Operational Updates

Chinko, CAR: The escalation of the civil war in Eastern CAR cascaded over into the park with non-core staff having to be evacuated because of the unrest, and the contracts of several Chinko employees having to be terminated for their participation in the unrest. While the security situation remains precarious, Chinko has extended its support to a displaced population of people in a local village, helping to rebuild 78 houses; and, is continuing to provide safety and provisioning for the internally displaced persons within Chinko until at least the end of the wet season in November. Despite the political situation, Chinko continued to make impressive progress in both conservation achievements and community support. Law enforcement efforts there have resulted in securing an impressive 18,500 km2 core zone that is now free from cattle, and neither herders nor camps have been reported within the park for the entire month. A new law enforcement manager was recruited to begin in August, who will start off implementing a refresher and leadership training course for the rangers. On the 24th of June, the team successfully completed an important monitoring programme, which included affixing GPS tracking collars on nine of the rare Lord Derby’s Eland, four Roan antelope and three endangered Lelwel Hartebeest all with the aim of improving the protection of key species in the area.

Akagera, Rwanda: As reported last month, June began on a deeply tragic note with the passing of Krisztián Gyöngyi after he was killed by a rhinoceros while out on foot tracking animals in the park. Krisztián was an expert on rhinos and was assisting with training rangers on the monitoring and protection of the newly introduced individuals. This is a deep loss for rhino conservation and for all who knew him. Now over a month since the historic reintroduction, the population of 18 is being monitored regularly by teams on the ground and with three monitoring flights conducted by helicopter. A rhino monitoring database is in the process of being rolled out as well. The two new male lions, recently translocated to increase genetic diversity in the population, are healthy and ready for release but have remained in their boma due to the presence of the resident male lions in the area. Encouragingly, the park maintained its record of zero reported poaching incidents and is working to engage communities and mitigate human-wildlife conflict resulting from crop damage and livestock loss. In this regard, three meetings were held with communities to promote a proactive and collaborative approach to mitigating conflict to better protect their livestock and crops. Good progress was made in the park’s educational outreach in June, as a new school block funded through the revenue-sharing scheme was launched at Akagera Primary School; and 900 students from 18 local schools were hosted in the park to help grow a constituency for conservation among a younger demographic.

Zakouma, Chad: Zakouma’s law enforcement efforts have remained robust and are functioning effectively through the early wet season. A tailored wet season strategy has been successfully implemented with operations occurring out of five strategic bases around the park, as well as from two forward operational bases now permanently manned by horse patrols. Secured through the maintenance of these efforts, the park recorded zero poaching in June and rangers arrested 21 illegal fishermen and 30 cattle herders. The completion of work on an essential road between key forward operational bases and the bridge helped to improve accessibility, further enhancing operational capability. In conservation, surveys in Zakouma are contributing important data on various species. An antelope specialist group from the IUCN is gathering data on Red-fronted Gazelle to re-evaluate its status. Found in dry grasslands and Sahelian bushlands and currently listed as Vulnerable, populations are relatively stable in Central Africa but in rapid decline in West Africa. Data collected on migratory birds from Zakouma, Bahr Salamat and Bahr Aouk wetlands in January 2017 have contributed to the production of a final RAMSAR report, which recorded 81,169 birds including 10,210 Crowned Cranes in Zakouma – an extraordinary density of these threatened species. The park continued to play an integral role in educational development, providing a computer training session for 30 students from the Elephant School in Goz Djerat.

Garamba, DRC: Under intense pressure from militarised poaching groups and at the source of the illegal ivory trade, Garamba occupies a significant space in global efforts to combat elephant poaching. In early June, the Park Operations Manager Erik Mararv represented African Parks in a collaborative event with WWF Hong Kong and Save the Elephants to deliver a testimony on the deadly impact of the ivory trade, urging law makers in Hong Kong to ban the illegal trade as soon as possible. While two poached elephants were identified sadly in June, monitoring of the species has been greatly improved through more effective data visualisation, signal frequency and weekly automated data reports. Good progress has also been made in the chimpanzee monitoring programme, getting closer to an overall population estimate for the region. Valuable infrastructural upgrades have been completed, including both Garamba and Dungu river bridges which are operational, and all seven airstrips were graded, collectively improving accessibility and management control of the park. Community engagement continues to be a primary focus, and with indications of increased activity among the Lord’s Resistance Army in the region a meeting was convened with community representatives to enhance the early warning system through their participation. Garamba celebrated World Environment Day on the 5th of June by hosting 47 school children in the park and successfully initiating a litter collection with 60 students and 36 adults partaking in Faradje.

Bangweulu Wetlands, Zambia: The large game translocation commenced in June following several months in the planning, meeting an important conservation objective for Bangweulu in 2017. To date, 37 Hartebeest and 96 Impala have been introduced to the wetlands from Kafue National Park in Zambia, and arrangements are in place to translocate Puku from nearby Kasanka National Park in July. The law enforcement team made good headway in securing the area, removing 89 snares, confiscating five illegal items and conducting 10 arrests, while five rangers successfully graduated from Basic Field Ranger training at Chunga Training Centre in Kafue National Park. A reforestation scheme at Chikuni, initiated due to historical evidence of there once being heavily forested islands in the wetlands, has resulted in the planting of 90 indigenous trees, which are luring back forest-species, including the tree hyrax, genets and a diversity of birds. There have been several positive developments with communities showing increased enthusiasm for conservation in Bangweulu, particularly with the game translocation generating significant interest among fisheries committee members. And with fishing activities winding down and vibrant trade taking place in the village, fishermen have relayed that fish catches have been high this year thanks to the fish ban combined with increased rainfall.

Liuwa Plain, Zambia: It has been another productive month for Liuwa Plain, with operations making progress on all fronts. The law enforcement team was boosted following 12 graduates’ successful completion of the Basic Field Ranger training at Chunga Training Centre in Kafue National Park; and for a second consecutive month suspects were arrested for illegal entry and possession of a drag fishing net in the park, enforcing the message that there are repercussions for illegal activity. King Lewanika Lodge has been operating well for several weeks, with only minor finishes needing to be made. An invitation has been extended to the Litunga to officially open the spectacular new lodge in October (the exact date will soon be confirmed). The park continued to promote environmental education, conducting lessons for 60 pupils in three schools and hosting World Environment Day activities in which another 60 pupils partook. The Radio Liseli shows on environmental awareness have encouraged good engagement from listeners across the province, and seven environmental films were screened around Liuwa. The species monitoring programmes are ongoing, confirming healthy sightings of all lions and cheetahs during the month while noting an unconfirmed report of six wild dog.

Liwonde, Malawi: The final phase of the historic 500 Elephants translocation formed the primary focus for Liwonde in June, with preparations being finalised during the first two weeks of the month before teams arrived and operations commenced on the 16th. By month-end, 71 elephants were safely captured and moved to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, bringing this second phase in Liwonde to an overarching successful close. The project was heavily covered by CNN and can be viewed here. Unfortunately, there is a degree of risk inherent in any animal translocation, and sadly one young elephant died despite significant efforts to resuscitate it. During this same period, the Field Operations Manager Lawrence Munro was injured by a rhinoceros that charged while accompanying a group of guests on a walking safari. While one guest suffered an ankle injury we are very fortunate that there were no other injuries sustained, and Lawrence Munro has since made a full recovery. The four reintroduced cheetahs, the first in Malawi in 20 years and first time in Liwonde for 100 years, were released from their bomas in June and are each being tracked on a daily basis and are adjusting well to their new environment. With only 1.4 km of the park’s perimeter fence line remaining to be completed, progress has also been made on mitigating human-elephant conflict, which saw a reduction in incidents in June thanks to intensified patrol efforts and the support of local people employed to oversee strategic points along the fence, in addition to seasonal shifts in crop availability.

Nkhotakota, Malawi: It has been a significant month for Nkhotakota as the reserve completed preparations in advance of the game introductions which form part of the restoration of its natural diversity. Over the last two weeks of June, Nkhotakota welcomed 71 elephants and 101 buffalo from Liwonde National Park into its fully fenced 19,000-hectare sanctuary and will receive the remaining 150 elephants from Majete Wildlife Reserve and numerous animals of other species through July. Currently, well under carrying capacity, Nkhotakota stands to become a revitalised wildlife destination through the ongoing elephant and game translocation. The reserve continued to track the collared elephants, identifying all within the sanctuary area while rangers efficiently attended to 62 occasions in which elephants strayed from Nkhotakota’s perimeter where all but one returned. We were extremely saddened to lose one elephant bull which broke from the reserve and drowned in Lake Malawi despite efforts to try to turn him around to swim back to the shore. The process of fencing the perimeter of the park in phase two of the project has been challenging given the terrain and travel distances, but this month progress improved with teams camping nearby and completing a further 7.5 km. The law enforcement team remained vigilant, discovering large-scale firewood harvesting near the southern boundary, making two arrests and confiscating a total of 50 kg of firewood, while no reported poaching incidents occurred. Community engagement has been active with four boreholes drilled for access to clean water, six schools hosted in the reserve and 17 educational outreach visits conducted on the “I know my role in conservation” programme.

Odzala-Kokoua, Congo: While there is considerable pressure on the park’s wildlife, Odzala has continued to rigorously monitor species and counter poaching activity. Rangers sadly identified seven elephant carcasses in June, five counted outside the park and two within the perimeter, with at least five of them believed to be poached. Teams also confiscated 1,064 kg of bush meat which was seized at guard patrol posts (duiker antelope are the species most commonly seized) and destroyed seven poaching camps, arrested one individual for poaching leopard, collected 500 snares and confiscated five pieces of ivory. The mammals monitoring programme is progressing well with data continuing to be collected on human and animal activity, particularly elephant, chimpanzee and gorilla, around 17 baies. Five strategically positioned camera traps have elicited useful insights, recording 15 species of wildlife, the nocturnal activity of elephants and capturing visuals enabling the successful identification of three poachers, two of which are currently in prison. In an ongoing census of hunters and weapons, a monitor has now collected valuable information on weapon registration and usage in six villages around the park. These records will serve to advance intelligence and the effectiveness of our law enforcement. Odzala’s community outreach continues to deliver needed services in education and healthcare, with the mobile clinic treating 251 people in the eastern sector of the park; while the human-wildlife conflict programme is gathering necessary data to inform the development of solutions for different villages.

Majete, Malawi: Majete finalised its preparations for the elephant and antelope captures commencing in the park at the start of July. This will be the first time since elephants were initially reintroduced in 2006 that Majete will be used as a source for the species to repopulate elsewhere, a milestone occasion for the reserve. In these last weeks of preparation, the road network has been graded, various maintenance activities were carried out and the capture camp was constructed. Other valuable infrastructural improvements included the completion of structural maintenance on the reserve’s fence, and the installation of a digital radio system which is now operational and will enhance communication across the entire reserve. We continue to see the positive results emanating from Majete’s sustained law enforcement and community efforts, which are reflected in the zero incidence of poaching recorded this month and a 12-month sentence given to a person caught in possession of bush meat in April. Extensive community engagement has been undertaken, particularly in advancing environmental education through wildlife club meetings at five primary schools, through the provision of educational material, and initiating construction of a new school block.

Pendjari, Benin: June was our official first month of managing Pendjari since signing a partnership with the Government of Benin in May. As we embark on the process of laying foundations for the successful long-term management of the park, solid management systems are starting to be implemented with a core team being employed, a business plan finalised and the operational base now being constructed. Importantly for law enforcement, a new lead trainer took up his position at the end of June and we are preparing for the establishment of a new ranger team and the training and structuring of ranger teams and patrols. Eight active poaching camps were discovered and destroyed by teams during the month. In terms of infrastructure, the ranger training camp and garages are progressing well nearing completion; the foundation has been laid for the office while road work and the development of an airstrip are underway. Initial progress was made on plans to establish key species monitoring programmes, and exploring possible collaborations to ensure effective conservation and habitat management. In community outreach, 90 children and six teachers were hosted in three separate educational visits prior to the rains setting in. Over time, Pendjari will continue to be positioned through engagement and development as a valuable natural asset contributing to socio-economic advancement for local communities.