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!
Coordinator: Charles Brightman
Region: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Organisation: Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit
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
Annual Report 2017
Firstly, the whole team at the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit is very grateful to everyone for the support extended to our anti-poaching operations. It is with your support and backing that VFAPU is able to continue the important fight against all forms of poaching in the Victoria Falls region.
VFAPU thanks the National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police for the opportunity to fight poaching in a collaborative and combined team effort.
It is my hope that since VFAPU was formed in 1999, that all successes achieved over the years have served as a good example of what can be achieved when we all work together for a common goal.
Daily local patrols close to the town of Victoria Falls, lengthy extended integrated patrols deeper into the Zambezi National Parks and surrounds, vehicle patrols, deployments and undercover operations are all undertaken during VFAPU operations. It is during these exercises that we have produced the following results and statistics.
Whilst on an extended, integrated patrol 13 elephant carcasses were discovered 3km off the Kazungula Road. Seven White-backed Vulture carcasses were also detected on the scene, which strongly suggests that the elephants were poisoned. The carcasses were at least seven months old.
In addition to this, in the Jambezi area, outside of VFAPU operational area, another 13 elephants were poisoned with cyanide-laced oranges at Ngwengwe Springs. Two suspects were arrested and a trial is ongoing.
A joint operation ended when two suspects were tracked down to their village at Chidobe and 60kg of buffalo meat was recovered.
Two border jumpers from Uganda were arrested during an ambush situation. They had crossed the Zambezi River, downstream from Victoria Falls.
A local patrol close to Wood Road discovered stolen property and handed this over to the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
During night operations in the gorges, 9 bags full of various goods were discovered hidden away. These belong to the cross-border smugglers.
VFAPU located a male giraffe with a poacher’s snare deeply embedded in its left back leg. A number of stakeholders took part in a combined exercise that resulted in the giraffe being successfully immobilised, treated and released back into the wild.
VFAPU discovered a poached female buffalo close to Boulder Pass and joint follow-up operations discovered a total of 24 poacher snares, which we dismantled and destroyed. 4 lions ate the buffalo before the poachers got to the scene.
A total of 56 wire/cable snares were removed from several islands in the Zambezi National Park during VFAPU and NPWMA joint patrols. Sadly, one impala and one kudu were killed in these snares lines.
20km from Vic Falls – one elephant poached and one poacher responsible shot dead. Well done to officers and rangers involved. One .375 rifle was recovered.
A number of suspects were apprehended and questioned after impala meat was discovered by VFAPU stored in cooler boxes at one of the jetty sites.
At the Palm Tree area of the Zambezi Drive, VFAPU discovered two buffalos which had been snared and butchered. The carcasses were covered with branches by the poachers, to avoid detection. An additional three buffalo were also poached in Chamabonda area.
Three warthogs and one buffalo were found to have been poached in the area in front of Ilala Lodge, whilst another buffalo was poached close to Grace Mission church on the border of the park.
Annual Report 2016
Now in its 17th year, VFAPU continues the fight against all forms of poaching in the Victoria Falls region. In 2015, the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit’s (VFAPU) 17 scouts ran a number of successful anti-poaching operations as well as daily foot patrols, vehicle patrols and integrated multi-day patrols into the Zambezi National Park.
A number of bushmeat poachers were apprehended at ambushes set at snare lines/carcasses. This form of poaching results in up to 3.5 million tons of wildlife being consumed annually in south-central Africa, thus maintaining a constant patrol presence is vital.
In undercover operations, four ivory dealers were captured with ivory, and sentenced to nine years in jail. A number of poachers were arrested for possession of cyanide, weapons and tusks. A pangolin was rescued from two men attempting to sell the animal, VFAPU assisting.
Wood poaching remains a problem, with many people collecting firewood in state-protected areas. Zambian poachers regularly cross into Zimbabwe and take mammals or fish: a number of buffalo have been poached in Zambezi National Park. VFAPU was able to apprehend some of these culprits.
Persons apprehended by VFAPU scouts and handed over to appropriate authorities for further action and/or prosecution:
– Wood poachers = 321
– Fish poachers = 3
– Mammal poachers = 12
– Persons selling game meat without correct permits = 4
– Housebreakers (thieves) = 5
– Illegal entry to national parks = 14
Mammal carcasses discovered by VFAPU:
• 1 zebra, 2 baboons, 3 impala, 1 kudu, 1 buffalo and 4 warthog
• 1 female leopard found hit by a vehicle
• 2 giraffe died after walking through power cables
Total number of wire/cable snares removed from the bush = 181
– Down from last year
– In 1999, just over 4 000 snares were discovered.
– Since 1999, VFAPU has now removed over 22 000 snares from the bush.
Mammals found snared and/or injured from snares that were darted, treated and released back into the wild
– 1 warthog, 3 kudu
– Since 1999, 181 mammals have been saved from a slow, painful death in this manner.
We would like to pay tribute to the dedicated Game Scouts who are out there every day, risking a great deal to save our wildlife. We are grateful to National Parks and Wildlife Management and the Zimbabwe Republic Police for the opportunity to work together in a joint, collaborative effort to conserve Zimbabwe’s valuable wildlife resources.
Annual Report 2015
The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit, through private funding from our supporters and with the help of National Parks and Wildlife Management (NPWMA) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), has proven to be an effective presence on the ground with anti-poaching operations in the past year. There are currently 17 scouts working with the Unit and these men often face great adversity, as they actively patrol the bush surrounding Victoria Falls. Our operations have expanded further afield too, as we offer logistics, manpower and equipment to assist in joint operations with the appropriate authorities. We commend 2014 successes achieved by Rangers from NPWMA, ZRP Support Unit and Forestry Rangers in dealing with ivory poachers in the Zambezi National Park and surrounds.
We experienced our first case of cyanide poisoning, where poachers placed this poison in a mineral lick and sadly, five elephants lost their lives to this ghastly method of poaching for ivory. It was, however, good to see the positive reaction by all stakeholders concerned in dealing with this situation and collective investigations lead to some arrests being made.
Our 2014 operations in brief:
Snares Recovered: 158 (when VFAPU was first established in 1999, just over 4 000 snares were recovered over a similar period).
Persons Apprehended: 398 including 358 wood poachers, 11 fish poachers, 13 mammal poachers (including ivory poachers), 1 thief, 8 illegal miners, 2 bushmeat dealers and 5 persons entering the Park’s estate illegally.
Injured mammals darted, treated and returned to the wild: 4 (2 warthogs, 1 kudu and 1 buffalo). Thank you to the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust for the assistance in this field.
Mammals discovered poached: 19 (1 kudu, 7 elephant, 6 warthog and 5 buffalo).
As we reflect on these statistics, both positive and negative, we have recommitted ourselves to taking a stand against all forms of poaching and to continuing this vital work.
VFAPU has continued to keep a check on poaching in the Victoria Falls area throughout 2013. VFAPU Scouts continue to patrol an area of approximately 50 square kilometres surrounding Vic Falls town, as well as integrating with NPWMA Rangers for extended patrols.
As you will see below, there are a number of different types of poaching that we come across during our patrols. Surprisingly, subsistence mammal poaching makes up a small percentage of the statistics, whilst commercial bush meat poaching is a more common practice.
Wood poaching in its various forms remains a big problem with people entering the parks estate regularly to gather and sell firewood or to poach a number of hardwood trees to produce curios for the tourist market.
High-end commercial poaching for elephants remains a threat throughout Africa and Zimbabwe is experiencing its fair share of this. As we all know, the plight of the rhino in Southern Africa is of great concern with an average of two rhino being poached every day. Encouragingly, through tremendous efforts from a number of initiatives, the rhino population in Zimbabwe is on the increase.
VFAPU statistics for 2013:
Snares recovered: 223
Persons apprehended in National Park estate: 304 (3 x mammal poachers; 279 x wood poaching general; 2 x wood poaching Mukwa trees; 3 x drug dealers; 2 x thieves; 8 x fish poachers; 4 x illegal miners; 3 x illegal entry to National Parks)
Mammals poached: 10 (3 x impala; 3 x buffalo; 1 x elephant; 1 x waterbuck; 1 x kudu; 1 x common duiker)
Mammals darted and treated: 4 (3 x warthog; 1 x elephant)
2012 saw the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) continue its efforts to fight a variety of forms of poaching within the Victoria Falls region. VFAPU was able to achieve some successful operations against fish and hardwood timber poachers through to bushmeat and commercial poachers. The 16 Game Scouts employed by the Unit have worked, often under trying circumstances, to achieve great results and to date (since January 1999), just over 570 serious offender poachers have been apprehended and over 21 000 wire snares have been removed from the bush. 156 mammals that were injured through poaching activities were successfully treated and released back into the wild.
VFAPU works closely with and in support of the National Parks and Wildlife Management of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Republic Police in a collective effort to fight poaching in the region. We would like to pay tribute to all the dedicated Game Scouts who are out there every day throughout our region, risking a great deal to save our wildlife. Thanks also to National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the Victoria Falls Municipal Police and the Tourism Police.
Summary of statistics 2012:
Snares located: 270
Persons apprehended within National Park estate: 282 – (11 x mammal poachers, 20 x illegal miners, 215 x wood poachers, 7 x Illegal vendors, 19 x fish poachers, 10 grass cutters)
Mammals darted: 6 (2 x warthog, 2 x waterbuck, 2 x buffalo)
Mammals poached: 17 (5 x impala, 4 x warthog, 3 x kudu, 4 x buffalo, 1 x elephant)
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).