THE Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) has been instrumental in combating poaching for years. However, one of the challenges in the quest to achieve this goal has been the lack of adequate funding for equipment and personnel. This is set to change as the ZPWMA is going through a renaissance to become a 21st-Century body equipped to conserve and protect natural habitats along with wildlife that lives in them. This was revealed by ZPWMA spokesperson Tinashe Farawo (TF) in an interview with our senior business reporter, Tatira Zwinoira (TZ). Below are excerpts of the interview.
TZ: All these years you were really under-capacitated, but now it seems you are going full steam to capacitate yourselves, why now?
TF: Let me start with the issue of boats. Three years ago we lost two of our rangers to suspected poachers in Kariba Dam. They patrolled the lake and arrested some criminals, but unfortunately, they were overpowered and it speaks volumes about not having enough capacity to deal with that issue. It was a wake-up call; we had to go back to the drawing board, re-strategise, to see how best we can preserve life to protect our officers on duty.
They are doing a national duty so these boats, a donation of three boats from the German government, to us is just what the doctor ordered because they are motorised. The most important thing is that the boats were made in Bulawayo, which means they were locally made. So that Covid-19 relief fund that we got from the German government, which was implemented through KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) was a morale booster to our officers. Now, they will have their motorised boats patrolling the lake, and do a lot of law enforcement. It is not only Parks that will benefit from those boats but other law enforcement agencies like the police and the army, who do patrols on our water bodies across the country.
We are excited and happy and we ask for more support. Not only from the partners that we are working with but also from corporations. I remember seven or eight years ago Econet supported us in a big way and we look forward to more engagements, to have more corporates on board. I think it is also important to note that as the Parks and Wildlife Authority, we do not receive funding from the central government and probably we are the only Parks and Wildlife Authority, which does not receive funding from the central government, and understandably so.
Government has other social commitments like education, health, and many others so I think it is understandable for them to say ‘guys look after yourself’.
But, here is the challenge, when you have to look after yourself you are relying more on tourism, tourists coming from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. But, when Covid-19 hit, we had no source of funding. And practically, for the past two years, Victoria Falls was closed. The tourism industry was dead and was a total disaster, but now we are coming up.
The whole idea was that we did not have enough resources so when the new directorship took over at the end of 2017, under the directorship of Dr Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya we then had to come up with new methods and strategies to see how best we can come up with new partners.
That is why here in Hwange, we are working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They are helping us in a big way. We have a five-year partnership and already they have injected more than US$2 million into conservation.
TZ: Can you ascertain the extent of poaching in Zimbabwe?
TF: We have had challenges of course, for say over the last 10 years but I think we have been doing our best, trying our best, to try and contain the problem.
There are mainly two types of poachers. There are those that poach for the pot and there are commercial poachers who trade or illegally trade the product. The key animals, which are poached are elephants, rhinos and the pangolin, which is the most trafficked mammal on mother earth. Those who poach for the pot mostly use snares.
TZ: Pot? What do you mean?
TF: They kill for food. Almost every animal is in danger of being poached but commercial poachers focus more on the elephant, the rhino, and the pangolin.
TZ: Even now, is that still the case?
TF: Yes. That is still the case. And what are we doing to deal with these issues? We are doing a lot of awareness campaigns in the communities. Because, when people get into the communities, for them to poach, they need the communities for their illegal activities to succeed and if communities are not benefiting from wildlife, they will definitely harbour these poachers.
So, the best defence, best line of defence, are communities. So how do we ensure that the communities benefit? Because they must also derive some benefit from wildlife which is why we have programmes like Campfire (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources). Schools are built, clinics, hospitals, roads, and jobs are created, it helps.
But, the other poachers, for the pot and other things, are not really giving us a problem because they are the communities themselves. The number of commercial poachers has been coming down. Ten years ago up to 400 elephants were killed by poachers but the figure has come down to 20. The same applies to rhinos; the numbers have gone down too.
As we move into the future there are a lot of interventions that we have put in place. For example, we have adopted a “shoot to kill” policy. If you are found within a national park with a rifle it is non-negotiable, you will be shot. It is illegal and your intention in the park would be illegal; this has helped us a lot. Over the last three or four years we have had about 20 or 30 armed contacts with suspected poachers and over a dozen have lost their lives while some got injured.
We are also dealing with the judiciary. For example, if you are found with ivory there is a mandatory nine-year sentence and if you ask me, it is deterrent enough for rhinos, pangolins, and elephants.
TZ: So, you are telling me that you have not had any elephants being poached over the last two years?
TZ: How about other animals?
TF: Of course, we have had other animals like your impala (medium-sized antelope) and that is the poaching for the pot we were talking about. The poachers use snares in poaching for the pot but we are on the ground. We work with communities, traditional leaders, other law enforcement agencies, and rural district councils to deal with the problem.
It is not as bad as we are made to believe because the numbers keep on going down due to the policies we have adopted in dealing with this kind of problem.
TZ: You mentioned the community is your first line of defence?
TZ: It is no secret that the economy is struggling and the majority of communities are also struggling. So, when you interact with these communities, what is your pitch to them so you can partner with them to reduce the risks to wildlife?
TF: They need to appreciate the risks of wildlife. How important wildlife is to them, the economy and the country.
TZ: How do you explain that?
TF: I am getting there. For our communities to have that kind of appreciation they should see value in wildlife. They will never understand what we are saying if their relatives are killed every day; if their crops are destroyed every day, they will see these animals as pests.
How would you feel as a parent if you hear lions spending the whole night roaring knowing that the next day you want to send your child to school? You know the next day you want to send your child to herd cattle? Do you think those people will work with us? So, these are the issues we are explaining to them to say if, for example, through our programmes such as Campfire if jobs are created, schools are built, and roads are constructed they will see the value and they would definitely cooperate.
Under the directorship of Dr Mangwanya, we have created a department for community relations. It deals specifically with communities to hear their problems, and to understand how best to deal with them.
As I am speaking now, we have a legislative review on the Parks and Wildlife Act. What is it that we are doing? We want to hear from the communities what they want us to do concerning human and wildlife conflict.
We are also looking at other countries, like Botswana, which have a human/wildlife compensatory policy where. If a person loses his/her life or crops are destroyed the government compensates. We do not have such an arrangement but we are looking at where we are going to get money, number one, and how we are going to ensure that it doesn’t create problems.
In other African countries, governments are owing millions to communities, and that is not sustainable. So, it is a process that is ongoing.
Unfortunately because of Covid-19, it has been difficult for us to travel.
But, we are getting a lot of support from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), the African Wildlife Foundation, and many other organisations so that we can deal with this kind of problem.
TZ: Are you going down the route of Botswana developing a separate policy or just review the Act?
TF: We are consulting to say Botswana has a compensatory policy, what are the weaknesses and how do we deal with it. For example, if a person is killed by an elephant, life is priceless so how do we compensate for a person’s life?
If someone loses his or her crop, the entire crop, how best can we make sure that they are comfortable so that they recover?
Where are we going to get the money? I said the government at the moment does not give us anything from the fiscus so where are we going to get the money from?
As you look around, tourism is dead, so where are we going to get the money from? Those things are a discussion already underway with the victims, the people, who share the land with these animals, the people that bear the brunt of sharing borders with wildlife.