2022 Annual Report from Nick Murray, President

Bushlife Conservancy is a US based §501(c)(3) organization working closely with Bushlife Support Unit (BSU), a Zimbabwean nonprofit trust. BSU cooperates with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to conserve Mana Pools National Park and the Lower Zambezi Valley. Our conservation family has grown since 2016 when we began protecting African wildlife for future generations, and we are proud of our accomplishments.

No elephants have been poached in Mana Pools since 2019!

Anti-Poaching Patrols

By the end of 2022, Bushlife Support Unit (BSU) employed a total staff of 10 including drivers, scouts, and management. Their total monthly salaries were approximately $5,000 per month. There was a drop in staffing from 2021, so coverage in the region was slightly reduced. The reduction in staff was due to additional hiring of individuals who had lost their jobs during the early stages of COVID in 2020. As the economy improved, they returned to their prior employment in 2022. BC donors provided funding for BSU to pay staff during the time of widespread COVID, and, as a result, we were able to increase our coverage of the National Park and surrounding protected areas.

Chitangazuva Base

In 2022, we put a lot of time and effort into the southern boundary of Mana Pools. We will complete the construction of the permanent base at the boundary, called Chitangazuva, next year. By performing patrols along the boundary of Mana Pools, we have effectively stopped the following: the snaring of wildlife; a major illegal logging operation; and the poaching of wild dogs. We have also decreased the number of incursions into the area for the purpose of gold panning.

This base has proven to be a useful location to implement our community work, which includes conducting our conservation clubs in local schools and managing human wildlife conflict (HWC). Our aim is to bring a conservation focus, including a better understanding of natural resources management as it relates to wildlife. We are working with eleven schools located along the boundary of the National Park.

Paid Informant System

One of our major 2022 successes resulted from our paid informant system. Based on a tip leading to capture, a notorious elephant poacher was arrested and sentenced to 18 years in jail. This poacher had operated throughout the Lower Zambezi Valley including Mana, Chewore, and Marongora areas for many years and had been on the most wanted list for a long time.

Working with Zimparks

By year’s end, we signed a detailed agreement with Zimparks that covers our work for the next 7 years. Prior to this agreement in 2022, we stopped operating in Nyakasanga and Rifa. Five elephants were poached in this area in 2022. We have since been asked by Zimparks to resume our operations in this important geographical area. Although it is not part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, it is on the Mana Pools National Park western border. On the Zambian side, opposite this area, there are large settlements that poachers infiltrate. After poaching an elephant, they disappear into the populated area of Zambia, making capture and arrest difficult.

Another operational problem we faced in 2022 was the continued lack of armed rangers provided by National Parks. Zimparks has been severely understaffed for many years. Our BSU staff helped to boost the number of individuals patrolling the region by providing manpower and resources to assist the Zimpark rangers. At current staffing numbers, we add an additional 25 percent of staff to the Parks employment quota.

Tourism development is a problem in the floodplain area along the Zambezi River of Mana Pools. There have been additional camps added to an already saturated area. For example, the size of the Bushlife Safaris concession was reduced by 90 percent in 2022 and two additional camps were added to that area. Lease fees for Mana Pools camps have also increased by 135 percent since the beginning of COVID. On the positive side, some of the new camps, located in remote areas away from the Zambezi River, are extra eyes for anti-poaching where there has been little coverage for years. Over the long term, this camp development strategy will contribute to problems in the future as boreholes are drilled and water holes are pumped, leading to a redistribution of game in the area.

Wildlife and Wild Lands

Aerial game counts by Flying for Wildlife (FFW) now indicate that the number of elephants was lower than the Great Elephant Census of 2014 depicted. The Zambezi Valley was estimated to have 12,000 elephants, when actual figures may have been as low as 9,000. Indicators show that a 50 percent loss in elephants has occurred. Since 2014, poaching has been curbed in Mana, and we have not had an elephant poached since 2019. The elephants are breeding well and there is a good crop of calves each year, which will eventually boost overall numbers.

Lion numbers are still high in the Valley, and this is impacting several other species, including the African wild dog population. We have seen an 80 percent drop in wild dog numbers along the Zambezi River over the past 4 years in Mana Pools. The high lion numbers impact the buffalo population dramatically as well. Even elephant calves are taken by lions.

Attention is being drawn to the amount of land encroachment by humans into wildlife areas. In particular, the Communal Land areas along the southern boundary of Mana Pools now support large tracts of settlements. These land issues will need to be addressed eventually.

Nick Murray, President
Bushlife Conservancy

Nick Murray and Tusker