Poaching - the scourge of wildlife areas

One of the more unpleasant but necessary activities in managing a wildlife area is the ongoing battle against poaching. 

Contrary to the belief that it is done by poor, hungry peasants desperate for food,  most poaching on Sentinel is perpetrated by syndicates who do it for commercial gain through the sale of bushmeat which is dried and sold to farm workers and people living in the local townships.

It is frightening how many animals are killed annually, either by the use of pack dogs with spotlights and spears at night, or  with wire and cable snares (nooses) that are laid along well worn game paths near water points.  It is a constant threat to the animals in our Transfrontier Conservation Area, and we work closely with out colleagues at Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa and the Tuli Block in Botswana, as well as with our own ZRP, National Army and National Parks & Wildlife Management Authority personnel here in Zimbabwe to follow, arrest and convict these people.

Eland are a target species for spotlight poaching because of the sheer volume of meat that this massive antelope yields in one kill.   Poachers use their dogs to run an eland down to a point of exhaustion, approach within throwing distance of the animal by shining a spotlight into its eyes to blind it before plunging heavy metal spears (usually with white markers on the end of the handles) into its side.

In one week alone, eight eland cows were recently killed by poachers in this way at the island on the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers (Botswana territory) - and of those,  five were killed in one night!  Four of those carcasses were abandonned by the poachers when the anti-poaching team in Botswana attempted to arrest them. Unfortunately, the poachers fled across the dry, sandy Shashe River into Zimbabwe, where they could not be pursued!  This cross-border poaching is being viewed in a serious light by the authorities of all three countries, and step will be taken to enable cross-border follow-ups in the near future, thanks to international co-operation of the TFCA partners!

Snares are a cruel and ubiquitous problem, not only in the large numbers of animals that are caught in them, but in the range of animals caught and injured in them too - from elephants, leopards, bushpigs and warthogs, and all the antelope species.  Our game scouts are on a constant lookout for snares as they patrol the bush, and have spent many a cold night waiting in ambush  for the poachers to arrive to check snarelines...

During a recent elephant ID excercise in which 100 elephants ID's were recorded, 5 of them (yes, that makes 5% of them) had shortened trunks as a result of being caught in snares. Can you imagine the pain that an elephant  endures as a noose of  fencing wire slices through the hundreds of nerve endings in its trunk?

The photograph below, taken during the ID-ing exercise, shows two young elephants at play. One of these elephant calves (who are both under 6 months of age) can be  seen to have a wire snare around its neck. Thankfully however, it did not seem to be affecting its health.

The following images show an elephant with a snare-shortened trunk feeding on schotia brachypetala bark that had fallen to the ground at the base of the tree  - the "crumbs" left by another elephant.  He managed to manipulate the chips of bark onto his toe with his trunk, from where he scooped them up with what is left of his trunk into his mouth. In the end, he resorts to kneeling  and feeding directly off the ground!

I'm sure we speak for all the tourism operators on the Limpopo in thanking our visitors to the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Area for making it possible to fight this poaching scourge - without your support and the income your visits generate, the work of all the anti-poaching units in our area would be unaffordable.  Kudos to you all!