Historically, Coutada 11 and its surrounding areas in the Zambezi Delta teemed and thrived with game.
Early estimates record several millions of head of game. Sadly, however, Mozambique was a county of turmoil and the eruption of civil war in the mid 70’s resulted in a huge decline in the wildlife population. The game was used for food by both the rebel groups and the Mozambican military, and except for sporadic big game populations and small mini antelopes (duiker, Suni, etc.) the game was deleted by the mid 90’s.
In 1994 Zambezi Delta Safaris, under the management and leadership of Mark Haldane, began running Coutada 11. He and his team undertook the rehabilitation of the small remaining wildlife populations.
This endeavor began with the basic logic of, “knowing what we have,” and an initial game count. The count showed that with the exception of the mini antelopes, the large ungulate populations were truly devastating. Buffalo had dropped from an estimated 50,000 – 80,000 to 1,200 individuals. Sable were at a mere 44 individual count. It would take a day of driving to see even a small number of general game. Leopards were adequate in number, but the lions were gone.
Mark and his team quickly identified the three main poaching methods:
- Hunting dogs and spears: This method would utilize the hunting dog to run down the game and then the game would be speared by poachers.
- Wire snares: These snares would be laid in lines on game trails.
- Gintraps: Heavy steel jaw traps placed strategically and often resulted in severed legs of smaller game, leaving them to die and go to waste.
ZDS then began an intense antipoaching initiative. An initiative that began with foot and bicycle patrols, expanded over two decades and costs that exceeded a million dollars. That initiative has grown today to include the following:
- Very active patrolling by a 23-man team on motorcycles, and backed up with a land cruiser.
- Daily air patrols in a sponsored helicopter. This is not only an exceptional way of spotting poaching activity, but announces the presence of the anti-poaching teams.
- Carefully managed intelligence gathering, which is truly effective when coupled with focused raids and well positioned “roadblocks.”
- A free meat distribution program, which has been an effective tool in eliminating subsistence poachers. Supplying free meat eliminates poaching to survive, and the meat is legally generated from well-regulated hunting operation. The community is held accountable to the partnership, in that they forfeit the free meat if anyone from the community is caught poaching.
The above mentioned practical application of anti-poaching has yielded the following results:
- Dog teams are no longer a viable option for poachers, and almost zero poaching is conducted in this way within Coutada 11.
- Several hundred gin traps have been removed, resulting in tens of thousands of animal’s lives being saved.
- Several thousand wire snares have been removed. They have been removed to the degree that it has become increasingly difficult to find any in great numbers.
- All commercial poaching syndicates have been disbanded. In addition, roads are no longer used to transport meat due to unannounced and highly effective roadblocks.
- Many top poachers have been employed and included in the anti-poaching teams. The knowledge they bring to the table has been very efficient. They are also motivated by being offered alternative income through legal employment.
The results of the policing and protection on the game numbers were remarkable. Buffalo bounced back to well over 25,000 individuals. Sable population exploded to well over 3,000 individuals. Literally several hundred animals can be seen on any given day on the concession area. Every year game counts are conducted and the counts prove that the area is well on its way to returning to its former glory.
Sadly, however, with the great increase in wildlife, it makes it a very attractive area for poachers. The costs for continued protection goes up every year. They currently stand at $500 per day for the entire anti-poaching team. This is a significant amount of money on the front end, but when you look at the profound effect that it has it is worth every penny.
Today’s anti-poaching team consists of:
- A helicopter and pilot that fly scouting trips every day, looking for fires, trap lines, and any sign of people where they should not be.
- A motorcycle team of 8 motorcycles and scouts, that “track” from the bikes when poacher tracks are found. These bikes give great flexibility in the area and can be used along game trails and footpaths with great effect.
- A game scout team of 23 individuals, employed all year. The number of scouts can raise up to 30 at certain times of the year.
- A land cruiser with an antipoaching manager, who controls and plans the day to day activities.
- An intelligence network officer who is constantly talking to informers and relaying this information to scouts on the ground.
We are very proud to have supported and proud to continue to support this initiative. We truly look forward to using it as a model to show others how to correctly protect an area like this!