2 April 2020 – Wilderness Safaris’ Sustainability Fund has allocated urgent funds necessary to ensure that Hwange’s Scorpion Anti-Poaching Unit can continue to operate for the next eight months, despite the current global tourism challenges. With Zimbabwe currently on Covid-19-related lockdown, Wilderness Safaris commends the country’s government for the progressive step of including wildlife security as an essential service. The funds will therefore ensure that the team, which includes Hwange National Park rangers, is able to maintain its crucial year-round presence within the park, which is vital in the fight against poaching.
“As we all face the uncertain ramifications of what the Coronavirus (COVID-19) will mean to our global family and the travel industry, Wilderness Safaris realises the importance of continuing to support conservation, and one such project is the Scorpion Anti-Poaching Unit’s (SAPU‘s) essential work in Hwange. Wilderness Safaris has been logistically involved in supporting SAPU since 2012, taking over the operations of the unit in 2015, whilst still operating in partnership with and under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA). In December 2019, the Wilderness Safaris Group Sustainability Fund allocated additional resources to build new accommodation for the team at their base on our concession. However, with the drop-off in tourism revenue as a result of COVID-19, our Zimbabwe business is now struggling to cover our usual contribution to the operating costs of the team. We’ve therefore decided to repurpose the accommodation funding to ensure the Scorpions are able to continue their vital work in this difficult time”, comments Arnold Tshipa, Wilderness Safaris Zambezi Environmental Officer.
“As the largest national park in Zimbabwe, Hwange is a significant tourism asset to the country and we will do what we can to help preserve it, ensuring that we always have eyes on the ground to curb poaching in the area”, continues Arnold.
Increasing their range significantly, in 2019 the Scorpion team covered more than 2 203 km of ground through 273 patrols on foot, while a further 191 vehicle patrols covered more than 5 448 km. The team also removed a total of 203 snares and made five arrests. To date, SAPU has removed 2 395 snares during 1 397 patrols.
“Given Hwange’s vast size, it is a constant challenge to cover this large area during patrols; however, the unit’s 44% increase in foot patrols and 63% in vehicle patrols last year has had a notable impact on the population and diversity of species. However, there is much more work to be done in ensuring that this park is still able to positively contribute to the country’s economy in the future. We will continue to work closely with SAPU, providing guidance, expertise and resources for the protection of the precious fauna and flora of Hwange, and we trust our guests will join us in our efforts to help sustain this important conservation work”, Arnold adds.
However, as Wilderness Safaris Group Sustainability Manager, Neil Midlane, notes: “In these unprecedented times, the conservation value of people travelling to our camps becomes all the more clear. Our Wilderness Safaris operations rely on tourism revenue to support their conservation work and at a Group level, our Sustainability Fund is capitalised from an internal bed levy. Without guests staying with us to experience Africa’s most extraordinary wilderness areas, our ability to fund their ongoing protection will erode fast”.
It is thus vital that Wilderness Safaris continues to work closely with its conservation partners, including ZPWMA and Panthera, to ensure SAPU has the manpower and resources required to remove snares and arrest poachers in the boundary regions of the park.