Villagers in Hwange’s Mabale area have taken it upon themselves to fight wildlife poaching by forming community anti-poaching units with the help of Painted Dog Conservation (PDC).
PDC does conservation work particularly aimed at protecting the endangered wild dog (painted dog) and has initiated a number of programmes some of them capacitating communities to change behaviour in the wake of human-wildlife conflict and educating school children on conservation through bush camps.
Three community anti-poaching units have been started in Mabale, Dopota and Nabushome under Chief Nelukoba, whose area borders Hwange National Park and communities are exposed to conflict with wildlife.
The primary role of the anti-poaching teams is to hunt for and remove wire snares in the bush.
In the process, this has helped reduce the cutting down of trees, illegal hunting and trapping of domestic animals.
Each group has removed more than 5 000 wire snares, according to PDC education and community programmes manager Winston Nsimango.
“This initiative was started by the community. People organised themselves because they had also lost livestock to poachers who were setting up wire snares,” said Nsimango.
He said since 2004 PDC has been running a children’s bush camp at the organisation’s premises in Mabale, and Grade Six pupils from 21 schools are taken through a four-day wildlife conservation programme.
“The volunteer programme started in 2015 when a dog was found dead after being caught by a wire snare behind the chief’s homestead. We took it to the chief’s homestead and fortunately, there was a villagers’ meeting and because PDC was building a teachers’ cottage at Mabale Primary, villagers felt the donor, in this case being the endangered painted dog itself, was in danger and the funding for development projects would stop if it is not protected.
“That is how it started and poaching sometimes rises and we take volunteers. In Mabale there are 45 volunteers, 41 for Dopota and 38 for Nabushome. In 2020 Dopota removed 5 439 snares,” he said.
PDC funds the programme and pays the anti-poaching unit members, with plans underway to increase the number of volunteers in future depending on the availability of funds.
Volunteers mobilise each other into small groups and each is allocated a day on which it goes into the bush removing wire snares and checking for the presence of poachers.
They operate in protected forests that create a buffer between the community and the game park.
Sibongile Nkala, chair of the Nabushome unit said villagers’ cattle, goats, donkeys and even dogs are now safe from the danger of wire snares.
“We had lost cattle and goats which is why we felt we needed to take the initiative and remove wire snares. This is meant to protect the painted dog but it has helped reduce the trapping of our domestic animals too. Small game is also protected and we now see impalas, bucks and hares in our area which is good for conservation,” she said.