Operational Updates

Akagera, Rwanda: We had splendid news last month and are delighted to confirm the birth of three lion cubs, estimated to be around eleven weeks old who were spotted with their mother. This follows speculation after Shema (one of the seven translocated lions last year) was seen mating with the dominant male, Ntwari, last October soon after her arrival at the park. These are the first lion cubs born in Rwanda in twenty years, and now bring the the total number of lions in Akagera and the country to ten. The excitement in and around the park was palpable and serves as another milestone in the incredible rise of conservation in Rwanda.

© Sean Carter

Akagera’s three new lion cubs © Sean Carter

Over the past two months there were 16 cases of human-wildlife conflict with one human fatality, including buffalo injuring people, leopard and hyena killing livestock, and hippos raiding crops. With the support of local communities three hyena were trapped from surrounding farm lands and released successfully back into the park.

Chinko, CAR: The February collaring project, in which a total of eight resident eastern giant eland were collared is producing valuable data relating to their spatial use of the area and survivorship. Unfortunately one individual was poached in March but the remaining seven have been observed moving over greater distances within the core protected area. In addition to the animals collared, amazingly four new herds of eland have been sighted in the area with one herd comprising of more than fifty individuals! Among this rise in game sightings, four wild dog and a lion two kilometers from headquarters have all been spotted in the past few months. This influx of wildlife can be attributed to the recent decrease in the presence of poachers thanks to our law enforcement efforts and helicopter missions. These actions have also led to us securing an area more than 3,000km2 where we have cleared out livestock and herders, one of the main threats to the region.

Unfortunately in April our Ultralight Aircraft suffered a crash landing rendering the airplane useless. Thankfully no one was injured in the accident, but the aircraft will need to be replaced in the coming months.

We were pleased to host some important visits this past month from the Heads of Department from the Wildlife Ministry who came to view progress made as well as authorize the use of weapons (confiscated from poachers) for our anti-poaching units. The Bakouma Mayor, Regional Police Commander and Regional Prosecutor also visited Chinko, showing a growing interest among government officials.

Zakouma, Chad: Preliminary results from the 2016 park aerial survey indicate that all the large mammal species surveyed have increased in the park. The elephant numbers were particularly encouraging with a 9% population growth rate since the 2014 count. Amazingly 83 elephant calves under the age of three were counted, compared to only two identified in 2014.

Valuable information was received linking the culprits of the January elephant poaching incident to the one in August 2015 indicating the poachers came from the same clan of nomads. We have identified their location far to the south and will continue to follow-up and monitor their movements.

In an exciting development six additional cheetah were seen during March: a mother and sub-adult male cub, a young adult male and a coalition of three adults. An identification database has been established and it is estimated there are possibly six or seven individuals in the area.

Garamba, DRC: We are devastated to report on the loss of three Garamba rangers: Richard Sungudikpio Ndingba, Rigobert Anigobe Bagale, and Dieudonné Tsago Matikuli, as a result of a shootout with elephant poachers on April 23rd 2016. After hearing shots and finding a fresh elephant carcass, our team engaged in armed contact with a poaching gang believed to be South Sudanese. A fourth ranger and the Park Manager were also injured but both will fully recover. We were extremely grateful to AFRICOM and MONUSCO who assisted with the international evacuations and repatriations.

Unfortunately, the park continues to be increasingly targeted by sophisticated militants from North and South Sudan, and the LRA. Seventeen elephants were poached in March and another 23 in April, two of which were collared. The safety of the park, its wildlife, our rangers and surrounding communities are in harms way and we are ramping up our efforts to better equip and enhance our teams to better address these threats.

While three of the eight giraffe harnesses stopped giving off regular positions, aerial flights revealed they all are in good health, and their movements are normal.

Over 10,000 flyers have been distributed locally to raise awareness for the call centre at Nagero, which serves as an early warning network and assists with information gathering. Knowledge of the centre is spreading and the community’s support has led to the arrest of three poachers and weapon confiscations.

We are pleased to have paid out a supporting sum financed by the Thin Green Line Foundation, to the family of one of the guards killed in the park prior to when AP assumed management, and before the new AP insurance scheme was initiated. African Parks has a Personal Accident Policy that in the event of death or an accident covers the employee and their family members by a sum of six times their annual salary.

Bangwuelu Wetlands, Zambia: The sighting of an Egyptian mongoose on Chatye Island was an exciting and new addition to the reserve’s mammal list. Seventy-five adult buffalo with eight young calves were also confirmed there, and six shoebills were seen foraging in the Lukulu Delta. The horse patrols are making an impact and have led to the arrest of thirteen suspects relating to the poaching of protected game species.

The Self-Learning Zedupad Modular Center was successfully opened and handed over to the Ministry of Education at a ceremony on March 16 at Chiundaponde Primary School. The Zedupad is Zambia’s answer to the IPad and is preloaded with educational curriculum and conservation information. It was attended by officials from the Ministry of Education Directorate of Curriculum and Standards, the District Commissioner Mpika, the Bangweulu Wetland community directors, and donors including BASF and WWF. The opening received widespread coverage in the local media and will contribute to facilitating stronger partnerships with Bangweulu Wetlands.

Liuwa, Zambia: Three scouts received training in tactical tracking and one underwent a seven-week instructor’s training course where greater emphasis is being made on the evaluation of patrol effort and efficacy. Our partner the Zambia Carnivore Project (ZCP) successfully collared a male cheetah and a female hyena. The complete photographic aerial count, which took place over the course of four days, was completed in March and we look forward to sharing results.

We held a three-day workshop with Peace Parks, WWF, DNPW and the Ministry of Tourism to finalise the draft of the IDP process for the Liuwa-Mussuma Transfrontier Park. This Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) represents an important trans-national collaboration between Angola and Zambia to secure valuable habitat for the conservation of Africa’s second largest herds of migrating zebra and wildebeest.

Liwonde, Malawi: We have been busy planning the capture and translocation of elephant, rhino and herbivores which will commence later in July. Two hundred and fifty elephants and other game species will be moved to Nkhotakota in order to restock this depleted park. This represents an important opportunity to relieve pressure on Liwonde and its habitats (Liwonde is currently at capacity with its more than 800 elephants), and to restore healthy populations of wildlife in both parks. A deeply unfortunate and recent accident, in which one woman was critically injured by an elephant and eventually passed away, highlights the significance of ongoing efforts to engage communities on the importance of the fence and how to live alongside these giant land mammals. Seven crews of fence attendants are now operational on a permanent basis along the entire western and southern zones, along with two zone supervisors, and information is being distributed to the communities and sensitization being done as to the importance of the fence.

Nkhotakota, Malawi: In anticipation of the reintroduction of plains game species and elephants in July and August, fence line clearing continued and contractors completed 12 km of fencing, but the rains have now slowed their progress. Conflict over the park boundary and the fence line is being addressed through community outreach programmes, one-on-one meetings with the village headman, and discussions with individuals who have raised concerns.

The new Head of Law Enforcement, Paston Simkoko, has already had a positive impact on staff. As part of improved reporting an analysis of the first quarter’s patrol coverage of the reserve was conducted, and efforts will be made in the next quarter to cover the other 60% while still patrolling key areas. A helicopter programme has begun air lifting law enforcement teams into remote areas in the park and has already resulted in the arrest of one suspected poacher and marijuana grower, as well as the destruction of 14 illegal dwellings in the marijuana fields. This exercise was combined with a community programme to give local leaders (Paramount Chief Mbelwa and Chief Khosolo of Mzimba) a chance to see the scale of the problem; and a follow-up ground operation was carried out resulting in six further arrests. The marijuana fields monitored by helicopter last year have not been used this year, and preliminary evidence indicates a reduction in broad-scale crop-growing in the north of the park due to an increased law enforcement presence.

Majete, Malawi: All rhino, leopards and lions with cubs have been sighted consistently. Two new MSc students are on site and will be conducting predator (lion, leopard and hyena) and zebra ecology research projects through the Majete Wildlife research programme. Law enforcement continues to be enhanced with refresher training that has been well-received by participating personnel, and four staff completed their advanced tracking training. Environmental Education outreach has been extended to eight schools around the park, and we are actively planning for game translocations set to occur in July.

Odzala-Kokoua, Congo: One camera trap image from Moadji Saline revealed a rare bongo antelope and a group of elephants. Other significant animal sightings included western lowland gorilla, black fronted and peter’s duiker, and mantled colobus guereza. As part of the ongoing elephant monitoring program, three of the five remaining satellite collars were successfully fitted on one female and two male elephants. We produced a public radio show on gorilla habituation to inform locals about the program and how it will help tourism, and a partnership agreement was signed with Radio Odzala to continue these broadcasts. In an effort to encourage interest in wildlife and protection of the park among a younger audience, an environmental education programme was initiated at the local school in Mbomo for children under 13