Thousands of elephants inhabit the Zambezi Valley, the key focus region of Akashinga’s expansion since 2017. To date, not a single elephant has been lost to poaching in any of the areas we protect during this time.
This is a track record we endeavour to maintain as we turn the tide on the decimation of wildlife and its natural habitat, which has seen the elephant population across Africa plummet to just 4 per cent of what it was a century ago, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Elephant populations are threatened by poaching for ivory, habitat loss and human conflict, with poaching in particular continuing to steer the species dangerously closer to extinction.
But, today, as we celebrate World Elephant Day, which is dedicated to the preservation and protection of elephants, signs of hope are emerging across the region we help protect.
The eight reserves being protected by IAPF fall into our operational areas of Hurungwe, which we took over four years ago as well as Binga and NyamiNyami, which we deployed to just over a year ago. The portfolio spanning from west to east is nearly 250 miles (400km) long, and home to one of the world’s largest remaining elephant populations.
All operational areas are reporting more frequent elephant sightings compared to when patrols first began, and in addition, the elephant are less skittish towards human activity.
Within two years of the all-female Akashinga ranger teams starting patrols at Phundundu Wildlife Area, their efforts had helped drive an 80 per cent downturn in elephant poaching in the Mid and Lower Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe.
Data collected from ranger patrols show that elephants are the most common large mammal species on all three of the patrolled Hurungwe reserves, with Phundundu having the largest population of an estimated 500 elephants.
Akashinga ranger Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto says: “Since we started, the population is continuing to increase and they have become friendly towards us, we are now as one family, because at first they used to run away whenever they saw us.
“In 2017 we just saw a few here and there, but now we see them almost every day. Almost every patrol we are doing now, we might not come across them directly, but we see fresh spoor and dung, signs to show they are around,” Nyaradzo says.
Not long ago, much to the surprise of staff, a herd of elephants spent almost a whole day browsing around a pan 150m away from a camp in Phundundu Wildlife Area, unconcerned about humans being so close by. This behaviour was unheard of previously.
In the dry season from April to November the elephant population in the Phundundu area increases as more arrive, drawn to our pumped waterholes, which provide year-round water and food sources well protected from bush fires through early burning exercises. But during the rainy season when there is water everywhere they scatter again.
Similarly, in the Binga patrolled areas, something unprecedented began happening – they became bold enough to enter the Lake Kariba flood plains in front of the camp in broad daylight.
Operations manager Angus Black says early last year when the IAPF arrived in Binga, which, like Hurungwe, has a history of hunting and severe poaching, the elephants were not comfortable showing themselves in the day.
“There was also initially one big herd of 70 elephants, and when they are in a big group it is a sign they’ve been hassled, but in the last four months they’ve started to split up indicating they are calming down, and feeling more secure, less threatened,” Angus says.
The elephant herds there include lots of young ones, and they are in good condition after an abundant rainy season.
If this can be achieved in the four short years since Akashinga began, we are excited about what the future holds as we expand across the country and continent, not only for elephants, but for all wildlife populations, if we all join forces to collectively support the protection of our natural world.