Boundary Patrol & Snare Sweeps
26.01.2009 - 26.01.2009 22 °C
Some of our duties as a volunteer is to help patrol the park and maintain a presence around the perimeter fence to reduce poaching. This involves being dropped off in the bush either along the boundary or within the park itself to search for snares, mend holes in the fences and generally keep watch.
The game in the park is worth a lot of money to the project and to poachers. Although a small impala could only feed one lion, it would probably feed a local family for weeks. The game is used to help feed the lions when meat is scarce, it is used to help the walking and hunting lions develop valuable survival skills and it is also used for guest game drives to generate vital revenue. There are currently a lot of young animals including Impala, Zebra, Kudu, Wildebeast and Giraffe but there isn't an abundance of game here and buying more is expensive in terms of game capture costs and relocation permits. Game is becoming more and more scarce in Zimbabwe and therefore more and more valuable.
There is an anti-poaching team employed full time to protect the game at Antelope Park but, for a small fee, it is believed that they may be involved in tipping off poachers as to their daily whereabouts. Volunteers and lion handlers are therefore involved in anti-poaching tasks to add an additional 'surprise' element.
We are dropped off the other side of the park, split into 2 teams each walking the perimeter fence in opposite directions back to camp. We are armed with an axe, a radio, pliers and some spare wire. The wire is to help mend any holes in the fence but I'm still not quite sure what the axe is used for!
This is usually done on foot but can also be conducted on elephant or horse back. Volunteers are scheduled to do this twice a week although this is likely to increase due to some recent poaching activity.
A couple of days ago while I was on Boundary Patrol, Everest stopped us dead in our tracks as we nearly stepped on a Night Adder laying across our path. It was flat and well camouflaged except for the frog that was half swallowed in it's dislocated jaws. It was a small snake but highly venomous and as we stepped back reaching for our cameras it quickly regurgitated it's dinner, hissed at us and retreated into the long grass. Amazingly, the frog hopped away alive but on just three legs!
Again for snare sweeping we are dropped off in thick bush within the park, spreading out into a line scouring the ground, trees and bushes for snares as we walk. At times I lost sight of the people either side of me which gave me the willies as it would be easy to get disorientated and lose direction. I heard a squeal from Leslie as she disturbed a rabbit, a yell from Brighton as he spooked an impala and a call for help from Ingrid when she noticed a party of ticks crawling up her trousers. Then Ishmael tripped over a tortoise and I realised I'd stopped looking for snares a long time ago and my eyes were purely searching for snakes and other deadly bush creatures instead.
During the week one group unfortunately found one of the few Giraffe, only a few weeks old, chopped up into moveable pieces and crudely hidden beneath a pile of branches. The hind legs were already missing and lacerations to the neck indicated it had been caught in a snare. An armed team were immediately dispatched to lay in wait for the poachers to return but sadly they didn't reappear. The Giraffe meat couldn't be put to use feeding the lions as it was already over 24 hours old.
I have conflicting feelings as I love animals and understand the importance of preserving the game here, but it's hard to condemn the people who did this as people in Zimbabwe are starving. If I had a family to provide for I'd probably risk my life doing the same.