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ANTI-POACHING


Officer for Wilderness Safaris. The eyes of numerous crocodiles linger on a hippo carcass; nearby, an elephant bathes in mud on the shores. We pause to soak in the scene before conversation turns to the topic at hand. “I believe poaching is fuelled by three things:


corruption, greed and poverty,” says Arnold. “The people who poach, their food security isn’t as high as yours in the Western world. The cost of living is increasing, so they’re more willing to put themselves in danger to feed their families. In Zambia and Zimbabwe, you get nine years in prison for stealing a cow, but for crimes against wildlife, people are getting away with bail or community service. That’s something the DNPW is hoping to change.” Africa’s population is projected to double


in size by 2050, and with growing habitat fragmentation, habitat loss and poaching, the future for wildlife looks bleak when conservation is taken out of the equation. Effects are far-reaching: with the gene pool depleted, animals’ genetic structures are changing. But Arnold can see progress. “One solution is for tourism to be conscious


rather than voyeuristic,” he says. “Any tourism that doesn’t include locals will quickly be undermined by locals.” Wilderness Safaris, he tells me, has developed an effective model that combines conservation with park collaborations and community work. All these cogs are working together to create change that will, Arnold hopes, stick.


Tourism for change A thousand pearl black eyes are on me, unsettling my stomach. I’m in a car in the pitch black of night in Hwange National Park, having crossed the border into Zimbabwe, and we’re surrounded by a herd of buffalo. “They say buffalo look at you as if you owe


them money,” Livingstone, my guide, says. “A lone buffalo is more dangerous than an angry crowd. When they get old, they separate and parasites set in. They see humans and think we’re the cause, so they attack.” We’re not the cause of this particular problem, but we’re causing other issues: namely, climate change. “I haven’t seen the ground this dry in a long time,” Livingstone laments. In 2019, Hwange saw its worst drought in


nearly 30 years. “The Western world wants to have all these big talks about climate change, but if I ask for funding to remove snares, I’m not going to get it — it doesn’t sound sexy enough. But we need to be acting on the day-to-day issues facing conservation, away from trending topics and buzzwords, if we’re really going to address climate change and conservation on a larger scale,” Arnold tells me. He’s brought me to the Scorpion Anti-


Poaching Unit, an eight-person response team set up in 2011 to tackle increases in bushmeat and ivory poaching in Hwange National Park. The results of their efforts are notable. Columns of gnarled and rusted snares


decorate their base camp, some of the 2,500 the team have found in the park. They’ve noticed the use of snares drop massively since the project began. Now, they tend to find older snares rather than fresh ones. “The situation is currently under control,


but we can’t relax,” Tyrone, one of the Scorpions, tells me. The unit spends a lot of time telling nearby communities that keeping animals alive, rather than resorting to illegal poaching, is good for tourism, which in turn creates jobs. “It strains us, but with passion in our heart, we keep going and we try hard.” They also work with Children in the Wilderness, a programme that educates young students about conservation. “They go home and spread the message to their family and friends. It’s definitely changing perspectives,” Tyrone explains. “We’re thinking of our future leaders.


We want to see them be eco-conscious and responsible,” Moyo, head teacher at Ngamo Primary School, explains to me later. “They see the world is using up its natural resources, but we still have our wildlife here — and that’s a resource we can use. For one person to poach an animal, only they benefit from that. But to keep it alive means the whole community can build on an economy from tourism and create funding to build schools and farm crops.” The importance of conservation has never


been something locals have disregarded, as Mr Johnson, a resident in Ngamo village, argues: “Some people say our ancestors were the roots of this problem but, if you know our history, hunting bushmeat was careful and seasonal. It was only for the winter months when the meat wouldn’t rot, and they knew when these animals were breeding and gave them time in order to keep numbers high. The knowledge of conserving is within us. It was only when the white men came that they took that away; they didn’t have the same mindset and came with greed,” Mr Johnson explains. It was this style of hunting that caused


an imbalance in the ecosystem, to the point where it’s now so fragile, Mr Johnson continues to tell me. As I go to leave, Mr Johnson adds a final


comment: “The eco-safari camps here have made local people and tourists connect in a healthy way. If it wasn’t for the wildlife, we wouldn’t have tourism. And because of that we now have good schools and community development. We’re better off than any other area in Zimbabwe, so all the credit goes to our wildlife. That’s something worth saving.” Arnold tells me how it’s really about


enabling locals and giving them the tools they need. In this case, he feels, that’s investment. Money from eco-safaris, like those run by Wilderness Safaris, funds both units on the ground battling to protect wildlife and the education of future generations. “If it wasn’t for the wildlife, we wouldn’t have tourism in this area. That’s something worth saving.”


LEFT FROM TOP: A white rhino in Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe; a pangolin in Kafue National Park, Zambia. PREVIOUS SPREAD: A safari vehicle passes a pair of elephants at sunset in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia


HOW TO DO IT


AFRICA ODYSSEY and WILDERNESS SAFARIS offer two nights at Wilderness Safaris’ Shumba Camp, Zambia, and three nights at Linkwasha Camp, Zimbabwe, with a night in between at Toka Leya at Victoria Falls, from £6,200 per person. Includes all flights, transfers, game drives and activities including a tour of Victoria Falls, all-inclusive. africaodyssey.com wilderness-safaris.com


MORE INFO


zambiacarnivores.org wildernesstrust.com childreninthe wilderness.com


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