Chinko, CAR: Rebel activity has increased in the areas surrounding Chinko, and our focus remains on securing the park for the protection of wildlife and local people in this volatile region. In March, rising violence resulted in a group of 240 internally displaced persons (IDPs) seeking sanctuary in the park, where they are currently being fed, cared for and protected by our rangers. These IDPs fled their homes and walked for a week seeking protection from the violence between rebel groups; and we are now seeking the support of aid groups to assist with the situation and their evacuation. Despite this volatile state, Chinko had extraordinary success in maintaining an extensive core area of 10,500km2 free from the threat of cattle and herders, a significant achievement in securing the integrity of the ecosystem. Thanks to the work done by our law enforcement team, cattle herders are now largely avoiding the Chinko area and are observing the boundaries. A replacement helicopter was deployed to Chinko bolstering our law enforcement efforts on the ground. Following the withdrawal of the Ugandan and US military who called an end to the search for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), some of our park rangers were reassigned to guard duty at headquarters to better protect the IDPs. In species monitoring, two new pods of about 23 hippopotamus were discovered; two lions were identified and large groups of eland have been selected for next month’s collaring.
Akagera, Rwanda: The translocation of the Eastern black rhinoceros from South Africa commenced on the 1st of May and has been an historic moment for Rwanda and for rhino conservation. A founder group of 18 endangered Eastern black rhinoceroses were successfully moved to Akagera after a decade-long absence in the country. A delegation of stakeholders from Isiolo County, Kenya, was hosted at the park in March to demonstrate the success of the park’s management model and its partnership with government and local communities. The site visit was extremely well-received by the group, who are in discussions with African Parks for the management of Shaba and Buffalo Springs. Three of Akagera’s rangers completed a training course in Liwonde National Park in Malawi equipping them with valuable tracking skills. The strength of our law enforcement capabilities in Akagera is evident in our track record: not one single poaching incident nor recovered snare has been recorded so far this year. In other news, the documentary, “Return of the Lion”, which tells the story of our historic reintroduction of lion in the park in 2015, premiered in Kigali and was also translated in to Kinyarwanda and aired for over 1,000 local people around the park.
Zakouma, Chad: Elephants continue to do well in Zakouma, with the park maintaining its target of zero losses to poaching for the year, and headquarters enjoying the close proximity of a large group of bulls over March and April. African Parks and the Ministry of the Environment and Fisheries met in April to review the partnership agreement following feedback on February’s performance evaluation, which delivered extremely positive results and provided recommendations. Additional training was provided to further enhance the capability of the law enforcement team; nine new rangers were recruited after graduating from a basic field ranger course in a ceremony attended by local government dignitaries in March; and a team from the US Embassy conducted first aid training for a horse patrol team and generously donated medical equipment to the park. Through the successful implementation of a memorandum of understanding with the National and Nomadic Guard of Chad (GNNT), the northern and southern sections of the park remained free from nomadic cattle herders. In our community outreach work, teachers completed training aimed at building capacity and improving environmental education for local children.
Garamba, DRC: We received tragic news of an incident involving armed poachers on the 11th of April, which claimed the lives of two rangers, Joel Meriko Ari and Sergeant Gerome Bolimola Afokao. We extend our sincerest condolences and support to their families. Despite the strides that have been made by Garamba’s law enforcement team, poaching is still a significant threat to people and wildlife in the park and sadly five elephants were poached in March and another ten were poached in April. Over this challenging period, 160 rangers underwent refresher training; 32 rapid response Mamba rangers were provided further training and 15 rangers gained valuable tracking skills. Nine arrests were made and rangers confiscated a young white-bellied pangolin, which was rehabilitated by park staff before being released back to the wild. In April, preparations were made and the collaring began of up to 40 elephants which carried over into the first week in May. Thirty-nine elephants were successfully fitted with collars, bringing to total collared and tracked to 54, enabling their long-term monitoring, a crucial component of Garamba’s species conservation strategy. An aerial census of the southern section of the park was completed, with results expected in the forthcoming weeks. Preparations are also underway for a chimpanzee monitoring project. As part of our community development, we deployed two mobile clinics to villages west of the park, where they treated 223 people, providing remote and vulnerable communities with critical access to healthcare.
Bangweulu Wetlands, Zambia: We continue to engage local Chiefdoms on the issue of encroachment in wildlife corridors. Notably, Senior Chief Kopa has requested that some encroachers vacate the important Lumbatwa corridor. Strides were made to build capacity on the law enforcement front, with four village scouts undertaking a tracking course in Liwonde National Park and five scouts selected for a 10-week basic field ranger course in Kafue National Park. Furthermore, specialised training in horseback riding has been arranged with the Mounted Unit of the Zambian Police and an additional four horses have been purchased. On the conservation front, preparations are currently underway for the translocation of hartebeest, zebra and warthog. There were good sightings of the buffalo herd, four elephants and numerous shoebills (both adult and juvenile) including one tagged bird, but water levels dropped in May making it more challenging to locate shoebills. With the seasonal fishing ban lifted and April marking the peak of the fishing season, catches have been good and a focused law enforcement programme has been initiated to curtail the wide use of detrimental and indiscriminate mosquito-net traps. With a vision of advancing sustainable livelihoods, local beekeepers have been connected to Pantry Choice of South Africa, who will buy their honey at premium prices; a business skills workshop was held at Muwele Fish Market; and the park’s conservation agriculture project has made significant progress and promises to contribute to food security in the surrounding area.
Liuwa Plain, Zambia: Despite continued rains and flooding, March and April were productive months for the park. The operations team made a substantial effort to encourage progress in the construction of King Lewanika Lodge, bringing it to near completion for its soft opening which took place on the 1st of April. The lodge, operated by our partner Time + Tide, is Liuwa’s only luxury commercial tourism offering. Scheduled flights are now being operated by Proflight between Lusaka and nearby Kalabo, which along with King Lewanika have transformed Liuwa Plain’s tourism product. With flood levels at a three-year high, the extraordinary “Kuomboka” traditional ceremony, which marks the rising floodwaters of the Zambezi river when the Lozi people escape to higher ground, occurred on the 8th of April for the first time in three years. On the law enforcement front, 12 candidates were selected to participate in a basic field ranger course organised by African Parks and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and four wildlife officers completed tracker training in Liwonde National Park. We are monitoring the developing pride dynamics of the recovering lion population, which is now up to eight healthy animals. Sepo’s cubs continue to thrive in the company of Lady Liuwa and the new Kafue male’s movements are being checked daily, while one of the younger females was seen mating with the Liuwa male in March. The hyaena and cheetah populations are also doing well, with new cubs born to two hyaena clans and previous years’ cheetah cubs remain in good condition. As flood levels started to recede in April, accessibility around the park improved and allowed the community team to re-establish outreach activities in several key areas, hosting educational classes and important meetings.
Liwonde, Malawi: We are anticipating the cheetah translocation, the first big cat reintroduction for the park, which will proceed following receipt of export permits. Although the application was delayed on a technicality, it should be resolved soon and the permits are expected to come through in May. With just a few short months to go before the start of the second phase of the historic elephant translocation, we have begun preparations for the capture camp and grading the road network. The perimeter fence is almost complete and has remained a core operational focus, particularly due to an increase in elephant break-outs credited to the ripening of irrigated crops in communities surrounding the park. Thankfully, through the collective efforts of the fencing team and community members who patrol the fence, the park’s response system has been effective in returning elephants to the park relatively quickly. This work is supported by reconnaissance flights that monitor elephant activity. Liwonde hosted an intermediate tracker training course for 25 rangers (including eight of its own) which successfully concluded in April, contributing to the regional advancement of conservation law enforcement.
Nkhotakota, Malawi: We had some encouraging developments in law enforcement in Nkhotakota over March and April. An exercise in mapping marijuana fields in the north of the reserve revealed a significant reduction in plantations since last year, and an operation successfully confiscated 260 kilograms of dried marijuana. A man who was arrested for poaching two antelopes in the park was convicted in March and sentenced to 13 years in jail, reflecting enhanced penalties in the recently amended Wildlife Act. The park continued to record good rainfall and all radio-collared animals were tracked and remained within the sanctuary. Rangers have been highly effective in addressing an increased number of elephant break-outs, attributable to ripened crops around the perimeter, helping to return them to the park within 24 hours. In March, a single elephant bull strayed from the reserve and the park’s team was unable to encourage it to return. Instead, they directed it to Thuma Forest Reserve where there is a well-protected elephant population. Nkhotakota is working closely with nearby communities and the Fisheries Department to reduce fish trapping in the Bua River in order to allow lake salmon to start spawning in April and May and to restore the fishery. They have already initiated fish monitoring activities and water quality assessments. Markedly, the park hosted a successful event to mark World Wildlife Day on the 4th of March. The event was attended by over 200 guests and encouraged local communities to engage in wildlife conservation.
Odzala-Kokoua, Congo: In March, five camera traps were collected, which were placed to track patterns of human and wildlife activity, yielded observations of 13 species over the course of 53 nights, including elephant, gorilla, chimpanzee, red river hog and four species of duiker. Unfortunately, over March and April our rangers discovered three elephant carcasses and confiscated five pieces of ivory and 838 kilograms of bush meat. The park continues to monitor the poaching situation closely. The data analyses for the 2016 wildlife survey are complete and will be compiled within a forthcoming report. Law enforcement efforts remained rigorous, leading to the arrest of five poachers and removal of 1,198 snares. Four Endangered African grey parrots were confiscated in March and will be transferred to a large parrot rehabilitation centre in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, while the putty-nosed monkey confiscated in November 2016 has been transferred to Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Pointe Noire from where it will be released into the forest. All mammal monitoring proceeded as normal and the gorilla habituation programme is progressing well with both groups of gorillas. In community development, our educational programme is delivering weekly classes on elephant conservation and ecosystem management to foster an appreciation for the park’s natural assets among local children. The community team also ran an extensive human-wildlife conflict awareness campaign following a rise in conflict with gorillas on the cocoa farming project plantations. Focussing on prevention and mitigation, the team visited 20 villages in March and April to discuss challenges and present the park’s insurance scheme.
Majete, Malawi: Majete remains a flagship model for collaborative park management and we have seen progressive work in the park with both government and communities. In March, the park hosted a workshop and orientation meeting on the newly amended National Parks and Wildlife Act. The event was attended by 36 people from numerous government agencies including the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), police, judiciary and anti-corruption bureau. Our rangers continue to do impressive work, maintaining a remarkable track record of zero losses of elephant and rhino. Over March and April five arrests were made and one person was fined under the Forestry Act for timber trafficking. As we work to further improve our law enforcement effectiveness, four of our rangers completed tracker training in Liwonde and a law enforcement officer attended training in Lilongwe on the use of the newly developed online Wildlife Crime Database. In an unusual incident for Majete, a bull elephant broke from the reserve at a compromised section of the fence, but was quickly guided back with the help of a helicopter. We have also seen great progress across our range of community development projects, including the schools, reforestation projects (10,677 trees have been planted so far this year) and the malaria project.