By Marianne Betts
Wildlife conservation efforts are under threat with vital funding for the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU) being slashed as the economic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic bites, prompting a heartfelt plea for support by head of operations Charles Brightman.
“We fully understand the financial pressures and strain that this pandemic has bought to both businesses and individuals alike, but we are appealing to those who have the means to please support us so we can continue with the vital work we do,” Brightman says.
“Every little bit helps us support the wildlife and habitats in the Victoria Falls region. We must protect our wildlife for our future,” he says. “The wildlife needs your support!”
VFAPU was established in 1999 by Brightman, a local safari operator and conservationist, and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Africa Albida Tourism’s flagship property, in response to alarming levels of poaching taking place at the time.
Since then, the unit has arrested 794 serious poachers, removed more than 22 500 wire snares, while 260 mammals injured by snares have been treated and released back into the wild.
Last year alone, during joint operations VFAPU scouts helped with the rescue of seven injured buffalo, an elephant, a lion, two spotted hyena, four warthog, a waterbuck and an impala from wire snares, darting and treating them before returning them to the wild.
In addition, in 2019, the unit removed 121 snares, apprehended two mammal poachers and 206 wood poachers, but sadly also found 15 mammals poached – five impala, four warthog, a buffalo, two zebra, two waterbuck and a duiker.
VFAPU is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and the natural resources within a 50km radius of Victoria Falls, with 17 scouts patrolling seven days a week. The unit works closely with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
“In amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and without taking away from the sad and tragic humanitarian crisis taking place globally, we here at VFAPU are facing a crisis of our own in terms of our ability to continue with our on-the-ground efforts to support our National Parks and Wildlife Authority in the protection and conservation of the wildlife in Victoria Falls and the surrounding areas.
“Sadly, due to the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19, a large portion of our funding which enabled us to employ our VFAPU scouts, providing them with livelihoods, whilst also providing us with the logistical means to carry out our anti-poaching patrols, has unfortunately had to be cut back, or, in some cases, closed off completely.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a humanitarian crisis, but a conservation crisis,” Brightman says. “With many tourism facilities having to temporarily close, the ground presence in wildlife areas will now be far less than before.
“Added to this, with limited funding, we are currently hamstrung in offering the conservation support we have done in the past and we are battling to maintain the salaries of our scouts,” he says.
“VFAPU has full permission from all relevant authorities to keep up anti-poaching operations during the current nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, and we will continue to fight poaching as long as possible.”
Brightman thanked those who continue to support the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit, and appealed to those wishing to make a financial or food donation to assist the scouts to please contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org.