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Our new Wildlife Ranger Training Centre is a game-changer for regional conservation

The training centre will be fundamental in stepping up the protection of the region's precious natural resources.

June 18, 2021

Set to revolutionise the future of conservation in the region, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation’s (IAPF) new state of the art training facility at our camp in Phundundu Wildlife Area in the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe is almost completed.

A regional centre for excellence in the training of both instructors and rangers working in conservation, and capable of accommodating 100 trainees at one time, the facility is also vital to the IAPF’s expansion program.

Our expansion will see 1,000 female Akashinga rangers deployed across a network of 20 reserves under IAPF management throughout the region within the next five years, compared to 240 staff currently protecting eight nature reserves in Zimbabwe.

In addition the Kenya-based LEAD Ranger program which trains rangers from across many different conservation organisations to become instructors and leaders will expand to Zimbabwe, operating out of the new training facility later this year.

The long term plan for this training centre is that once the bulk of work has been completed towards our expansion plans, it will provide training services to other organisations across Zimbabwe and the region.

A total of 14 Zimbabwean specialist anti-poaching instructors drawn from across the country with backgrounds in organisations such as National Parks, police investigations and security have recently completed their training, and many of these will staff the facility.

Currently 75 new recruits are being trained both onsite and remotely during their six-month course to become rangers, and while some rooms still need to be finished and furnished, it is vastly superior to the open spaces and makeshift buildings their predecessors trained in.

While these recruits are expected to all have graduated by September, a new intake of an additional 50 recruits will begin their training shortly for deployment across the Zambezi Valley.

IAPF Instructor Lucsen Kapita says it has made a great difference, in that there are offices and computers now being used to deliver lessons, as well as improved accommodation and storerooms for equipment, including an armoury to store the firearms used in training.

The training centre boasts five indoor classroom areas, a lecture theatre, two office spaces, a staff room, storeroom, armoury, dining hall, sick bay, industrial kitchen, veranda, as well as standalone ablutions for men and women and a laundry room.

Akashinga ranger recruits in class at the training facility.

On the eastern side is the instructors’ tented accommodation, while the trainees are on the western side, next to the kitchen staff.

Outside the dining hall there is a concrete parade ground for the trainees’ assembly point and drills, while the entire premises are surrounded by a security fence. In addition, a 100m by 50m firing range has been built close by for weapons training.

Due to Phundundu’s remote location, it is off the grid, so the water, electricity and Wi-Fi is all powered by a solar system generously donated and Installed by Empowered by Light and SimpliPhi Power.

The donation of this equipment by these organisations has greatly enhanced the IAPF’s operations and given us the capability to accommodate many rangers at once to go through training as part of our expansion plans.

The solar system at the training centre allows Akashinga recruit Tatenda Mukono to catch up on work in the evening.

LEAD Ranger, which was co-founded by the IAPF, The Thin Green Line Foundation and Ranger Campus in 2017 after a realisation that the training model within conservation was not practical given the ongoing shortfalls in ranger skills across the continent, will be the first regional training program to begin at the facility.

The LEAD Ranger program delivers tailored training, long-term support and mentoring to develop wildlife crime-enforcement leaders and instructors from well-established organisations, who remain based in the ecosystems they are protecting.

Rangers (left) Julianna Murumbi, of Akashinga, and (right) Joseph Mwambiti, of Wildlife Works, training at LEAD Ranger in Tsavo National Park, Kenya.

To date, LEAD Ranger has trained more than 70 instructors from four countries who are responsible for over 14 million acres of African wilderness which is patrolled by 1,100 rangers.

Similarly, the LEAD Ranger program is set to expand over the next five years to have a footprint in two more regions across the continent and a goal to train rangers that collectively protect 50 million acres.

With Zimbabwe being the second new territory for LEAD Ranger as part of its expansion (Big Life Foundation in Kenya is the first next month), the recruitment process from organisations hoping to send their staff to complete courses at this training facility will begin soon.

It’s exciting that after a two-year build the IAPF’s training facility, which was made possible by Wildize Foundation, Econet Zimbabwe, Wildhood Foundation, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Re-Wild, is in use, hailing a new era for conservation in the region.