2019 Annual Report
Highlighted in this report are last year’s accomplishments, which were achieved thanks to the generosity of our donors and friends of Bushlife Conservancy (BC, the U.S. nonprofit), and Bushlife Support Unit Trust, (BSUT, the Zimbabwean nonprofit). Bushlife Conservancy makes grants for projects implemented by BSUT in the Zambezi Valley. This includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mana Pools National Park. This successful funding relationship, that began in 2016, has allowed BSUT to develop a strong collaborative alliance with Zimbabwe National Parks (Zimparks) in enforcing anti-poaching efforts and promoting the conservation of natural resources.
When BSUT began in 2015, the goal was to STOP elephant poaching in Mana Pools and the surrounding Zambezi Valley. Up until that time, an elephant a day was being poached. Since that time, we have worked diligently to decrease this number by supporting the presence of anti-poaching rangers in the area. This has been a successful strategy. In 2019, we lost three elephants out of a total population of 3,000 in Mana Pools National Park, one every 120 days or 0.001% of the population. We are getting very close to our goal of 0% elephants poached. This result is primarily due to an intensive 365 days of the year ‘boots on the ground’ presence by Zimparks Rangers, made possible by BSUT vehicles and driver support. At any one time, we have 3 to 5 vehicles patrolling and deploying National Park Rangers in Mana Pools and the surrounding Zambezi Valley. We also have maintained a permanent presence at two remote bases in Mana Pools, namely Kanga in the west and Mazunga in the south. In 2019, a total of 36,137 kilometers were driven across the Zambezi landscape, deploying an accumulated 1,768 Park Rangers on patrol. BSUT supplements the Park Rangers’ rations while on patrol with mealie meal, kapenta, sugar beans, tea, flour, sugar, salt, cooking oil and other essentials.
In order to achieve better coverage of the Park , BSUT completes approximately two months of road work early in each season. This involves renting a TLB machine (backhoe) from Harare and hiring 10 laborers who camp out in the bush. New roads are built with our crew and a Park Ranger. This presence and activity in remote areas of the Park is a deterrent to poachers. This year’s road building team also found the remains of poachers’ camps and old carcasses of elephants not previously identified. We now can report improved access into an area that has attracted poachers in the past. In the photo below, you can see the 16 gold panners who were arrested in a remote area where no roads currently exist.
BSUT commenced river patrols with three boats. As a result of these river patrols, fishing twine was removed, 2 fish poachers were arrested, and 2 dugout canoes were destroyed.
Our intelligence officer was awarded top Investigator for Zimbabwe by the Director General in October of 2019. He has been working well with informers on the Park boundaries. On at least three occasions poachers were ambushed at their entry points into the Park using intelligence gathered by informers. This is obviously an effective way to prevent poaching. If they can’t get into the Park, they can’t poach. Other information gleaned from informers resulted in the following:
- three live pangolins recovered and four individuals arrested
- five fishing vessels confiscated in the Kariba area
- bush meat poachers arrested
- individuals arrested for illegal possession of 7.62 ammunition in the local community
- one poacher killed in a contact situation and a .375 rifle recovered
- one large tusk recovered and two arrested
- two arrested for shooting an elephant, bags of meat were recovered but no ivory was recovered due to its small size
It requires significant resources and time to maintain our vehicles in operating order.
Our list of vehicles includes:
- three boats
- seven land cruisers for anti-poaching and research
- two SUV’s for intelligence operations
- two vehicles in Harare responsible for providing spare parts, food, fuel and supplies
We have a team of mechanics who work on site in Mana Pools on the vehicles. Occasionally, we have to outsource major repairs.
BSUT has entered another Zimparks initiative, The Mana Pools Carnivore Project. The permit for the project was secured in the latter part of 2019, and the project will commence in early 2020. We intend to collar 5 of each species: lion, leopard and hyena. Cheetahs are also included in the permit.
Our elephant collaring project went smoothly in 2019. We managed to collar three iconic bull elephant and two cows. In 2020, we intend to collar another five elephants for the project. We collar iconic “trophy” bulls to offer them extra protection when they leave the Park and enter adjacent hunting areas. We also plan to monitor the movements of these trophy bulls and compare their activities to the activities of cows and younger bulls.
During 2019, Zimparks started engaging with the surrounding communities. BSUT facilitated three initial meetings with the local chiefs, as well as the inauguration of a young chief at Kazangarare. The goal is to build relationships with the villagers so they stop poaching. In order to do this, we are looking at various projects that can help the community and negate the need to poach. Projects include borehole drilling, irrigation projects, livestock rearing, improvements to schools, and a young ranger club. We are closely looking at human-wildlife conflicts and working toward solutions in this area.
Apart from the provision of food for Rangers, $8,000 worth of medical supplies were donated to the Mana Pools Clinic by a team accompanying one of our BC board members visiting Mana Pools.
Aerial Survey- not completed
We looked at doing an aerial survey to conduct an elephant count. We were told by Zimparks, however, that a count was being funded by GEF 6 ( Global Environment Fund ). Unfortunately, this count did not take place. We are hopeful that we can do this at a later date to obtain a more accurate count of our elephants and identify a population trend.
BSUT undertook a feeding program in 2019 in response to the severe drought that hit the area. We trucked in 160 tonnes of grass from 500 kilometers away. This feeding was done over a 4-month period. The area we supplemented with feed had a zero elephant mortality count. Total known elephant mortalities were 40 due to the drought.
Plans for 2020
We look forward to a productive year in conservation in the Valley. The projects we would like to undertake this year include:
- Continued boots on the ground patrolling the valley and the escarpment region
- Installation of two new remote bases and improvements in old bases
- River patrols – we hope to have two boats out at any one time
- Carnivore project – collaring and research
- Elephant project – collaring and research
- Community projects implemented as identified in this report
- Road works – continue with further road development, especially in the far south
- BSUT “tracker” unit
- Park rangers seconded to BSUT
- Firearms training programs
Bushlife Conservancy (President)
Bushlife Support Unit (Chairman)