Three years ago Changa Safari Camp and Spurwing Island agreed to fund a small unit, MAPP, (Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project) to combat the fish poaching that was rife in the hydro bay area of Lake Kariba. This jurisdiction belongs to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) who, following 10 years of financial hardship, lacked the capacity to deal with this problem despite their best intentions. A proposal was made to the ZPWMA and a mode of operation was agreed upon. With further grateful assistance from the Tashinga Trust Initiative (TTI) who came to our aid with an equipped boat, operations commenced in March 2013. Typically these operations involved a MAPP employee and three ZPWMA rangers patrolling the shoreline by boat, both day and night, often in very treacherous waters. Before long, organised poaching syndicates operating out of Zambia were encountered and detained, their nets destroyed and their motorised boats confiscated to the State. Initially they were undeterred and the incursions continued unabated for several weeks until the financial loss became so great that they discontinued with their forays into Hydro Bay. Spurred by our success, we extended our operations into several of the most significant local river systems that feed the lake. There, local Zimbabwean fish poachers had become entrenched in semi-permanent camps, wreaking havoc on the indigenous fish that spawn in those river systems. Again our operations were hugely successful. Scores of poachers were arrested and tried at the local courts, their dugouts (boats fashioned from tree trunks) were destroyed and many kilometres of illegal nets were recovered and destroyed. Our objective had been fulfilled – we thought. What we did not foresee was an immediate return of these poachers the minute we discontinued operating and it soon became apparent that this initiative would need to be ongoing.
During this time a freshly poached elephant carcass had been discovered in the Park and two weeks later another four carcasses were discovered within 100 meters of the shoreline. Immediate action was required. Given that MAPP already had a good working relationship with the Authority and a familiarity with the area, they were the obvious choice of organization to mount a reaction alongside the ZPWMA. This was the start of a unique partnership between local stakeholders and the ZPWMA and the beginning of what has become a highly geared and effective ‘home grown’ anti-poaching unit, an essential body in the preservation of the wildlife of the Matusadona National Park.
With a better understanding now of the magnitude of the task facing us we realized that the two camps could not, on their own, continue to sustain these operations indefinitely and access to Private and Public support would be badly needed if we were to survive and be effective. To that end it was decided to establish a Trust. Four Trustees were identified and the necessary Trust Document was formalized.
The Trust’s objectives include, but are not limited to the following areas:
To assist the Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Mangement Authority and its successors or assigns in preserving the fish population and wildlife including elephant populations in the greater Lake Kariba area, with particular focus on the Matusadona National Park , for the benefit of the citizens of the republic of Zimbabwe in perpetuity;
Mobilising resources for aquatic wildlife conservation, including but not limited to law enforcement and protected area management;
Planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating aquatic/ wildlife conservation projects in the Kariba area of Zimbabwe with particular emphasis on eradicating elephant and fish poaching, illegal fishing activities and related illegal activities;
Developing and maintaining infrastructures and systems for efficient and effective aquatic wildlife and protected area management;
Elephant and fish population management;
Engagement and participation of communities adjoining the Matusadona area in the planning and development of elephant conservation programmes / projects;
Human – wildlife conflict mitigation programmes;
Aquatic wildlife conservation research;
Promotion of aquatic conservation education and awareness;
Elephant wildlife conservation research.
Our Area of Operations
Our primary focus is the MATUSADONA NATIONAL PARK, although our operations often extend well into the hinterland surrounding the Park. The Matusadona National Park is situated on the Southern shores of Lake Kariba. This Park of 338 000 acres is bounded in the south by the Omay communal lands, and the Sanyati and Ume rivers demarcate its Eastern and western boundaries respectively. It is a Park of great diversity, rugged mountains, Mopane scrubland and pristine riverine vegetation. The Matusadona National Park became a haven for the animals rescued by ‘Operation Noah’ during the flooding of the valley on completion of the dam wall and subsequent formation of Lake Kariba. It is also home to the big five although the black rhino population has been devastated by poaching and only a few of these magnificent creatures remain. It is best known for its elephant habituated to the shoreline. Water is a way of life for these mammals who can be seen dotted along the seemingly endless shoreline, enjoying a mud bath or submerging themselves in the clear and refreshing lake water. It is also renowned for large tuskers many of whom are progeny of the legendary CHURU BULL, a bull with massive ivory and once the subject of a Hollywood movie starring Clint Eastwood.
It is important to understand that MAPPS role is to provide logistical support to the law enforcement authorities, and they include the ZPWMA, the Zimbabwean Police force and their different departments. We are not the enforcers of the law but rather ‘tools’ to assist with law enforcement. Our joint operations are divided into water based and land based operations. The former deals with fish poachers who are often sources of transport and information to the more sinister land based poachers. Our land based operations focus on the effective deployment of and support to foot patrols. Together with the ZPWMA we strategize operations and with the aid of our vehicles and boats, Rangers are deployed strategically throughout the Park. Whilst ‘boots on the ground’ are essential, by far the most significant course of action that we have undertaken is that of taking the fight to the poaching community. We have worked with ZPWMA, Police and Rural District Council scouts outside the Park, manning roadblocks, conducting weapons searches and verification exercises, and reacting to information fed into our HOTLINE which is manned by the ZPWMA investigations department. The irony is that whilst elephant are the casualties of a depressed economy, so too are the lawbreakers. Our policy of rewards for information that leads to arrests has yielded, and continues to yield results. The information that is available is staggering and incredibly far reaching.
More recently we have engaged the full time services of a suitably qualified individual whose responsibility it is to receive all detainees and assist with the compilation of their dockets. For a long time we have been very successful at ‘catching the bad guys’ but not so successful at ensuring that they get their ‘just rewards’. It is absolutely crucial that the correct charges are brought against the accused and even more crucial that the entire process through the courts is monitored and reported on.
MAPP cannot report on poaching activity prior to our inception as details are vague and impossible to verify. What we can say with confidence is that we have and continue to make a difference. This is best demonstrated by the notable decline in confirmed poached elephant within the park since our inception;
2013 28 confirmed poached elephant.
2014 18 confirmed poached elephant
2015 11 confirmed poached elephant.
Our presence and actions are also very evident in the animal behaviour. When once only the tail-end of many of the plains game species could be seen as they took flight from observers, they can now be observed at close quarters as they graze or browse the Matusadona shoreline, seemingly unperturbed.
Since our inception we have, together with TTI, refurbished some of the base camps within the Park and reinstated those that were abandoned. These camps are of strategic importance as they are permanently manned and equipped with radio systems. Together with the Zambezi Society (ZAMSOC) we have undertaken major road works in an effort to make the park accessible to our patrols and hopefully increase tourist traffic which in itself is a major deterrent to poachers. Of great significance is the fact that MAPP and ZAMSOC successfully lobbied the support of SAVE THE ELEPHANTS (STE), and WILDLIFE CONSERVATION NETWORKS ELEPHANT CRISIS FUND, and through their intervention secured a new CASE TLB (Tractor-loader-back hoe) which has been hard at work restoring and repairing the internal roads. The very fact that this collaboration met the criteria for such a generous donation by STE is, we believe, an endorsement of our contribution to conservation and is a most encouraging development that this collaboration met.
Much of our work is carried on with the Minerals and Border Control Unit of the Zimbabwean Police force. We have an excellent working relationship with this department and assist them with monthly ADSL subscriptions, stationery and printers for their reports.
With other stakeholders we have jointly funded several workshops hosting members of the ZPWMA, Police, Judiciary, Rural District Councils, chiefs, headmen and Councillors. These workshops are aimed at sensitizing all to the poaching crisis, and educating all on the correct procedures when dealing with suspects.
We have where possible conducted awareness campaigns in the neighbouring communities and tried our best to sensitize them to the plight of our Natural Resources and to the penalties that accompany wildlife crimes.
Key to getting the work done is improving the morale of the National Parks rangers and station employees. Tashinga is a very remote destination. The access road is fit for 4 x 4 vehicles only and lake access, while possible, is an expensive option. There are no shops or amenities nearby. MAPP provides transport to the rangers and their families for their monthly shopping trips. We also provide them with patrol rations including fresh vegetables and protein. Facilitated by one of our donors, we have started a Chciken broiler project and supplied the base station with sufficient portable chicken houses and a 6 weekly rotation of 100 broilers. This initiative has been extremely well received. In collaboration with TTI we have improved the radio communications links within the park. This is a considerable comfort to the rangers who now know that they can contact a reliable and quick response team (MAPP) in the event of an emergency.
Our holistic efforts were recognised when MAPP was presented with THE TOURISM ACHIVERS AWARD 2015, presented by the ZIMBABWE COUNCIL FOR TOURISM for our “Achievement in Environmental Awareness and Action. (copy of certificate)
MAPP is a non-profit-making organisation underpinned by Changa Safari Camp and Spurwing Island. The balance of the budget is derived from the fund raising initiatives of the Trustees. These include raffles, tombola’s, memorabilia (cap and ‘T’ shirt sales), and appeals to corporates and individuals for monthly contributions. MAPP works very closely with other wildlife protection / conservation societies like ZAMSOC (Zambezi Society), and TTI (Tashinga Trust Initiative) both of whom have contributed tremendously to our operations. The cash is managed by VIRGIN TRUST COMPANY, a local company whose directors are all former partners of Ernst and Young and Chartered Accountants in their own rights. Whilst we are extremely grateful to each and everyone who has contributed to our cause one way or another, we remain very much ‘hand to mouth’ and in desperate need of help to continue our operations. Our results speak for themselves, (see our facebook page) and we can honestly say, with further funding we can and will achieve so much more.