Hwange National Park has a high mortality rate of lion to accidental snaring, while evidence has shown that many wire snares are set for medium and large animals, including elephant and giraffe. In addition, there has been an increase in the poisoning of elephant by ivory poachers.
The Scorpion Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) aims to provide the manpower and resources to assist Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) to reduce levels of poaching within the boundary areas of Hwange National Park.
Coordinator: Arnold Tshipa
Country: Hwange National Park
Since 2000, 37 study lions have been accidentally killed in snares set for other wildlife in Hwange National Park (HNP). This excludes the 38 lions intentionally snared in retaliation for livestock losses. Accidental snaring accounts for 21% of recorded lion mortalities and amounts to a cause-specific mortality rate of 0.185 for radio-collared individuals.
The real number of snare mortalities is inevitably much higher than data suggests, because the illegal killing of wildlife is frequently concealed by the perpetrators. There is evidence to suggest that carnivores are particularly vulnerable to snaring due to wide-ranging movements and the attraction of scavenging carnivores to high-risk areas by prey animals caught in snare lines.
Specific impacts on other populations in the HNP system are largely unquantified, however it appears that many wire snares are set for medium- to large-sized ungulates. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that elephant and giraffe are sometimes specifically targeted.
More recently there has been a worrying increase in the use of poisons (mostly cyanide) to kill elephants for ivory. In 2013, 87 elephants were poisoned on the eastern border of HNP with sporadic incidents also occurring in 2014. It is perhaps significant that this occurred outside the area policed by the Anti-Poaching Unit. We expect the use of poison by ivory poachers to escalate, so it is critical that anti-poaching efforts are maintained and if possible, increased to cover larger areas.
The focus for anti-poaching work is the 170km eastern boundary of HNP, adjacent to Tsholotsho Communal Land. This is a ‘hard’ boundary with no buffer zone and is particularly vulnerable to poaching incursions. The boundary fence consists of a poorly-maintained three-strand cable and galvanised wire veterinary fence. Data collected by Hwange Lion Research between 2007 and 2011 shows that much of the galvanised wire has been stripped off the park fence and used to construct wire snares for the extraction of bushmeat from the park.
The APU’s partnership with ZPWMA has proved particularly successfully, but the Authority is under-resourced and does not have the logistical capacity to undertake security patrols in the 14 000 sq. km Park, particularly the remote areas distant to the main management stations. The APU provides additional, trained manpower for anti-poaching patrols, as well as the logistical capacity to deploy and support scouts and park rangers in the field.
The objectives of the anti-poaching work are:
- To provide a practical, on-the-ground response to the problem of bushmeat poaching and snaring by removing wire snares and arresting poachers.
- To collect data on distribution, trends and potential impact of poaching on wildlife populations and, if possible, measure the benefits provided by anti-poaching activity. Significantly less is known about bushmeat hunting in African wooded savannah habitats compared to the bushmeat trade in tropical forest systems, so this is important in quantifying and understanding the extent of the problem.
- To provide logistical support for ZPWMA anti-poaching operations where possible.
The APU unit was selected and professionally trained by security expert Martin Steimer, and comprises six fully equipped and uniformed anti-poaching scouts. They are paid, equipped and provided with food and housing by the project.
ZPWMA allocates between two and four park rangers to participate in patrols. These men are fed and housed by the project while on duty with the APU.
APU also provides transport for patrol deployments and transport of arrested poachers to police custody.
The APU has a permanent base from which patrols are made on a daily basis.
The team had a difficult start to the year as they faced the challenge of vehicle availability, however this was solved in the last week of February when the team received a new land cruiser donated by Wilderness Safaris. This led to an increase in patrols covered and snares removed. Our partnership with Panthera has also been strengthened with the use of SMART being fully adopted, and partial funding for our work and equipment donation being received from them. Guest visits to the site have also increased, with this interaction being key in securing further funding.
One poacher was arrested in September with bushmeat, but was released on a $200 fine.
Snares: The team removed snares at a rate of 0.13 snares per km. Of the 180 mammal snares removed the majority were targeted at small herbivores (38%) while medium-sized and large herbivores made up 29% and 33% respectively. The composition of most of the snares was steel; however these were unset old snares (115 of the 170 steel snares). Three carcasses – buffalo, impala (both males) and a female lion – were found with snares. Another poached carcass was that of a male elephant that had a gunshot wound with tusks missing. Other items that the team removed include two spears and a knife.
Wildlife: The team recorded spoor tracks for carnivores, with four carnivore species being seen more often on patrols (leopard, lion, wild dog and spotted hyaena). The team also monitored live sightings of particular interest. These sightings of both carnivore tracks and herbivores will be used at a later stage to show the impact that the team has on the ground with regard to wildlife population stability and increase.
The Scorpion Anti-Poaching Unit (SAPU) worked tirelessly through the year in conjunction with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks). One of the core objectives of the implementation of SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) had a slow uptake as the year began; however, as more training was received, this came into full use in the last month of the year. In 2018, the team is using SMART to collect all its data and this is proving to be a good system. This will help in reporting and monitoring how the teams work as well as improving the patrol strategy.
The team was able to assist in the apprehension of a group of poachers that had caused havoc in the Hwange south area, with one being caught and another fatally injured. One poisoning incident, albeit outside the concession area, was observed and this was decontaminated. A total of 102 snares were removed in the 128 patrols done in 2017 (0.8 snares removed per patrol). Fewer patrols were done in the last quarter of the year due to the lack of mobility. This will no longer be a challenge as a supporter donated a Land Cruiser at the end of the year. The ratio of old to new snares seems to show that the team is removing more old snares which are unset – the ratio being 75 old to 27 new snares removed.
The team has removed fewer and fewer snares each year and this, in conjunction with the increased wildlife movement in the area, confirms the success of the team. A total of 17 carcasses were found, most being elephants. Of these carcasses 12 were due to poaching, with some of the elephant carcasses involving the abovementioned syndicate. We are grateful for the support that has been rendered to us by the donors in 2017: Wilderness Wildlife Trust, Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe, SATIB Conservation Trust, Panthera and ZimParks.
The onset of the rains in the park has seen a steady increase in available water for most game within the park and beyond. As water increases so does the distribution and spread of game animals within the area, making it very difficult to police certain animal species. This has resulted in the team taking on a different strategy in our anti-poaching activities. A huge emphasis has been placed on boundary patrols to monitor known entry and exit points, to monitor any possible game or human movement within the park and along the boundary. Several observation posts were set up in strategic places both as listening posts and visual sight posts.
A total of 20 foot patrols were carried out this month, all concentrating on the boundary section. A total number of 17 wire snares were removed – all being old snares. This month also saw us send members of our team for the SMART training course; it is our hope to improve on our information gathering on the ground and have a composite patrol of both presence and data.
December also saw the introduction of the team from UDS with the provision of the drone service. The UDS team joined us at the end of the month and managed only a few flights. Ten flights were carried out with hope of increasing this at the start of the season. The drone flights have offered a new angle of surveillance that we previously had no access to, and if used adequately it can increase our area of coverage.
Stray cattle have been driven out of the park on several occasions, making clear the need for greater community awareness.
December is usually a quiet month with regards to poaching activity in this section of the park and we were glad not to have had any incidents reported. The number of snares – albeit old – is still worrying and the need for more ground coverage is most certainly needed. All in all though, the year 2016 has been a good year for the team with hopes of a better 2017.
We have concentrated our patrol efforts in the communal campfire areas with the intentions of a vast snare removal operation. The areas bordering the park along the game fence have always seen a fairly large amount of game movement and it has been our aim to cover as much of this area as we could. The advent of the dry season has seen a great reduction in natural surface water and throughout the park water is now becoming scarce, this has put us on high alert for the possibility of cyanide poisoning and has seen us do frequent pan monitoring patrols with the sole intention of keeping a constant eye on the remaining watering points, game movements in those areas as well as possible human activity in around the same points.
A total of 24 foot patrols have been conducted to date these including a camping patrol at Ngamo gate. A total of 45 wire snares have been removed from our patrol areas within and out of the park itself. It is with concern that we noticed fresh wire snares set for medium sized antelopes in the campfire area though it was three localised single strand wires. We increased our presence in the area however no further evidence of new trapping was noticed after. Dry season Hwange has resulted in a high mortality rate of a lot of animal species in the park. The team has picked up and removed, with the assistance of the park official a substantial amount of ivory from elephants succumbing to the dry weather. A total of 10 tusks from five elephants have been collected and submitted to the appropriate authorities.
Data collection has gone well in this month with the change in season seeing new activity in animal species recorded on our patrols. In particular, the arrival of summer bird species and the evidence of a wide selection of mammals either spotted or evidenced in the campfire area.
This month also saw the much awaited arrival of our much anticipated kit with the team looking exceptionally smart.
The month has seen us settle down into a good coverage rhythm as we have been redoing most of our patrol sections in the park and increasing our coverage to the campfire area as well. It would appear that most of the park area has been covered as evidenced by the area patrolled and the number of snares removed. Many thanks go to our donors as the arrival of various pieces of equipment has certainly made our work much easier.
We kick-started our operations during May with all necessary documents submitted to Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority. A new manager joined the team during June and with him at the helm the team has been stirred in the direction of the objectives. We hope to cover more ground as the year proceeds as well as to work with the forest rangers, as an agreement has been made with them which should see the team set up fly camps in the Ngamo forest area. The camp has been spruced up with a new look as the team took time to paint it and we hope to build the manager’s house in the second quarter. Also in the second quarter much work will be undertaken – key to the success will be engaging guides to talk more about the work that they do as well as increasing the number of guest talks for the guides, in which the manager will be playing a key role.
A total of 45 patrols have been undertaken to date with 25 in July and on average 10 patrols per month in June and May. Much of the work was conducted in the areas close to the boundary fence and these have shown an increase in the amount of snares removed. The most interesting patrol took place in July when the team covered the Vulashaba community and then later moved through the Parks Estate heading to Tum Tum. As they patrolled they heard gunshots and tracked until they found a fresh elephant carcass. The team patrolled further, heading back out of the park and finally came across the poachers who ran away leaving behind two pairs of tusks. The following day the team investigated the area and found another elephant carcass in the same area as the one found the previous day.
The team hopes to establish bush camps in the second quarter of the year in order to increase their ground presence. In general the team has observed an increase in wildlife movement in the area and this signals the impact that the team has had on ground over the years. Another issue observed was that of encroachment by the community in the wildlife area with some cattle seen grazing in the park while signs on the ground show that members of the community have come into the park to collect thatching grass in certain areas.
Pictured are members of the team with the recovered tusks.
A total of 110 snares were removed, of which 13 were bird snares. July saw the most snares removed at 78, with 17 in May and 15 in June. Of these snares most were ‘steel – old’ snares – a good indication that bush meat poaching might be on the decline. At the same time the ‘steel – fresh’ wires used were generally for smaller game with an average diameter of 10 cm. On one of the days the team removed a total of 27 snares though they are currently working on a rate of 2.44 snares per patrol.
The map below shows the summary of the areas in which the snares were removed overlaid on the 2012-2015 snare hotspots.
Steel – old 85%
Steel – fresh 10%
Cable – old 4%
Cable – fresh 1%
The map shows how there is still a high concentration of snares along the boundary fence with the communities; more work has to be done as these are the hot spots that need the most attention. From the map it is also clear that the hot spots from the previous year remain as areas that need to be patrolled further.
The team has to date established its presence back on the ground and this has seen an increase in operations in the Ngamo area. June and July saw an increase in their back-up support at all the poaching incidences that occurred in their area of operation. Another success was the recovery of the tusks of the two poached elephant.
Challenges and way forward
Some objectives not yet met: We still have 2 objectives that are yet to be met and these are…
- Community outreach work and the interpretive centre. With the ground work having been established we are now able to concentrate on these two objectives and plan to have the interpretive centre running by the end of August.
Regarding the community outreach we hope to hold a workshop in the areas adjacent to the park in the second quarter.
- Lack of a ranger at the Wexau base: due to the challenge of manpower at the Parks’ Estate, the deployment of rangers to the Wexau site has changed with the team having to drive to either Ngamo or Gwenga for their daily patrols. This can be a challenge if the vehicle is down because the team is stuck at Wexau and loses ground. We hope that after the purchase of the camping equipment we will be able to establish more fly camps.
The table below breaks down the costs that the unit has incurred.
Description Year to date Average per month Fuel Expenses $ 990.82 $ 330.27 Insurance $ 214.68 $ 71.56 Permits and Licences $ 215.00 $ 71.67 Postage and Courier $ 16.00 $ 5.33 Repairs and Maintenance $ 307.42 $ 102.47 Staff Costs (staff meals and salaries) $ 8,968.18 $ 2,989.39 Staff Travel $ 40.00 $ 13.33 Telecoms $ 10.00 $ 3.33 Total $ 10,762.10 $ 3,587.37
We are grateful for the funding from the following organisations and trusts: Wilderness Safaris, Imvelo Safaris, SATIB and Wilderness Wildlife Trust. We are also grateful for the support of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Since 2008, detailed records of anti-poaching patrols, snare locations, animal mortalities, evidence of poaching and arrests have been maintained. In 2014, in partnership with Panthera, the SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) system was introduced, to better capture information on anti-poaching and patrol effectiveness.
As requested, in 2015 some Parks personnel were trained in this system of monitoring and reporting. These data are made available monthly to ZPWMA to aid their management decision making and ranger allocation. Most recently there has been a worrying increase in the use of poison again – mostly cyanide – to kill elephants for their ivory.
In 2013, around 160 elephants were poisoned in and around Hwange National Park with sporadic incidents also occurring in 2014. These greatly reduced in 2014 due to anti-poaching activities increasing throughout the Hwange area. It is perhaps significant that these poisonings occurred outside the area policed by our APU team.
As expected the trend in use of poison by ivory poachers escalated in 2015, (around 80 elephant reportedly poisoned in other areas of Hwange NP in 2015) so it is critical that anti-poaching efforts are maintained and if possible increased to cover larger areas of the park.
Wilderness Safaris provided the Wexcau base with a new water tank this year, as the previous one collapsed at the end of 2014. In September the company also provided a second Land Rover to the unit as a backup vehicle, much needed in times of breakdowns etc. Most of the fuel for the anti-poaching patrols and deployments, as well as vehicle maintenance, was also provided by Wilderness Safaris in 2015. More than 23 000 km were covered by the SAPU vehicle carrying out deployments (SAPU and other Parks and Police patrols) and APU duties. About 2 200 litres of diesel was consumed by the SAPU vehicle carrying out these duties.
Areas covered this year include Ngamo, Major, Hwa Hwa Du, Madlioli, Gwenga, Mhlabeni, Tum Tum, Mandeseka, Magotshanyutshi, Mbazu, Gwande, Wexcau, Mbiza, Sitcheche, Mpisi, Mlilo, Mfokazaan, Ingwe, Davison’s, Scott’s, Backpans, Bomani, Somkhaya and Nhlabeni. Most illegal activity was found within a few kilometres of the boundary fence with Tsholotsho. These activities included tree-cutting and poaching with dogs, snares and weapons.
Again very little poisoning occurred in the area covered by the unit, whilst elsewhere in the park there was a noticeable increase, with mostly cyanide being the poison of choice. More of the boundary veterinary fence was cut, presumably to make snares. In all, 352 snares were removed in the nine months of SAPU operation in 2015. 186 were set for mammals and 166 set for birds. Nineteen elephant carcasses were identified, 11 of which were poached or shot. Eight were natural deaths and the ivory was recovered and handed in to Main Camp by the rangers on duty. Only one other carcass was found snared and this was a waterbuck female in the Mililo area.
The team facilitated the arrest of a poacher from Mandeseka area and information for several more arrests was handed to Parks and Police personnel to facilitate, as they are the appropriate authority for this action. Snaring hotspots were identified in the Major, Mandeseka, Gwenga, Tum Tum, and Madloli areas, all within a few kilometres of HNP’s boundary fence. Very few animals were seen carrying broken-off snare wires in adjacent photographic safari concessions and very few carcasses were found as a result of poaching, indicating that the APU presence in this area of the Park has significantly deterred the poaching activities we used to witness here in years gone by.
On 7th December 2015 in the Somkhaya area of Tsholotsho, just outside the park, a young male lion known as Mbuzini, from the Ngamo pride, was snared in retaliation for his having killed two cattle from the nearby village. This sub-adult male had been chased out of the park by the new incoming pride males after the dominant males of the Ngamo area were shot, in Forestry, on quota, by trophy hunters. HLR, with the aid of Parks and SAPU, managed to track the snared lion back into the park, where he was darted and the wire snare from his neck removed; eight other snares were removed from the site. He was translocated further into the park, to the Mbiza area, in the hope of relieving the conflict with livestock and the villages in this Tsholotsho area.
Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe provided extensive logistical support, provision of camp and facilities (including upgrades in 2015), fuel and have undertaken vehicle repairs at camp workshops, all of which have been of huge assistance. GWM Motors and SATIB Trust donated patrol uniforms and boots for the APU in 2015.