SOUTHERN AFRICAN PROJECTS
About the Region
Set in the northern-most region of South Africa, flanked by Botswana and Zimbabwe lies the proposed Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. Mapungubwe was once the center of Civilization in the south, with evidence pointing to it being the oldest modern Capital City in Southern Africa, with an estimated 5000 inhabitants living there at its peak (approximately 1100 AD)
Here at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers lies an unspoiled conservation area, which today is home to populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and around 1000 elephants. It is in this spectacular region that the Mingati Wildlife Foundation operates.
The creation of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area has been an ongoing project since the mid 1990’s and it is evident now more than ever before how vital it is for these areas to be incorporated into a larger Conservation area. This area will cover approximately 4872 km² with 28% (1350 km²) situated in Botswana, 53% (2561 km²) situated in South Africa and the remaining 19% (906 km²) in Zimbabwe. This area is not only of substantial importance for conservation efforts, it is also vital to the preservation of historically important areas.
Currently wildlife is moving freely throughout these areas, however this is not without risk. The land surrounding these protected areas are privately owned farms and villages, which means the threat of livestock predation is huge; predators do not discriminate between plains game or livestock and as such communities and predators are living in an untenable state of conflict.
The African Lion is an iconic species but it is facing a dramatic decline in numbers across the continent. With an estimated 20,000 free roaming lions remaining in the wild, it is vital that the factors contributing to the declining numbers are addressed. A variety of limiting factors have been identified, including habitat fragmentation, epizootic diseases and most importantly human-lion conflict and the associated persecution of lions. Deaths in snares, illegal hunting and use of lethal means for problematic animals and prey loss due to the bushmeat trade have all negatively affected the lion population in this region.
An additional challenge faced is the fact that the lion populations in this region are seen as transboundary, which simply means that their territories overlap across several countries, in this case specifically Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This is why the long term goal of creating a Greater Transfrontier Conservation Area is vital to the success of carnivore conservation.
The carnivore conservation project ties in directly with our Anti-Poaching support and Community upliftment projects. Unless we address all three areas simultaneously there is no hope for any one project to succeed.
Carnivores give us an indication of a well balanced and healthy eco-system. If there are too many or too few carnivores in a region the other fauna and flora suffers in direct correlation to the predator population density.
The short term goals of this project are to collar a select number of carnivores in the greater Limpopo-Shashe region. This allows us to gather information on territories, movement and population health. With the use of GPS collars we are able to set up geo-fencing boundaries for predators outside of conservation areas. A Geo-Fence is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area, with a predefined set of boundaries. Collared predators nearing the proximity of the geo-fence will trigger an alert to the geo-fence operator, who in turn can issue an alert to inhabitants of the area, advising them that the predator is moving through their area.
The collaring project has the following main objectives :
Sustainable predator conservation strategies that mitigate human wildlife conflict and livestock predation.
Creating an open source database of lion movement for researchers
Ensuring local communities realize that predators and wildlife conservation provide sustainable economic value.
Poaching is a diverse, robust and multifaceted network that is becoming exceedingly challenging to extinguish. In order to fully combat poaching, it is vital to understand the various types of poaching, the mind-set and the people behind it.
Poaching is defined as the illegal harvesting of wild plants and animals in contravention of local and international laws. Essentially there are two types of Poachers, subsistence Poachers targeting small game with little or no technological assistance, and Commercial or Syndicated Poachers who operate in organized groups utilizing advanced technology and focusing on rare animals, such as Lion, Elephant and Rhino.
Subsistence poachers generally hunt or lay traps for themselves and their family. They often live adjacent to wildlife areas and have an intimate knowledge of the terrain, habitat and resident species. This type of poaching is poverty driven due to the massive socio-economic divide found across Africa. These poachers often operate alone or in pairs with rudimentary tools setting snares (wire traps) and pit traps. While they do not operate on a large scale and operate predominantly to feed starving families, the fall out from setting snares and pit traps is that often larger animals and predators are caught in these traps, leading to a slow and agonizing death. Subsistence Poachers will very rarely engage with an Anti-Poaching Unit and pose little threat of violence.
Commercial or Syndicated Poachers operate on a much larger scale, they are well-funded, well networked and internationally orchestrated. They recruit large networks of individuals, mostly local to do the actual poaching. The upper echelons of the syndicate are driven by significant financial motive. These Syndicates are well equipped with light aircraft, helicopters, assault rifles, explosives, night vision optics, radio communication and camouflage clothing. These poachers target selective species such as Black and White Rhino, Elephant, Lion and Leopard.
Anti-Poaching is defined as the approach, implementation and execution of controlling and elimination of poaching activities. The primary objective of the Anti-Poaching units we support is not the capture of poachers, but rather the prevention of poaching altogether.
The goals of the Anti-Poaching Support Project are outlined as follows :
Identifying local villagers who have a comprehensive knowledge of the region, wildlife and ecology thereby creating employment and opportunity for self betterment
Skills development of existing Anti-Poaching Units through targeted training operations, including tracking, anti-tracking, wilderness first aid, rifle handling etc
Equipping APU’s with the basic equipment and necessities to survive extended periods in the harsh African Bushveld – this includes Boots, Day Packs, Sun Hats, Water Bottles, Sleeping Bags, suitable camouflage uniforms, webbing, hand held radios, and first aid kits
Our Community upliftment program is essentially the glue that binds all of our projects together. Without buy-in from local communities we would never be able to mitigate human-wildlife conflict successfully or find suitable members for the Anti-Poaching units. The socio-economic divide across the African continent is massive and sadly the communities surrounding wildlife areas are subjected to harsh living conditions, abject poverty and little to no formal education.
Human Wildlife conflict is challenging matter to address because of underlying cultural, political and economic aspects. Efforts to address the obvious problems without considering the bigger picture and taking into account the socio-political and socio-economic conflicts often results in a temporary fix or worse exacerbates pre-existing conflict situations. Problem animal Control is a controversial topic world wide and there have been raging debates regarding the removal of problem species without considering the effect this may have on the greater eco-system of the region.
The greater Limpopo-Shashe region is rife with human-wildlife conflict as a result of the transboundary predators, with villagers reporting stock loss to wildlife predation. In these cases subsistence farmers retaliate by poisoning the predators and causing massive destruction of the eco-system through secondary poisoning of vultures, jackal and hyena.
Similarly villages in Botswana and Zimbabwe suffer produce loss to looting Elephants and other Herbivores.
It is vital to provide the people living in these communities with targeted and measurable support by means of creating sustainable ecologically sound farming practices and mitigating crop and livestock loss, viable entrepreneurial skills to provide financial relief and educational programs.
The goals of the Community upliftment program are outlined as follows :
Building of Bee Boxes to be placed on crop boundaries – bees act as a deterrent for crop raiding Elephants. Honey produced by the bees can also be utilized by the women in the community to sell to local lodges, produce soaps and a range of environmentally friendly body products. Bee Boxes can be ordered by international and domestic donors for the Bee Box project and produced by teenagers in the community creating more than one revenue stream for a the greater community
Mitigation of Human-Wildlife Conflict through placing livestock guardian dogs, and informing community elders when collared predators are moving through their region
Employing men and woman from the community for Anti-Poaching Units, not only does this create long term employment the members of the APU also become wildlife custodians and act as intermediaries when wildlife moves through the community
Strong foundation phase education programs to facilitate stronger primary and secondary education for children who would otherwise never have gone to school