Quick collaborative action averts an ecological disaster near Bumi Hills, Lake Kariba

Bumi Hills Foundation • 21 May 2018

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Thanks to quick action by staff of Musango Island Safari Camp and the Bumi Hills Anti-poaching Unit (BHAPU), working with ZimParks and the security forces, a potential ecological disaster was averted in early May 2018 in the Bumi Hills area west of the Matusadona National Park, Lake Kariba.

The Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit reports:-

"On the 29 April 2018, at approximately 1500 hours, we received a report from Musango Safari Camp staff about suspicious looking piles of coarse salt they had observed on the mainland near their camp.

We immediately deployed a joint patrol consisting of BHAPU, National Parks and Zimbabwe National Army details to the affected area and confirmed three sites where salt had been placed along strategic elephant paths and near the remnants of drying water natural pans. These surprisingly had been placed very close to the main access road into the area and were easily seen.

All of the suspicious material was carefully collected, including a large portion of the soil surrounding each site, in an effort to limit any potential further contamination. Samples of the substance were sent to the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust for analysis. The test results came back by verbal communication the next day, confirming our suspicions that it was indeed cyanide, in a very concentrated form. Additional soil and other substrate around the sites was recovered and incinerated. Additional patrols were deployed to recce the area for any further possible poison sites and ambushes were laid on all the roads leading into the area in case the perpetrators returned.

On the 02 May 2018, we again received a report from Musango Safari Camp indicating that they had just located a dead elephant cow. We re-positioned the deployed units to the crime scene where the carcass of an elephant female was located.

Further inspection revealed that she was lactating at the time of death suggesting that we would also be dealing with an orphaned calf. The bloating and decomposition of the carcass suggested that the animal had been deceased for approximately 48 hours. A further cyanide poison site was located right underneath the carcass highlighting how powerful this deadly poison is. 

A patrol team was posted at the scene overnight to guard the carcass from any predators and scavengers feeding on the dead elephant, thereby accelerating the potential for secondary contamination. The following morning the ivory was recovered and the decision was made to cremate the carcass to neutralise the deadly effects of the cyanide poison.

Thanks to the early detection by Musango Safari Camp and the quick reactions of the combined details based at Bumi Hills Foundation, who risked their own lives by securing the poison sites and the carcass, a potentially major ecological crisis has been averted."

This incident highlights how vulnerable Zimbabwe's wild areas really are.  This is the first known poisoning incident in the area (although there have been others elsewhere in Zimbabwe -  near Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks).  It  requires both tourism and conservation organisations working in the Lake Kariba areas to up their vigilance and tactics in protecting the precious wildlife resources of the area.

Investigations in this case are ongoing. The BHAPU team has located the orphaned elephant calf's tracks, and it appears to have re-joined its natal herd.  This is good news, and hopefully it will survive.  

If you would like to assist with a donation towards the incredibly valuable work that the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit does in the area, please do so via their funding organisation, Bumi Hills Foundation.

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