We are starting off the year with a record 62 elephant tusks seized up until March 31, compared to 90 for the whole of last year, and 148 poachers arrested for a variety of offences.
The poachers have been arrested for crimes in the wildlife areas patrolled by the Akashinga rangers in the Zambezi Valley, in northern Zimbabwe, and also through our investigations work which supports and drives the operations.
The 62 elephant tusks were recovered in 19 separate ivory operations through our investigations and 37 arrests were made in relation to these.
While it is often difficult to determine exactly when the ivory was poached, there was evidence some had been taken in the past few months, but some may also be older stockpiles, perhaps unable to be exported due to the Covid lockdown.
Also with the travel restrictions, there are a lot less tourists, guides, vehicles and boots on the ground in the wildlife areas, and therefore poachers could be facing less resistance to getting in and killing animals.
This obviously does not affect our concessions as we are not based on a tourism model - but it does affect areas that rely on tourism for funding.
If we had accurate information with regard to exactly when the ivory was poached then we could say what the poaching levels are doing, but all we’ve got to go on is our recovery rate.
So while more tusks are being recovered, it could be directly related to the poaching rate, but it was impossible to say for sure.
In addition to the elephant tusks, in January, three live pangolins, which are listed as a vulnerable species, were recovered. They are trafficked for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicines, and their meat, which is a delicacy in some Asian countries.
Five weapons have also been recovered in the year to March 31, as well as five animal skins (two kudu, one leopard, one lion and a crocodile), nine pairs of fake rhino horn and in a narcotics operation, cannabis and whole plants seized. This brought the total of poachers arrested during the first three months of 2021 through the IAPF’s investigations work to 58.
Meanwhile, in Binga and Hurungwe, two very different landscapes patrolled by the Akashinga rangers there’s been a decline in wildlife crimes indicating it is being brought under control, which is encouraging.
At Hurungwe, which includes the Phundundu and Nyaodza wildlife areas, poaching offences have been dominated by bush meat and logging, while at Binga, where the Songo wildlife area is, illegal fishing is the main concern.
At Songo large numbers of spur-winged geese and comb ducks, a few buffalo and many elephants have been back congregating on the floodplain, while small herds of impala have also been sighted, in an encouraging sign the wildlife is starting to feel safe.
Working alongside local authorities, we have been involved in the arrest of 65 poachers, while 237km of illegal commercial fishing nets have been destroyed, more than 5 tons of fish impounded, and 95 vessels confiscated. One poached impala was also found.
In Hurungwe, 25 arrests were made – one was a bushmeat operation involving several species of wildlife, while the remainder were for illegal logging, gold panning, trespassing and the cultivation of cannabis. A total of 24 wire snares were also removed, and three groups poaching with dogs encountered.
In Phundundu, rangers on patrol have reported sighting lion, python, buffalo, eland, duiker, kudu, zebra and warthog over recent months.
The Akashinga rangers began patrols in 2017, and by the end of 2019 their efforts had helped drive an 80% downturn in elephant poaching in the mid to lower Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe.
This area, which is home to one of the largest remaining elephant populations on earth, had lost 8,000 to poaching in the 16 years prior to the program commencing.
There is much work to be done but our team is out there fighting for conservation, everyday.