The battle is on

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Photo credit: Zute Lightfoot / lightfootphoto.com

Photo credit: Zute Lightfoot / lightfootphoto.com

Mayu Mishina looks at the recent partnership between the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and ZimParks as they tackle the elephant-poaching problem in Mana Pools.

If you want to see elephant, consider Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park. The World Heritage Site is part of the Lower Zambezi Valley, which includes Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. According to aerial surveys conducted in the last 15 years, more than 80 per cent of the valley’s elephant are found on the Zimbabwean side of the valley.

Indeed, whether you’re driving down the park’s dusty roads or cruising on the Zambezi River along the park’s northern boundary, it’s not hard to come across a great herd of these pachyderms. They’ll be found under an acacia tree, stretching up their trunks to snag a tasty acacia pod from the branches above or swimming against the mighty Zambezi current on their way to one of the islands to feast on its abundant vegetation.

But unfortunately, where there are elephant, there are also poachers. Mana Pools’ elephant population has reportedly dropped by a third between 2001 and 2014. But with a mere 41 rangers covering an expansive park measuring 2196sq km, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) could use a little extra help.

“The poachers come from everywhere,” says Samson Chibaya, Area Manager for Mana Pools, who adds that these criminals are well armed and motivated.

In contrast, limited resources hamper Mana Pools’ rangers. Benjamin Never, a senior ranger based at Mana Pools’ main gate, explains, “When a poaching incident occurs, we don’t always have the resources to arrive at the scene on time. Sometimes our vehicles do not start. We also do not have GPS devices, so I cannot join the junior rangers at the scene, because I don’t know where they are.”

Even ammunition to fight poachers is limited. Never continues that: “We go out on patrol with only 15 rounds of ammunition. Poachers, on the other hand, have 50 rounds.”

While Chibaya, Never and other Mana Pools rangers have persevered despite these challenging conditions, they now have a little extra support in protecting the park’s elephant population. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Africa’s largest and oldest conservation organisation, has partnered with ZimParks to fight the problem.

AWF has thus far contributed to a base that was recently established by two local NGOs. The base, located at the main gate to Mana Pools, is equipped with a radio room and office space from which to respond to poaching alerts. It also has barracks that house up to 40 rangers.

Through Technical Advisor, Simon Muchatibaya, AWF is helping to organise an anti-poaching rapid-response unit that will operate out of this new base. Muchatibaya has also facilitated joint patrols between Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities on the Zambezi River, the first-ever joint patrols in the area.

“There was a time when poaching had reached alarming stages in Mana Pools, but ZimParks is bringing it back under control,” says the technical advisor. “The formation of the rapid-response unit is bringing about change.”

Mayu Mishina works for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). Find out more about the amazing work the organisation does here: www.awf.org.

 

Picture credit: Grant Wheeler

Picture credit: Grant Wheeler

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