Tourism and Conservation - hand in hand

Wild Zambezi & travel network partners • 6 March 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on tourism worldwide.  But here in the Zambezi region, it has brought one reality sharply into focus over the past year – the interdependence of wildlife tourism and conservation.

Travellers from all over the world seek out the wildernesses of the Zambezi for a safari experience that is unique and extraordinary. But in order for their expectations to be met, huge efforts and resources are required to ensure that these landscapes and ecosystems and the wildlife they support remain healthy and carefully-balanced.   Nature, of course, plays her all-important role.  But sometimes this is not enough.

The impact of human tourism on a landscape like the Zambezi Valley should not be underestimated. Sometimes it’s good:  tourism revenues can contribute significantly to conservation efforts (if appropriately channelled), and the presence of active safari operations in wild areas can be a strong deterrent against wildlife poaching.  

But sometimes it’s not so good:  too many visitors (and associated infrastructure, support staff, vehicles, boats etc) can play havoc with the natural environment, creating pollution and erosion, damaging habitats and interfering adversely with the normal behaviour patterns of wild animals.  

Also… too much dependency on tourism revenues by National Park authorities can have dire consequences if tourism suddenly collapses (as it has done in the past year), resulting in a catastrophic reduction in levels of wildlife and habitat protection.  Where wildlife areas are left unpatrolled, the poachers move in…

We are fortunate, in the Zambezi region, to have a number of highly committed and passionate private-sector conservation organisations who devote their energies and hard-won funding resources to assisting Zimbabwe’s National Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) with protecting the valuable wildlife and wildernesses that tourism depends on. 

(See a list of these at the end of this article).

Many tourism outfits and operators show similar commitment.  It’s not easy for them under the current circumstances…. but they do.  And their determination to help is not just about securing their own livelihoods – but is born of a deep respect and passion for their National Heritage.

This month, Wild Zambezi celebrates all those whose conservation activities are helping to safeguard the Zambezi region’s precious wildlife and wilderness resources while tourism is forced to keep its distance.   
We have asked them to share their stories.

We hope that these will inspire your appreciation and support, and strengthen your determination to visit our beautiful Zambezi areas when you can. 

 

MANA POOLS

CAMP MANA - a commitment to conservation

Sunpath Safaris has a long history of commitment to conservation in Mana Pools which started with our founder Craig Chittenden and his work with game counts, solid waste management etc. More recently since the establishment of Camp Mana and during the devastating drought of 2019 we were very involved in orphan elephant rescue, extricating various species from the mud and distribution of emergency food for the starving herbivores of Mana Pools.

When COVID 19 struck and tourism ceased overnight, we realized that as tough as it is for camp management, circumstances were even more dire for the Mana Pools anti-poaching unit and our staff, all of whom are dependent on revenue from visitors to Mana Pools.

We therefore initiated a project to generate some emergency support for these beneficiaries. The project involved the production of mini-documentaries which are distributed to sponsors for a very small fee. The mini-documentaries all deal with wildlife and conservation and have been very well received. The funds generated in this way are funneled through the Zambezi Society to help support the Mana Pools anti-poaching unit as well as a contribution to the currently unemployed staff of Camp Mana.

This small project has taught us greater respect for video editors, has provided entertainment for our patrons and has generated much needed and gratefully received funds for those most affected by the evaporation of tourism during the past 14 months.
This project will continue into the future, with the Mana Pools anti-poaching unit becoming the primary beneficiary.

We would be delighted to receive more patrons and more information can be found at www.patreon.com/SteveBolnick

For an idea of the impact of our work please have a look at https://youtu.be/rtrYFwv3Rdk

 

ZAMBEZI CRUISE & SAFARIS - playing a role in support of conservation 

It is well known that deep respect and passion for Zimbabwe’s pristine wilderness helps to safeguard the Zambezi region’s wildlife. At Zambezi Cruise and Safaris, we understand that each season has distinct features including this “Covid-19” season which has temporarily turned the World upside down. 

For more than a year, visitors have been forced to stay away from this wildlife-rich region but the threats to wildlife have not!  And, while the tourists have been away, life has continued in the Zambezi Valley, with Zambezi Cruise & Safaris playing a role in helping with the wildlife conservation efforts in the Mana Pools National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

We are particularly proud to have accommodated management delegates from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) at our Mana Pools Safari Lodge, when a young elephant with a broken leg needed assistance and care. We were deeply moved when the park officials included us to help track and identify the suffering gentle giant. The animal was subsequently darted, and its problem leg was successfully treated. 

Zambezi Cruise & Safaris also provided ZimParks with diesel and extra vehicles to conduct anti-poaching operations. Reports of poaching have been on the increase in other wildlife-rich regions so the park authorities needed requisite provisions to effectively defend the Mana Sanctuary. Our wildlife guides in Mana Pools participated in anti-poaching activities, helping to make sure the animals will still be there when tourists return. 

Only a year before, we had kept ourselves busy by providing supplementary feeding for the wildlife in Mana Pools, which was severely affected as the land dried up during an extended dry period leading up to the rains. Amid heartbreaking scenes, herds of animals, especially the elephants, crowded around trucks bringing in supplementary fodder (harvested grass). It was an uplifting experience. 

Zambezi Cruise & Safaris will continue to play a role in this ever-evolving conservation story.

 

ZAMBEZI RIVER/CHIRUNDU

TIGER SAFARIS - Catch & Release fishing policy has been a game-changer

Tiger Safaris is one of the oldest camps on the lower section of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, having been established in the 1980s.

Our core business has always been Tigerfishing.
For many years tiger were in abundance and most anglers liked to take their catch home with them (sadly most of us were guilty of this). Due to the 'take home policy' over the years, we started to notice that the numbers of fish caught were dwindling dramatically and big fish were becoming few and far between.

As a result, about 8 years ago we decided to introduce a 'Catch and Release' policy. Initially there was resistance from a lot of anglers, but as time has gone on, more and more people have started to see the benefits of the policy. 

Through educating our guides and communicating our policy to our clients we can proudly now say that we estimate over 90 % of tiger fish caught on our boats are successfully released throughout the year, not just during the spawning period.

We are now starting to reap the rewards of the policy. A few years ago a tiger over 6kg was considered a big fish. Since November last year we have had 3 over 10 kg ( the biggest weighing in at 10.6 kg ), with many over 9kg.  Catches of over 8 kg are now a fairly regular occurance during the rainy season (Dec - April). 

Not only are we seeing bigger fish caught but numbers have dramatically increased as well, as witnessed by so many of our clients over the past few months. 

This is not only a result of Tiger Safaris' 'Catch and Release' policy, but a joint effort with most other camps along this stretch of the Zambezi River.

We can safely now say that the tiger fish stocks in the river,  below Kariba Dam, are in a much healthier state than they were 8 years ago due to catch and release.
 

 

LAKE KARIBA

MUSANGO SAFARI CAMP - conservation is the priority

How many of you know the meaning of Musango - the name we chose for our wonderful island, a piece of Paradise on the shores of Lake Kariba adjacent to the majestic Matusadona National Park?  

Musango quite aptly means “In the Bush”, far from the maddening crowd and blessed with an abundance of wildlife, birdlife, and fish.

To maintain this natural biodiversity right on our doorstep has required an immense amount of conservation planning and strategy, which we at Musango Safari Camp are very proud to have achieved.

In addition to assisting local anti-poaching units, we carry out our own anti-poaching patrols, soil conservation, tree planting, litter and pollution collection, snare removal and wildlife rehabilitation.  We also help to educate local school children in conservation, and assist AIDS orphans through school and eventually to university. As a result of these activities, Musango has earned a gratifying reputation from the local community and the tourism sector.

We work hand in hand with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (BHAPU) and Africa Parks, who have recently taken over the running of the Matusadona National Park.

Although the main aim and thrust of our business is tourism, without significant partnerships with our local traditional leaders and community, our wildlife would be doomed to extinction, and thereby preclude any chance of successful tourism.  

In our area, the local community have become the custodians of our wildlife and help immensely in the policing of the area. Musango Safari Camp, in turn, has helped to build a school, a community centre, a church, supplied boreholes for fresh drinking water, donated sewing machines and cloth material to make school uniforms, supplied books and stationery for the schools, medical supplies and medical journals for the health workers, transport for the committee and elders for council meetings, transport for sick, elderly and badly injured villagers etc.  The list goes on. 

We are proud in the knowledge that all of this benefits both the local community and the wildlife-rich Paradise that we all live in and share.
 

RHINO SAFARI CAMP - keeping the environmental footprint as light as possible

The morning's collection of rubbish that drifts in on the shorelines of Lake Kariba is an ongoing daily job at Rhino Safari Camp, in the Matusadona National Park.  We have all become quite fanatical about it...

We are determined to keep our environment free of plastic ..and hopefully slow the absorption of the dreaded microplastics into our ecosystems, and protect our precious wild animals and birdlife from harm.

The rubbish depicted in the photos above reaches our shores from Zambia, from passing boats, Kapenta rishing rigs, and nearby fishing co-operatives.  It comes, possibly as a result of a lack of disposal facilities, but also due to lack of education as to the damage this can do to the environment, short, medium and long term. 

Peter Tetlow, who built Rhino Safari Camp in the 1990s, designed it to be as environmentally friendly as possible. We have not tamed the natural woodland (known as Jesse bush) in which the camp is built. We do not discharge effluent into the lake. We provide shampoo and soap in refillable containers and remove any bottles, cans and other waste to Kariba Town for disposal. Water bottles are thoroughly cleaned and refilled with water filtered at camp. We have changed from paraffin to solar lighting and have upgraded our refrigeration from consumable gas to solar. 

Our intention is (and always has been) to keep our environmental footprint as light as possible.  We hope that at the end of their stay at our camp all our guests will have benefited from spending time away, free from the excesses of human habitation, and surrounded only by the sights and sounds of nature, its wildlife and the vast waters of Lake Kariba.

 

VICTORIA FALLS

AFRICA ALBIDA TOURISM  - continuing to support wildlife conservation in challenging times

The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) has worked tirelessly with limited resources to preserve the wildlife and natural habitat of Zimbabwe’s top tourist destination for more than 20 years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a conservation crisis.

The unit, co-founded in 1999 by Africa Albida Tourism’s (AAT) flagship property Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and safari operator and conservationist Charles Brightman, is grappling with a surge in poaching combined with a reduction in funding to operate.  

Brightman says no tourism means no income for the Victoria Falls economy, which means no funding for the Unit, but despite the current collapse of the tourism industry, AAT continues to support VFAPU as much as it can, albeit with limited resources.  

During these challenging times, against the odds, between March 26 and December 31, VFAPU scouts made 617 arrests, recovered 698 snares, treated six injured animals and rescued seven from snares. 

In addition, scouts discovered 186 carcasses, such as impala, buffalo and warthog, and while the cause of death was unknown for many of these, at least 60 were found to have been poached.

“Tourism impacts directly on wildlife conservation, and in addition to the current lack of funding for VFAPU, due to no safaris running there is little presence on the ground so poachers have an easier time getting by undetected,” Brightman says. 

AAT’s other wildlife conservation project which has been maintained throughout the lockdown period, is the complimentary Vulture Culture Experience at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which is a supplementary feeding program to aid the survival of these remarkable, but endangered birds. It also enables their numbers to be monitored, and raises awareness of their plight.

The daily Vulture Culture Experience, where visitors witness the spectacular sight of hundreds of vultures swooping down to feed on leftover meat scraps from the onsite restaurants, is fascinating, educational and appeals to all age groups. 

AAT works in collaboration with VulPro, a leading vulture conservation program based in South Africa, and the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust on this project, and proceeds raised through guests’ donations, a dollar added to meals at the Buffalo Bar and MaKuwa-Kuwa Restaurant, and $5 from the sale of vulture t-shirts at the Lodge’s souvenir shop, go to vulture research and awareness programs.

 

ALL AREAS

TRAVEL PORTFOLIO - official partner of Birdlife Zimbabwe: supporting conservation of endangered special (like vultures) through travel

Harare-based travel planners, Travel Portfolio, have a series of carefully-crafted travel packages for birding enthusiasts, covering a diversity of areas and avian species around Zimbabwe including the wild Zambezi areas.  A proportion of the funds from these packages go towards Birdlife Zimbabwe whose conservation activities protect birds and their habitats (especially endangered species like vultures). 

Vultures are particularly vulnerable to extinction in Africa, the reasons for their decline being varied and complex.  Poachers often poison the carcasses of animals they have killed in order to eliminate the flocking vultures whose presence in large numbers can alert law-enforcement authorities to poaching activity.  Lead-based ammunition can be lethal to vultures.  The birds are susceptible to electrocutions and collisions with power infrastructure.  They can be “harvested” for their body parts for belief-based use and they become vulnerable if their appropriate breeding and foraging habitat is destroyed.

As scavengers, vultures arguably perform some of the most important ecosystem services of all birds. By clearing away rotting carcasses and other organic waste in the environment, and by doing so much faster than any mammalian scavenger species, vultures not only prevent outbreaks of bacterial diseases such as anthrax, but also the spread of viral diseases such as rabies. 

The multi-faceted problems causing the African vulture crisis require an equally multi-faceted solution. BirdLife Zimbabwe has started with the obvious, by guarding the remaining refuges of these magnificent birds, and endeavouring to change them from places where the birds are holding fast, to places where they can thrive.

BirdLife Zimbabwe’s campaign to reduce vulture deaths involves integrating anti-poisoning Rapid Response Mechanisms, Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs) and awareness approaches  focusing on National Parks, the buffer zones around National Parks and property owners/managers within the borders of Zimbabwe and its Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) eg. the KAZA (Kavango Zambezi) Transfrontier Conservation Area - which includes Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Angola)
 

 

PRIVATE-SECTOR CONSERVATION ORGANISATIONS

Please take time to check out the extremely valuable work being carried out by the following private-sector Zimbabwean conservation organisations which assist ZimParks in protecting wildlife resources in the Zambezi Valley areas (and elsewhere)

Africa Parks (Matusadona National Park)
AWARE Trust
Birdlife Zimbabwe
Bumi Hills Foundation & Anti-Poaching Unit (BHAPU) 
Bushlife Conservancy
Flying for Wildlife (FFW)
Kariba Animal Welfare Fund Trust (KAWFT)
RIFA Conservation Education Camp
The Tashinga Initiative Trust (TTI)
The Zambezi Society (Zamsoc)
Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU)
Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust
Zambezi Elephant Fund (ZEF)
Zambezi Horse Safaris Anti-Poaching (IMPI)

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