Project Update September 2008
Jealous and I returned from our trip to Tanzania determined to track down our local packs in Hwange. Tanzania had been an exiting diversion for the both us, though it proved to be unsuccessful. The pack that we had been asked to capture had left its den to resume a semi nomadic life style, while a second pack identified for possible capture and translocation could not be located despite considerable effort and resources such as aircraft being made available.
Back in Hwange we undertook a systematic search of the area and it soon became apparent that the Hwange dogs had not denned in 2008. This is devastating for the population and cause for real concern. We have known for some time that the packs, if you can call them that, consisted of only 2 or 3 dogs. We know that such small packs rarely raise any of their pups to adulthood, however not even breeding was a new experience for us to contemplate. There are two dogs using a territory to the east of us, another three south around Main Camp, three more further south and east again and yet another 3 south and west of us. They are all decendents of the Umtchibi pack, which consisted of 17 dogs in October 2006 and has now dissintigrated into these small units. Greg's research is helping to uncover the reasons for this and will lead to strong recommendations for National Parks Management Plans.
To the east of us is Gwayi Conservancy, an area devastated by poaching. On a recent joint exercise with National Parks and the Police, our anti poaching units recovered 600 snares. Its not just the poaching, its also the land management. Farms that once had structured management programmes, 12 or more water points and employed anti poaching units are now all but dormant. These farms are wildlife estates that once acted as a buffer for Hwange National Park. Though safari hunting was the main activity, they still provided a relatively safe and productive environment for the wildlife in general. Those days are gone and with Hwange seemingly becoming less and less of a "dog friendly" environment, we are really fighting hard.
Our anti poaching units are of course at the forefront of this fight. Their strategic deployment provides the best possible protection but the tide of poaching is relentless. The economic situation in Zimbabwe needs no more mention. It is though, the single biggest driving force behind the poaching onslaught. To stop it we would literally need an army of anti poaching scouts, which is of course not possible. So we work hard in collaboration with willing landowners, National Parks and the Police. Sweeping known hot spots for snares, making arrests and raids. Our units often move under cover of night. One unit leaves an area in the daytime, visible to all, while a second unit waits near by and move in during the night to confront the poachers. We have the funding and are in the process of recruiting plus training a third unit.
There is nothing we can do about the national economy. On a local scale we can and do employ as many people as possible. We have a development Programme, which aims to alleviate poverty by helping people to help themselves with income generating protects such as making soap and paraffin, weaving baskets from local reeds and even bee keeping to produce honey for sale. We are trying to help people develop so called Nutrional Gardens, so that they can better provide for their families. It's a considerable effort, undertaken in the most exhausting of circumstances. We will never give up.