CELEBRATING OUR WILDLIFE AND PAYING TRIBUTE TO TWO BRAVE MEN
March is significant month for The Zambezi Society. We celebrate our country’s wonderful wildlife and the rangers who protect it, and pay tribute to two brave men who lost their lives defending it.
World Wildlife Day falls on 3rd March every year. This is a time to reflect on and celebrate Zimbabwe’s extraordinarily rich diversity of wildlife, including the second highest population of elephants in the world, around 640 bird species and one of the largest, contiguous pieces of uninterrupted wilderness in Africa – the Zambezi Valley.
It is also a time to thank those whose job it is to protecting these magnificent wildlife and wilderness resources – the field rangers and officers of Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), who, in the past few years, have worked closely with local Conservation Support Organisations and the tourism industry in a sustained collaborative effort which is a unique conservation model in Africa.
Three years ago, on 13th March 2016, a tragic event took place which subsequently served as one of the catalysts of this unique collaboration. Claudio and Max Chiarelli – father and son, both committed wildlife conservationists and volunteers for The Zambezi Society, were tragically shot while helping to deploy ZimParks rangers reacting to a poaching incursion in Mana Pools National Park.
We remember Claudio and Max this week, with deep respect and honour for the ultimate sacrifice they made in defence of the Zambezi’s magnificent wildlife resources.
As we remember them, we would like their family members, especially Mrs Giuliana Chiarelli (Claudio’s widow) and their daughter, Virginia to know that in the short time that has passed since that terrible day, there has been a radical shift in the approach to anti-poaching activities in the Zambezi area.
The Zambezi Society ‘s volunteer anti-poaching initiative to support ZimParks, which Claudio and Max joined in its initial stages, has merged into a much larger and more impactful collaborative force. Its focus is guided by an adaptive Elephant Management Plan for the Zambezi Valley, headed up by ZimParks with input from Conservation Support Organisations and other stakeholders. This has built a valuable degree of trust between the public and private sector, and has received very positive feedback.
The results speak for themselves:-
A significant reduction in elephant poaching in the Zambezi Valley since 2016
A step-change upwards in wildlife crime prosecutions and successful convictions for poaching
A major improvement in collaboration and trust between public and private-sector conservation/law-enforcement authorities and organisations
The Zambezi Society is proud to have contributed significantly towards this step-change, with the following activities:-
Shortly after the Chiarelli’s tragedy, The Zambezi Society initiated a series of intensive weapons training and refresher courses for ZimParks rangers with a strong emphasis on safety of weapon handling in the field. Ten of these courses (training a total of 100 rangers) have now taken place in the Zambezi Valley, with a further 2 courses (20 rangers) run in Hwange National Park. The boost in morale and confidence that these courses have provided to ZimParks rangers in the field is quite extraordinary, and as a result, we have seen a marked upward turn in the success rate of contacts with poachers.
Intelligence-gathering and reaction
Building on successful anti-poaching intelligence work started by the Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project (MAPP) in 2015, The Zambezi Society with collaborating partners started an Illegal Wildlife Crime Initiative working closely with ZimParks and law-enforcement authorities to strengthen procedures for arrests and convictions and record and follow wildlife poaching cases to their conclusion through the courts.This initiative has been a game-changer, resulting in a major increase in poaching arrests nationwide, and a downturn in elephant poaching across the Zambezi Valley.
The Zambezi Society, with funding provided through the Zambezi Elephant Fund, has three anti-poaching deployment vehicles stationed within the Zambezi Valley areas and a new aluminium Zambezi River patrol boat. These have provided much-needed logistical support to ZimParks anti-poaching activities, resulting in greater efficiency and effectiveness. They have also provided backup assistance for remote ranger fly-camps established during rainy season months by the Bushlife Support Unit. The Zambezi Society now plans to extend this assistance, by providing custom-built, fully-equipped patrol trailers to act as mobile anti-poaching ranger bases.
Road opening and repair
In the past two years, The Zambezi Society has assisted ZimParks with improving anti-poaching access roads in the Matusadona and Mana Pools National Parks, using a TLB purchased with funds from the Elephant Crisis Fund. Old roads were re-opened and river crossings improved to allow better access especially in vulnerable and remote parts of the Park. The main Mana Pools access road was also improved to allow easier ranger deployments. The TLB was also used for road work elsewhere in the Zambezi Valley, in Chewore and Nyakasanga.
In coming years, The Zambezi Society will strengthen its collaborative relationship with ZimParks and Conservation Support Organisations. We plan to extend our anti-poaching support into vulnerable areas of the Zambezi Valley, continue our training programmes, increase our focus on ranger welfare, and expand and support our initiative to tackle wildlife crime alongside Zimbabwe’s law-enforcement authorities.
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