Last night at approximately 2200 hours, IAPF’s Akashinga team in Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi Valley conducted a raid as part of a two-month long intelligence-led anti-poaching operation. In conjunction with the Minerals and Border Control Unit of the Zimbabwe Police, the women arrested two suspects and confiscated a quantity of ivory.
The names of the suspects are being withheld pending trial, however they are part of a known and elusive syndicate that has been terrorising elephant populations throughout the Valley for many years. One man is a former park ranger who was allegedly shot and wounded in 2009 while poaching but escaped capture.
The other male is allegedly wanted for poaching in Matusadona National Park in 2016. He also escaped a shootout with the authorities and has been in hiding near the border of Mozambique. Both are well known to conservation circles and the authorities and both are wanted by police. It’s understood that the ivory seized was obtained through the use of cyanide, a deadly poison that has been used by poachers to cause carnage among elephant populations in Zimbabwe over the last decade.
The Akashinga team has now made over 50 arrests in the region since going operational following the completion of training in October 2017. A number of those arrests have been linked to ivory poaching and several relate to the use or supply of cyanide to kill elephants for their ivory. Commercial bushmeat poaching has also been an ongoing issue in the area and makes up a large percentage of the suspects apprehended by the team. Phundundu Wildlife Area straddles several local communities as part of the iconic Lower Zambezi ecosystem, which holds one of the largest remaining elephant populations on the African continent.
This elephant population has suffered a 40% decline since 2001, mainly due to poaching. Increased efforts in the region by a number of dedicated organisations continue to show promise, however not enough active focus is being placed on the communities. It is the communities where poachers either originate from or pass through to access the area. It is these communities that will ultimately decide the fate of the region and its wildlife. Phundundu Wildlife Area is predominantly managed and protected by women.
This is key to the success of the Akashinga team. Their work in building valuable relationships in their local community continues to bring outstanding results, helping them to collect and regularly act on information about illegal activities. Their skills continue to develop as our specialist instructors work with the team to make Akashinga one of the most robust, effective and efficient conservation models in existence. The primary strategy of Akashinga is female empowerment.
This generates the greatest leverage in family and community development and conservation becomes a direct beneficiary. The Nature Conservancy states: “A growing body of evidence suggests that empowering women is the single biggest force for positive change in the world today.” Also, the United Nations says: “When women work, they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with 35 percent for men.” IAPF’s Akashinga team will continue working as part of the local community and it is our vision that one day poaching may be a thing of the past. In the meantime, the rangers must continue the tough and dangerous job of defending these areas and their wildlife populations.