By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, March 02, 2016 – The Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) arrested 300 poachers and three ivory dealers last year as wildlife crimes continue to soar across the country.
Charles Brightman, the VFAPU head of operations, said the dealers, all of them from the resort town, were caught in January last year with nearly 10kg of elephant tusks during undercover operations.
The dealers were sentenced to nine years in jail each for the offences.
“VFAPU assists and funds a number of these types of operations each year,” he said in a statement.
“VFAPU helped in several cases where poachers were arrested for possession of cyanide, weapons and tusks.
“Recently a pangolin was rescued from two men attempting to sell it, and VFAPU assisted in this success.”
VFAPU said most of the poachers were after game meat for sale and animals such as baboons were the worst affected.
“Of the more than 300 poachers caught by VFAPU last year, 12 were mammal poachers, with the illegal bush meat trade – which results in 3.5 million tonnes of wildlife being consumed in central and southern Africa each year – an area of great concern,” Brightman said.
“Four warthogs, three impala, two baboons, a zebra, a buffalo and a kudu were poached within the resort town,” he said.
Brightman said in one incident, VFAPU scouts located a buffalo that had been slaughtered in the Chamabondo area and they tracked the spoor to a house in one of the Victoria Falls suburbs.
“A trap was set and two men were apprehended with fresh meat from the buffalo. They were recently sentenced to six months in jail,” he added.
“A number of successful ambushes set at snare lines or carcasses resulted in bush meat poachers being chased down and apprehended.”
He said they had been able to save a large number of kudus and some warthogs injured in poachers’ snares by darting, treating and releasing them back to the wild.
VFUPU started operations in 1999, saving 183 animals from a slow, painful death and removing 22 000 wire snares, including 183 last year alone.
Brightman said wood poaching remained a major problem in the area, with 321poachers caught last year and prosecuted.
“Many people enter State protected areas to collect firewood, and while some is collected for personal use, the majority of wood taken is sold for profit to communities in and around Victoria Falls,” he said.
He said they had found more than 50 land mines used during the liberation war within the Zambezi National Park, and the Zimbabwe National Army was called in to dispose of the them.
“VFAPU’s successes wouldn’t be possible without joining forces with government authorities and working together, as well as public support – every donation, no matter how small helps,” Brightman added.
“I urge everyone to support anti-poaching efforts wherever they can.”
VFAPU, founded by Brightman, a local conservationist and safari operator, and hospitality group Africa Albida Tourism’s flagship property Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, fights all forms of poaching, and relies on donations to survive.
The unit, which employs 17 scouts, works closely with the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and police.
Africa Albida Tourism chief executive Ross Kennedy said the contribution that VFAPU made to Victoria Falls community, tourism industry and surrounding area was immeasurable.
“No one should take for granted the dedication and commitment, hard work and passion displayed 365 days a year by Charles and the scouts,” Kennedy said.
“VFAPU needs more, and regular, funding commitments from the Victoria Falls tourism industry, and, indeed, all who care for our wildlife and conservation, as VFAPU’s work and success is a beacon of positive change.”