About the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit
About the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit
History and Origins
The Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and have been designated a World Heritage Site, under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. The falls are surrounded by the 2 340 ha Victoria Falls National Park and the 57,000 ha Zambezi National Park. These state-protected areas are home to numerous species of fauna and flora, which, through recent times have unfortunately been subject to a dramatic increase in various forms of poaching.
Charles Brightman, a local safari operator and conservationist, together with the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, established the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit in January 1999, in an effort to fight the alarming levels of destruction that was taking place. Since this time, VFAPU has worked in close co-operation with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, to achieve many successes. This initiative serves as a good example of what can be achieved when we all work together for the benefit of our country and future generations to follow.
Having started off with three scouts initially, the unit has grown in strength and now has eighteen full-time scouts actively patrolling an area of approximately fifty square kilometers surrounding Victoria Falls. Our patrols operate seven days a week, day and/or night, as we endeavour to combat poaching in all its various forms. All our operations are in accordance with the Senior Warden, National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Zambezi Camp. VFAPU personnel comprise of ex-commercial security guards, and ex-game scouts from Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, all coming from local communities.
One of the major illegal activities faced is the unsustainable utilization of indigenous hardwoods, which are removed from the surrounding state protected forests. A number of indigenous hardwood trees such as African Ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis), Pod Mahogany (Afzelia quansensis) and the Mukwa (Pterocarpus angolensis) are targeted to produce wooden curios for the tourist market. There are estimated 5,000 curio vendors in Victoria Falls, whose income depends solely upon sales of curios to tourists, but the rate at which the forests are depleting is alarming. Research from the Forestry Commission indicates that 80% of the Mukwa trees have been destroyed from certain areas!
Apart from the commercial side of wood poaching, vast quantities of wood are removed from the protected areas on a daily basis for basic needs, such as fuel.
Mammal poaching is of great concern as the bush meat market poses one of the greatest threats to Africa’s wildlife populations. Research has shown that between 1.9 and 3.5 million tons of bush meat is consumed in Central and Southern Africa on an annual basis.
Gangs of poachers target a variety of mammal species such as buffalo, kudu, eland, impala and set snares in order to catch theses mammals as they migrate to and from food/water sources. These wire death traps cause tremendous suffering to mammals, sometimes taking the victim several days to die after having been snared.
Once these gangs have successfully killed and butchered a mammal, the meat is hung up to dry for several days before being sent to the local communities to sell. Bush meat is sold at cheaper rates than legal meat from established butcheries, thus creating a high demand for it.
Elephants are hunted by the poachers for their tusks. High black market values for ivory lead to the regular poaching of elephants throughout our region. Using AK47 assault rifles, the poachers will kill these mammals just for the tusks, which they remove from the elephants face using axes.
VFAPU is under no illusion that we will completely stop poaching but with the support of various stakeholders, companies, hotels, lodges and individuals we have been able to achieve great successes to date. Since the unit’s establishment, we have removed over 20 000 wire snares from our operational area and have arrested over 550 hardened poachers.
Whilst the anti-poaching unit activity is largely directed at the removal of snares and the apprehension of mammal poachers, a great deal of time is spent educating and reinforcing the benefits of conserving our natural resources. We spend time bringing the conservation message to local communities through drama groups, who portray this vital message through song, dance and myths.
Another very successful aspect of VFAPU is that we have been able to dart and treat numerous mammals that have been injured through snaring. Through donor funding, VFAPU provides the necessary drugs such as M99, whilst two gentlemen who have their chemical restraint licenses kindly volunteer their services. Officers from the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority are supportive and present during these operations.
To help prevent further destruction of our fauna and flora, VFAPU attempts to seek employment for convicted poachers. We seek alternative means and ways for wood carvers to earn a living by working with the Forestry Commission. The carvers are now able to purchase wood from the Forestry headquarters and free transport is now provided to and from this base.
In recognition of our work the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit has won the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism’s Green Globe 21 Award for Conservation Efforts in Zimbabwe.
Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)
Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Zambezi Traveller Directory
Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit
Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit is proudly supported by the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge