Region: Savé Conservancy, Zimbabwe
In 2005, P.A. Lindsey and S.S. Romañach began research on African wild dogs in the Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC). Shortly after commencing field work in SVC, it became very apparent that the key threat facing wild dogs (and virtually all other wildlife species) was through the bush-meat trade. The focus of their research therefore shifted to address the threat posed by the bush-meat trade.
The bush-meat trade currently comprises one of the key threats facing wildlife in Africa. Uncontrolled illegal off-take of wildlife can have disastrous impacts on wildlife populations, including local extinction of some species. Bush-meat hunters often use wire snares, an indiscriminate and inhumane method that catches target species such as wild ungulates as well as non-target animals such as predators.
In Zimbabwe, levels of illegal hunting for the bush-meat trade are higher than ever due to a combination of political instability, lawlessness, and a growing lack of food security. In the 3440 km2 Savé Valley Conservancy in south-eastern Zimbabwe, the use of wire snares by poachers to acquire bush-meat has increased greatly in recent years and now constitutes a severe threat to wildlife populations.
- To assess the impact of the bush-meat trade on wildlife within SVC, with particular focus on non-target species
- Identify spatial and temporal patterns in illegal hunting activities in SVC with which to focus anti-poaching efforts
- To identify the major source areas for poachers operating in SVC – this will help to focus the conservancy’s community outreach efforts
- To assess whether poaching is carried out by a few repeat offenders, or by a larger number of more opportunistic hunters
- To assess the extent to which poaching for meat is done for subsistence or for commercial gain
- To identify the underlying causes of the problem
The researchers aim to do the following:
1) Document and map all poaching incidences occurring on each ranch within SVC
Each ranch in the conservancy is visited once a month to collect information on all poaching incidents. This will allow the researchers to estimate the threat to the wildlife population as well as the economic costs posed by poaching. They will also identify patterns in poaching with which to focus anti-poaching efforts, both on each ranch individually and on a conservancy-wide basis.
2) Establish a poacher database
The name, and where possible the ID number, gender, and approximate age of each poacher caught, where s/he is from, and the number of times the individual has been caught before are all recorded. The punishments imposed on convicted poachers are also documented. The purpose of this database is to:
a) Identify the source areas for hunters coming into SVC with which to identify areas of key importance for community outreach efforts
b) Determine whether the bush-meat trade in SVC is the result of large numbers of opportunistic hunters, or fewer repeat-offenders
c) Provide a documented history of offences that can be passed onto the police when repeat offenders are caught
d) To analyse the efficacy of punishments as deterrents against poaching
3) To identify underlying causes of the problem and potential solutions
The researchers are in the process of conducting an interview survey of convicted poachers within SVC to obtain an improved understanding of the reasons why they hunt within SVC, and to identify steps that might be taken by the conservancy or other bodies to remove or reduce these causes. In addition, they have begun interviewing all of the game scouts working within SVC. Game scouts often come from the same communities as the poachers, and have a clear understanding of the dynamics of the bush-meat trade. With these questionnaire surveys, the following may be achieved:
a) Identify the extent to which poaching is done for subsistence or commercial gain
b) Identify the trade routes for meat emanating from SVC
c) Improve understanding of the modus operandi of poachers entering SVC
d) Improve understanding of the socioeconomic and cultural causes for the bush-meat trade
e) Improve understanding of the steps that SVC could take to reduce the effect of the bush-meat trade through improved policing and by mitigating the underlying causes of the problem
A Masters student (Steven Matema) from the University of Zimbabwe has been employed to assist with these surveys. Steven has considerable experience in working on human dimensions of conservation and specifically with conducting interview surveys. He will train field assistants to conduct interview surveys, and then they will work as a team to interview game scouts and apprehended poachers. Steven will use the data collected to contribute to his Masters thesis and he will be provided with supervision and assistance for his thesis. The data from the surveys will be published in scientific, conservation journals by P.A Lindsey and S.S Romañach in collaboration with Steven Matema.
Work on this project began in May 2006; Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust is contributing towards salaries and transport expenses over the next year.
December 2007 update
With assistance from Wilderness Trust funding, we have achieved the following with our projects on wild dogs and bush-meat in the Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC):
1) We are now in our third year of monitoring wild dogs in SVC, and have effectively conducted a census of the population each year, using a combination of tracking to find den sites, and compiling sightings reports. We have collected and collated key information on pack size dynamics and mortality sources affecting the dogs. These data highlight the severity of the threat of snaring facing wild dogs in the area. We have also completed a project assessing the impact of wild dogs on game ranching activities, which effectively disproved two traditional prejudices held towards wild dogs (that they cause reductions in prey densities in the areas in which they have their dens, and that they make wildlife more skittish). A paper on this topic has been provisionally accepted (pending minor changes) in an international conservation journal.
2) We conducted a census of the lion and spotted hyaena population in SVC in 2007, and plan to repeat the census in 2008. This census enables us to detect changes in the ecology and conservation status of wild dogs relative to populations of competing predators.
3) Removed snares from three wild dogs. Wild dogs are commonly killed in snares in SVC due to the severe poaching pressure currently being experienced in the area. We have managed to find three dogs with snares on them, removed the snares, and provided basic treatment to give those dogs a chance of survival.
4) Conducted an in-depth study on the bush-meat trade in SVC. We have collected over two years of data on poaching incidents in SVC (several thousand incidents), and conducted a large number of interviews with poachers, ranchers and anti-poaching game scouts to provide an understanding of how the bush-meat industry works, what the underlying causes of the problem are, and have identified the steps necessary to address this problem.
This project has had two particularly important outputs:
- Provided a basis with which to design a community outreach programme for SVC;
- Provided the basis for a report we wrote and submitted to the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank governor (following a request from government to the Conservancy for a report on poaching). We wrote a professional, scientific report detailing the extent of poaching in SVC, ecological and financial impacts of poaching, and recommended steps needed to address the problem. Following submission of this report, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority have provided significantly enhanced involvement in anti-poaching in the Conservancy. We plan to write up the findings of our bush-meat work for a series of articles shortly.
5) We have given presentations on our wild dog and bush-meat work at several international conservation symposia, at which Wilderness Trust assistance has been acknowledged. These presentations have helped to raise awareness of some of the conservation issues prevalent in Zimbabwe at present.