Dec 12, 2020

Covid-19 implications on research and community


The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) have a number of research and community projects underway.  All of these projects are undertaken in two National Parks in Zimbabwe: The Zambezi National Park and Chizarira National Park.  The research work includes research on elephants, lions, spotted hyaena and giraffe as well as monitoring projects on birds and vegetation.  The community projects focus on human-wildlife conflict mitigation in villages surrounding the National Parks and also conservation education in rural schools.

Due to the pandemic, funding from corporate bodies that were supporting ALERT has ceased making it more difficult for us to carry on the projects which help the Park authorities and communities.

Nevertheless we have managed to keep functioning and remain faithful to those who rely on us.  This year we collared two elephants in Chizarira (1,910km2) as part of the elephant project which feeds into the Kavanga/Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA).  The TFCA is nearly twice the size of the UK and our contribution to the knowledge on population status, numbers and movements of elephant help the larger community come up with management plans to conserve the elephant.

We have kept up our community commitments and recently put up a mobile predator-proof livestock holding pen in the community on the northern boundary of Chizarira National Park.  Conservation education classes have not been held since March this year as schools were closed for long periods but we hope to resurrect this project in 2021.

We wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas and an end to the pandemic!

Dec 7, 2020

Community Guardian protecting wildlife and people

A Community guardian is a rural community’s link with the wildlife authorities who are the custodians of wildlife and the NGO’s who work with communities in assisting them on human-wildlife conflict mitigation measures.  The role that this person plays is many faceted and includes monitoring and reporting all wildlife incidents affecting the community (livestock killings by lions, elephants decimating crops, crocodile attacks etc.,) assisting in remedial measures, as well as carrying out conservation education.  By responding rapidly and positively to human-wildlife conflict incidents and through conservation education, the Community Guardian helps prevent retaliatory killings against wildlife being undertaken by the affected community.  

The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) works with rural communities adjacent to two National Parks:  Zambezi National Park in the Victoria Falls area and Chizarira National Park which lies south of Lake Kariba which is the world’s largest man-made lake and reservoir by volume. 

During the period being reported on, ALERT was urgently requested to assist villagers by protecting their livestock against lions.  Unfortunately funds to employ a full-time community guardian were not available however a village spokesperson, acting as a guardian, reported the incidents to ALERT who, with the help of the spokesperson and villagers, were able to put up one mobile predator-proof livestock holding pen in the Mucheni ward in the Binga area north of Chizarira National Park. 

The traditional pens made of local materials are often insufficient to protect livestock against predators.  Villagers try and keep lions away from livestock pens by making a loud noise using vuvuzelas, by banging pots, and shouting etc.) and by building fires around the pen.  This is dangerous to the villager and is not sustainable.  The community guardian will be the person to assist villagers in building a better pen, and who will try and convince villagers not to poison the lion or spotted hyaena responsible for livestock killings.

Until we can employ a guardian full time, ALERT research staff working in Chizarira National Park react to incidents such as these as quickly as they can but often only receive a report a few days after an incident.

Nov 8, 2020

Elephant research update; Chizarira National Park

ALERT initiated an elephant research project in Chizarira National Park (1,910km2) in 2019 together with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.  The Chizarira National Park ecologist works closely with the ALERT researcher.  Sadly, he was involved in a light aircraft accident whilst on wildlife counts.  One team member was killed, and two injured.  He was apparently not injured but despite two weeks of searching he has not been found.  The plane went down in hilly country in the mid-Zambezi Valley.

Despite this sad news we continue the research that we initiated and last month collared another female elephant.  The operation went well and the female was back on her feet soon after receiving the drug antagonist and rejoined the herd.  At the time of writing we are at Chizarira to try and collar a bull elephant.  Bull elephant wander more widely that the female herds and we are hoping to obtain some valuable data that could indicate connecting wildlife corridors between the Protected Areas around Chizarira.  

We are obtaining interesting movement patterns from the two collared females.  The collar has a built in GPS which transmits a position signal to a satellite.  We then download these points onto an electronic map.

The one collared female with her family group, appears to make short forays into the nearby villages outside of the park.  These visits are not for long: in at night and back into the park before sunrise.  This is undoubtedly a clever tactic that keeps them safe from reprisals from villagers but is nevertheless cause for concern.

We are looking at the possible trigger which initiates movements out of the unfenced park.  Where the elephants left the park to enter the villages, there is a high escarpment (600 meters) which normally acts as a barrier to wildlife.  However elephants use contours in a zig zag fashion to gain access up and down steep gradients.  At the time of writing the park is very dry and hot, and the forays into the villages would normally be to raid maize crops.  However planting has not begun and it could be that the elephant are investigating old traditional wildlife corridors, looking for better forage in other Protected Areas.  It could be that they were disturbed during this investigation.

Thank you for your support of this important project which we continue to carry out despite many challenges.   

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