Anti poaching …fighting back
AFRICAN CONSERVANCIES ANTI-POACHING 2015
African Conservancies was established in 2014, it’s first project was in Nyaminyami Rural District Council in the Omay Communal Land hunting area. A.C comprises Carbon Green International, the relevant Rural District Council and the relevant community in which the conservation plan falls. A trust has been formed that will include these parties as beneficieries.The primary goal of A.C was to locate a suitable area to form, build and manage a sustainable community conservation area. The Omay 1 hunting area between the Ume and Sengwa Rivers was selected as a perfect phase one. The criteria of selection includes; being communal land hunting area, fall within the C.G.I REDD+ project area.
OBJECTIVES OF AFRICAN CONSERVANCIES
The primary objective of A.C was to select an area within the REDD+ project, (stretching from Binga to Kanyemba in the communal areas) and partner the community and council. The belief in building sustainable conservation areas and in particular enabling communities to truly and directly benefit from from this sustainable utilization is at the core of this project.
The immediate goals with the Ume River Community Conservation Area were to reduce hunting offtake and reduce poaching. The hunting offtake was reduced in 2014 and in 2015. For example, 2014 saw twelve buffalo being hunted from the quota of thirty five. 2015 we will have a buffalo offtake of ten from the possible thirty five. Having done our own numbers on the ground, our offtakes are very conservative and the population increase through relocation due no pressure is clearly visible with far better trophy quality.
Anti poaching began in 2014, the six C.G.I scouts based out of Manyuli camp close to the Gokwe boundary and six scouts based out the Ume hunting camp. We decided at the close of 2014 that the anti poaching was not having enough effect on the structured elephant poaching, so in March 2015 Steve Wentzel and I decided that it needed direction and management. So beginning March, I personally came into the Omay to oversee and manage the anti poaching teams.
I immediately amalgamated the two teams and brought in Mr. Charles Khumalo to head up this new team. Charles is ex Zimbabwean National Army, a brave, dedicated leader who has commanded not only the respect of this unit, but myself and the community at large.
We started in house training incorporating weapons training, tactical house clearances, offensive tracking and building a more intense unit that could cope with a far more aggressive natured outlook to the poaching problems. This immediately began to produce results.
Our focus has been on hardened armed poachers with the theory that the snare and dog meat poachers would be dealt with in the process of eliminating the more “serious” elements.
AREA OF OPERATIONS
Though we in theory are based in the Omay communal land, our operations stretch into Gokwe, around Chizarira and Charisa and Binga. due to our operations being outside of the National Parks we predominantly operate with Police details and R.D.C scouts. Our entire unit has now been accepted as Police reservists and are awaiting their Police force numbers. It has been agreed that our unit having been accepted as reservists, will establish a dedicated reaction team within the police force that I shall train and manage.
Begining 2014 we funded the basing of James Mcallwain from MAPP out our hunting camp in Chipfudze on the Southern boundary of the Matusadona National Park. The reasoning for this was obviously to maintain the Parks presence on this boundary, which was non existent due to lack of capacity. Secondarily, James was to establish an informant network that would offer up targets for our unit to react to. This was very effective and results were immediate.
With James leaving MAPP in August 2015, the MAPP trustees unfortunately decided to move their operations back into the Park. This led to a huge information breakdown and vacuum.
August 2015 Charles Khumalo was tasked in resurrecting and bettering the information networks as reacting to shots fired is almost a pointless affair. The poaching teams shoot toward last light, fifteen minutes from shots fired, the elephants face is chopped off and they are moving.There is no way to track them fast enough to catch them up at this stage. The needle in haystack affair is almost pointless for arresting poachers. There are over one hundred and fifty square kilometers of bush to patrol, it would require an army to do this. Our first goal was to bring into operations a full time intelligence operative whome we had been grooming for this position.
The informant/intelligence network has had significant effect, we have over one hundred and twenty people on our books. Over ninety percent of our arrests have occurred and been made possible through the capturing or paying for intel. We have put in place “watchers” who monitor targets and wait for opportunity to ensure arrests have hard tangible evidence for prosecution. “Mapani” whom he was second on our priority list and pulled the trigger on the three elephant days after the Sebungwe Action Plan Meeting; was monitored for four months prior to his arrest late October. Literally we actioned the arrest when his “watcher” informed us that he had begun drinking beer with tusks and firearms still being present. After four long months, he eventually made a mistake!
Below are a list of arrests of hardened elephant poachers, I have omitted all of our lessor arrests of meat poachers.
February 7th 2015
Reaction to shots fired Matusadona southern boundary resulted in a joint op with Parks rangers with our tracker team. Poaching team ambushed and two armed poachers killed. One “John Raymond” being a casualty of this contact was fourth on our priority list. Firearm 303 recovered.
February 12th 2015
Sting operation on the Gokwe boundary resulted in the arrest of three “dealers” supplying arms and ammo to the poaching syndicates. One tusk, thirty rounds 303 and forty five 7.62 intermediate (AK 47) rounds recovered.
March 12th 2015
Contact and exchange of fire in Manyuli, no casualties but a 303 rifle recovered.
April 22nd 2015
Raid carried out on “Magura” syndicate whilst infiltrating. Arrests effected on entire team of four with recovery of 303 rifle.
April 23rd 2015
Intel from “Magura” arrests led to the arrest of “Mark Neberi” who was third on our priority list.
June 23rd 2015
“Jabu” syndicate shot and killed an elephant in the park on the late afternoon of the 22nd June. Sting operation produced 20kg tusks and an arrest. Further information led to the arrest of team members.
July 23rd 2015
Escapees from the February contact arrested and two 303 rifles recovered.
October 22nd 2015
“Mapani” second on our priority list finally cornered with seven tusks one 303 rifle and one 450 watts. His accomplice and partner “Malalanzi” could not be implicated in this arrest, remains monitored and in second place on our priority list. 375 rifle they were using has been “located” and is being monitored for uplift.
Future operations will continue in the Omay communal land, the hard hitting unit has had a serious effect on poaching syndicates. The informant network has reduced the “safety” factor for the syndicates. We are able to reach right into their homes and they have no secure areas to operate in.
The community outreach via the chiefs seems to be having an effect. Chief Negande has issued an order that anyone assisting poaching syndicates will be banished from the Omay. The subsequent banishing of two of his subjects over the last month has sent a very strong message about how serious he has become!
The upsurge in armed Zambian incursions in the lower Zambezi has us concerned with intel coming in of Zambian teams planning to operate here. The Cyanide is our major concern. Having only picked up poisoned fruit in July with no further cyanide incidents we were fairly relaxed about it. Subsequent to the MAPP arrest of the “Kariba” cyanide team, one of their members who escaped prosecution has been into our area. I am currently running a campaign in the community educating them of this problem. It is finally dawning on people that these elephant poachers will poison water sources that will not only kill elephant, but their livestock and families are at risk to.
As always, funding these operations and supplies of material are a constant battle. Carbon Green and Ume River Conservancy face the brunt of this funding with perpetual short falls. We rely on cell phones for communications, which is erratic at best! Firearms and ammunition have been supplied by me personally, again we are short if all members are in field. The idea of us tackling these teams with catapults and axes sounds ludicrous but is whats happening! So we are perpetually looking for help keeping the ball rolling.
Ume River Conservancy
13th November 2015
+263 773 211772