Anti-poaching crusaders of the Zambezi

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge was probably the first project in Zimbabwe to employ an environmental architect to ensure minimal impact on its surroundings during construction, so not a single mature tree was destroyed, and 6 000 young trees were replanted on and around the site.

These efforts were recognised when Victoria Falls Safari Lodge was awarded the prestigious international Green Globe Distinction Award in 2000 for outstanding environmental practices in its construction.

This ethos also saw Victoria Falls Safari Lodge co-found the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) in 1999, along with local safari operator and conservationist Charles Brightman, which Africa Albida Tourism still supports to this day.

VFAPU, whose mandate is to protect the wildlife and habitat of the Victoria Falls area from all forms of poaching, was formed in response to a dramatic increase in poaching in Victoria Falls National Park and the Zambezi National Park.

It began with three scouts, and now has 17 operating patrols seven days a week.

So far the unit — which works in support of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police — has removed more than 22 000 wire snares from its operational area. In addition, 183 mammals (including buffalo, kudu, eland and impala) injured by snares have been treated and released back into the wild.

Mr Brightman says the funds raised at the annual golf day are vital in keeping their operations going.

“According to the World Wildlife Fund, the illegal trade in wildlife is the fifth most profitable illicit trade in the world, estimated at up to US$10 billion annually, which is why it is very important in this day and age for everyone to play a role in fighting the menace of poaching,” Mr Brightman says.

AAT’s organises and hosts the VFAPU Golf Day — which raised a record US$30 000 for the unit in 2015 — with every cent raised going directly to the unit, as AAT covers all of the costs of the event. In addition, AAT pays the salaries of six scouts, and contributes to supplies as necessary.

This year’s annual VFAPU Golf Day, one of the most enjoyable and best organised events on the fund-raising calendar, held at Borrowdale Brooke Golf Club last week, gives everyone a chance to play a part in conserving Zimbabwe’s wildlife and environment by entering a team, sponsoring prizes or making a donation.

The funds raised for VFAPU — which is totally reliant on donations – at last year’s tournament went towards covering the unit’s US$7 500 — a-month operational costs, and enabled the servicing and upgrading of two-way radios. AAT chief executive Ross Kennedy says the event ensured the continued success of VFAPU, which adopts a multi-pronged approach to fighting poaching.

“While the hands on field work is fundamental to the success of VFAPU, the future success of the unit will rest around the generations ahead. VFAPU takes this responsibility seriously and is involved in awareness and education programmes with local schools and communities,” Mr Kennedy says.

AAT also operates a Vulture Culture Experience at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which is a supplementary feeding programme to aid the survival of these remarkable, but endangered birds. It also enables their numbers to be monitored and raises awareness of their plight.

The Vulture Culture Experience, which occurs at 1pm daily below the Buffalo Bar viewing deck, is entertaining, educational, free and appeals to all age groups. It begins with a briefing about the ecological importance of vultures and the challenges they are facing.

Vulture populations are dwindling due to a variety of human-created issues, including electrocution by power lines, loss of safe food supply, poisoning and the use of their parts in traditional medicines.

From a hide, visitors witness the spectacular sight of hundreds of vultures – including white headed, hooded, lappet faced white backed and cape – swooping down to feed on left-over meat scraps from the onsite restaurants.

AAT works in collaboration with Vulpro, a leading vulture conservation programme based in South Africa, and the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust on this project.

This year, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge received a silver award from the international organisation Green Tourism, one of the world’s most credible and effective global sustainability programmes in recognition of its commitment to the environment. The Green Tourism team commended Victoria Falls Safari Lodge’s well known Vulture Culture Experience with its “excellent interpretation and viewing area”, as well as the lodge’s promotion of low carbon activities, such as horse riding and canoeing.

The audit team also praised Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for the fact that no chemicals, apart from fertiliser, were used in the garden, as well as for the availability of natural insect repellents in rooms and a move towards more eco-friendly cleaners.

In Botswana, AAT partnered with the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT) to develop Ngoma Safari Lodge and is fully committed to making a sustainable difference to the local community and environment.

The Enclave, an area bordered by the Chobe National Park and the Linyanti marsh, is a community trust, meaning the local population — made up of five communities — benefits directly from tourism and plays an active role in decision-making. Part of the proceeds of each booking at Ngoma Safari Lodge go back to the community, and the lodge also employs staff directly from the local population.

It has been a remarkable success story of how rural communities can derive benefits from natural resources.

Ngoma Safari Lodge guests have the opportunity to interact with the community through visiting Mabele village, and they may further support the villagers by buying their handcrafted basket ware. It also enables them to meet the people who benefit directly from their stay at the lodge.

AAT is also involved in many other programmes to assist local communities, such as Pack for a Purpose, an initiative allowing travellers to make a lasting impact in their travel destination, by saving space in their suitcase and bringing supplies for schools or clinics.

The group also supports Victoria Falls Clean Up Campaigns, the Local Tourism Police in Victoria, National Tree Planting Day, local school development programmes, as well as being committed to working with the Rotary Club of Victoria Falls on community projects.

Africa Albida Tourism, a Zimbabwe-owned hospitality group, prides itself in being regional leaders in sustainable tourism, which ensures both the local communities and the environment benefit as much as possible from visitors.

AAT operates lodges, hotels and restaurants in the iconic destinations of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and Chobe, Botswana, with its flagship property being the well-known Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.

Also among AAT’s portfolio of properties is Victoria Falls Safari Club, Victoria Falls Safari Suites, Lokuthula Lodges, The Boma — Dinner & Drum Show in Victoria Falls and Ngoma Safari Lodge, in Chobe, Botswana.

Chairman Dave Glynn has strived to ensure that the impact of the group’s operations on the local environment, culture and people is positive rather than negative.

3,571 total views, no views today