Project Update January 2007
Arguably the most significant event to take place, in the struggle against the relentless tide of poaching, since we set up the first professional anti poaching unit in 2001, occurred this month. It was named "Operation Bush Buck".
A significant aspect of our committed anti poaching effort is the development of relationships with the local authorities such as Police, National Parks and Forestry Commission. Martin Stiemer has been at the forefront of this, with his professional background proving invaluable once again. He has worked closely with our APU Supervisor, Sikhosana Sibanda, stressing the importance of building and maintaining such relationships. Sikhosana has listened well. He has liaised with these authorities over the years, on many occasions talking about the frustration of arresting the same poachers time and again.
Operation Bush Buck was born out of these numerous discussions.
On January 11th I received a letter from the Officer in Charge of Dete Police Station, outlining the operation and seeking our support. I instructed Sikhosana to attend the briefing, which was conducted on January 17th. The Officer in Charge placed a very strong emphasis on the need for secrecy.
On January 18th, Sikhosana accompanied the Officer in Charge, the Warden from Main Camp and the Supervisor from the Forestry Commission station in Dete. Their aim was to survey the targeted villages of Magoli, Mambanje, Chezhou, Chentali, Marist and Nyagara. These villages border Hwange National Park on one side and Forestry Commission land on the other. Over the years, we have arrested more poachers from these villages than any others. It was certainly time to "up the anti".
At 2am on January 19th, a combination of Police, National Parks Scouts, Forestry Commission and our APU met at the Dete Police Station and were divided into two teams of 26, before they headed for the targeted villages. Like a scene from a Hollywood movie the teams struck at first light, catching the poachers by surprise. With little, if any struggle, an impressive haul was recovered. A total of 54 people were arrested. Of these, 38 people were charged with poaching related offences. They received penalties ranging from 35 hours community service to 2 years in prison.
As stated, such an action is a considerable step towards dealing with the menace of poaching. The Officer in Charge, Dete, has pledged that he will carry out similar raids in other regions in the same manner, with utter secrecy and the necessary manpower to make the exercise a success. This action is greatly appreciated and comes at a time when we are under so much pressure as we remain as the only professionally run anti poaching unit in the region, with other initiatives, though well meaning, having come and gone. With appropriate committed support we would increase our APU effort, recognising that it is the only solution to talking the immediate threat carried by poaching to the regions wildlife recourse. Education and development programmes are essential for long term change, however they need time to work and without a concerted, professional anti poaching effort, we will run out of time.
Our thanks and sincerest appreciation goes out to the Officer in Charge, Dete, The Warden at Hwange Main Camp and the Supervisor at Forestry Commission in Dete for their help. Above all, we would like to express our gratitude to the organisations and individuals alike, who continue with their committed support of our anti poaching efforts.