A black painted boat slips silently across the lake; a full moon is glinting on the wake. A light flickers briefly on the dark looming island. The men in the boat, with their hands tight on their weapons, peer intently into the gloom. Suddenly! A shout! A shot rings out, a boat speeds away from the shore…
Sounds like the beginning of a boys adventure story, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s real, it’s scary and it might be happening as you are reading this article.
The story of the battle against poachers pillaging our land and waters is a serious non-fiction one. Here at Bumi Hills, we run the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (BHAPU), which is staffed by a number of committed, hard-working men, of all ranks, who work hand-in-hand with members from Parks and Wildlife and the Zimbabwe National Army. They constantly patrol our land and our waters, looking for any suspicious activity such as snaring, netting and illegal fishing. BHAPU, which was founded in 2009 by well-known Professional Guide, Andy Dalziel, now falls under the umbrella of the Bumi Hills Foundation (www.bumihillsfoundation.org), the brainchild of Nick Milne, whose passion for, and desire to make a difference to our wildlife led to the creation of the Foundation in March 2016.
The poaching challenge in our area, which is situated in the Sebungwe region (an area of some 15 000 km²), has evolved into a very serious threat. There are armed gangs operating within our wildlife area and surrounding hunting areas, predominantly targeting elephant for their ivory, but they also target other large mammal species to supply the lucrative bushmeat trade.
It is tempting to pity these poachers, but they are not just “trying to feed their families.” They are running businesses and netting huge quantities of fish regardless of size, type, or breeding status with lengthy and indestructible nylon nets. These are crimes of “greed” and not “need.” The nets are a death sentence not only for the fish, but also for birds and animals that drink or live along the lakeshores. These nets can become entwined in an elephant’s trunk, a bird’s beak and feet, and twisted around an antelope’s slender legs.
On land, apart from the constant scourge of snares, we face new and deadly challenges every day. The loss of one of our gentle Bumi cow elephants to cyanide poisoning was the most recent and devastating incident. She was a lactating mother – and the signs of her small calf kneeling down to suckle from her lifeless body were hard to bear. The calf seems to have been absorbed into his natal herd, but the search for him continues, as he is simply too young to survive on his own for very much longer. The BHAPU team was successful in this case in ensuring that only one life was lost to this random and cruel poaching method, at considerable personal danger to themselves. But as fast as one ivory or fish poaching gang is successfully cracked, another is springing up in its stead – the battle is real and on-going.
We are passionate about what we do; we could not carry on if we were not. The word “Passion” stems from a Greek word which means “to suffer.” There is an element of irony in that. Without the conservation of our wildlife and habitats, and without this passion for conservation – which we at Bumi Hills Foundation believe in – we, as a species, will ultimately suffer.
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