With the COVID-19 pandemic, wildlife poaching is on the rise around the world. This is a result of both desperation, as income opportunities dwindle for local communities, and of opportunity, as rangers and scouts have limited capacity to work, due to shelter-in place orders and a decrease in funding support. Without anti-poaching patrols operating at full capacity and across their full range, poachers have greater access to protected areas. Fortunately, in the buffer zone along the northern edge of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, Painted Dog Conservation’s (PDC) Anti-Poaching Units have been able to keep the threats at bay. PDC’s Anti-Poaching Units provide a blanket of protection for painted dogs and many other threatened species within their patrol region of about 4,500 square miles. They are the only anti-poaching unit currently operating at full capacity in the area, making their work more important now than ever in protecting painted dogs and other wildlife from illegal snaring.
PDC’s Anti-Poaching Units have been operating since 2001. In that time, they have collected over 35,000 snares, saving the lives of thousands of animals. They work in cooperation with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority and local law enforcement to run patrols and ensure that poachers are convicted in accordance with the law.
With the collapse of the tourism industry, anti-poaching efforts around Zimbabwe and across Africa have been left unable to operate. Income from tourism has ground to a halt, leaving many national parks, protected areas, and travel companies unable to pay their staff, which includes anti-poaching scouts. But PDC’s Anti-Poaching Units are funded from their core budget, meaning they have been able to continue operating at full capacity for now – all thanks to donors and supporters like you.
Poaching snares kill animals indiscriminately, and the practice decimates the small surviving populations of threatened species, many of which are already facing pressures of extinction from habitat destruction and climate change. Painted dogs are especially susceptible to poaching snares because of their mobility – though they are not the target of poaching specifically, they are often the victims. On average, painted dog packs travel more than twelve miles a day, which increases their likelihood of encountering a deadly snare. Painted dogs function as family systems that require a minimum number of adults to hunt and protect its pups from aggressors. The loss of even one individual can jeopardize the survival of the entire pack.
Even prior to COVID-19, poaching has been the single biggest threat to painted dogs. The socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe has been unstable in recent years with rampant inflation, which has led to an escalation of the pressures that drive poaching. Unemployment levels, which were quite high even before the pandemic, have reached new heights. With the majority of people in the region already depending on erratic rainfalls simply to survive at a subsistence level, combined now with an even greater lack of economic opportunity during the pandemic, even more people are turning to illegal hunting practices. For years, the lack of recourse available to Zimbabwe’s Parks & Wildlife Management Authority has exacerbated this dire situation. PDC is working to change this.
PDC has built a strong, positive relationship with the local communities for over 20 years, delivering concrete benefits. This includes priority employment opportunities (including the Anti-Poaching Units), unparalleled educational opportunities for local students through Bush Camp, improved health care through local clinics, and a variety of development projects. The pandemic has served to reinforce this relationship, as PDC continues to support these communities with initiatives like nutritional gardens and bore hole drilling for water access. Especially in times of stress and uncertainty, the local communities need to know that PDC cares about them and wants to see them thrive alongside the painted dogs and other wildlife that share this space. PDC recognizes this responsibility and is working to ensure that they continue to be a resource for and partner to the local communities, both during the pandemic and beyond.