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo runs through the area have contributed to an upsurge in commercial bushmeat poaching that is transported to Bulawayo. It was discovered that poachers utilise the railway system as a means of ferrying meat for their businesses. Traps and wire snares are being set close to and around natural waterholes in the more remote and seldom frequented areas of this southern boundary and it was therefore vital that National Parks authorities supported by Wilderness are able to access these areas regularly and timeously to prevent this poaching.
It is hoped that a vehicle will turn the anti-poaching team into a highly mobile and active anti-poaching presence on the ground in order to hamper and prevent any further poaching activities, as well as being able to apprehend and deliver the said poachers for sentencing to the nearest police station. Such efforts should deter poachers from trying their luck in any future operations. The vision to conserve wildlife and prevent poachers from setting snares would then become something of a reality!
The effective results would be that with regular anti-poaching patrols, the circle of influence will be expanded to the neighbouring communities who can be educated about the importance of wildlife, establishing a relationship with them and being able to glean information from them on poachers and their activities.
Previously, if a Wilderness Safaris vehicle was available this was used to help transport National Parks game scouts and assist with their patrols; this was erratic however. With a dedicated vehicle, the anti-poaching team can now become mobile, investigating specific areas of suspected snare-setting. In addition, radio communication between the scouts, the vehicle and camp has become possible, so that there can be quicker reaction times to events.
In this way, anti-poaching patrols can now take place on a daily basis and cover most of the areas described, as well as eventually expand to other areas within Hwange National Park. It acts as eyes and ears on the ground and is able to control the poaching activities within the surrounding areas. It can now endeavour to ensure both wildlife and natural heritage for future generations of Zimbabwe.
The Wilderness Trust funded the rebuilding of a Land Rover for the purpose of deploying scouts, patrolling, gathering information, apprehending poachers and delivering them to the police for sentencing.
Annual Report 2011
Anti-poaching continues to be an essential activity in the south-eastern section of Hwange National Park, as poaching and snaring for the illegal bush meat trade has been on the rise. The south-eastern boundary of Hwange is bordered by rural villages and due to the difficult economic times that Zimbabwe is experiencing, subsistence bush meat trade is one of the main means of survival. Wire snares and traps are being set up around the periphery of the Park and Zimbabwe’s precious wildlife is being targeted as a result.
Since 2007, with the aid of a vehicle funded by the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, anti-poaching efforts have been augmented to counteract the large amount of poaching. These efforts include those of Wilderness Safaris, in conjunction with the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (PWMA), the Painted Dog anti-poaching unit, and various other NGOs. These units all conduct frequent patrols along this boundary in the hope of minimising the effect of poaching.
As another initiative to save Hwange’s wildlife, Wilderness Safaris and the Hwange Lion Research Project have taken on six trained rangers to work together with PWMA rangers within the Hwange concessions and along the south-eastern area of the Park. The main benefit of this is that two areas can be covered at once by trained anti-poaching personnel, thus covering more ground.
The beginning of the year started off well, with patrols being conducted on a regular basis, however vehicle problems later in the year meant that anti-poaching efforts decreased from June. In total 87 snares were removed from the field this year, in comparison to 172 in 2009. Two poachers were apprehended in 2010.
Darting and de-snaring operations were carried out throughout the year in an attempt to give snared and injured animals a second chance. With the invaluable help and assistance of PWMA and Wilderness staff, five elephant and one buffalo were successfully immobilised and de-snared.