2020 award winner of Tusk Wildlife Ranger in Africa, Amos Gwema has embarked on a wildlife conservation drive in ward 17, Matopo to help fight poaching and wildlife crime in the area.
Of late, wildlife crime has been on the rise in Zimbabwe and Gwema, recently sponsored a Netball and Soccer Tournament at Chapo Business Centre, in Matopo to change villagers’ attitude towards conservation and bring Rangers to interact with the community.
Significantly more women attended the event, compared to men. The teams which played include ZimParks Matobo Netball, Chapo Netball , Silozwi Legends Netball, Chapo Legends soccer team and Silozwi Legends.
At the end of the day each team received a monetary token of appreciation.
The reward money for men’s soccer came from Tusk UK while women’s netball was sponsored by International Elephant Foundation – America.
In an interview, Gwema said sport attracts many people especially in the area where the community is starved of entertainment and soccer is the easiest way to get the community together.
“Right now, more teams want to participate. However, since it is a pilot project selected teams will participate and a bigger tournament will be organised soon.
“I wanted to have the opportunity of meeting the community with other National Parks officials and other Government agencies like the forestry department, Rural District Councils and Environmental Management Authority, to educate them on wildlife and environmental issues,”he said.
Gwema said the objective is to bring the Rangers to the community wearing a friendly face rather than situation whereby Rangers would go to the community wearing work hats which may be an unfriendly face.
“It allows interactions as well. I think it is never too late to engage the community. I want to achieve the vision of “Converting the community attitudes towards conservation in Zimbabwe” so this is the first step towards that aspiration.
“In life to start a journey on foot you have to raise one foot forward and then move,” he said.
Gwema added that fighting wildlife crime is not a one-man operation.
“Without the support of the community, police and judiciary- he explained- nothing will succeed hence all the Government law enforcement agencies are crucial.
“There are also other stakeholders like the non-governmental organisations who support conservation like IFAW, Bhejane Trust, Save the Rhino Foundation.
“I am sponsoring the event from my Tusk Grant Award in fulfilment of my pledge to work with the community for effective wildlife conservation,” he said.
Meanwhile the villagers welcomed the initiative and said they are keen to work with the Matopo National Park in fighting poaching and wildlife crime and embraced the wildlife conservation in the area.
Asilinah Dube of ward 16 in Silozwi, Matopo hailed the initiative and requested that it be made a regular event.
“We really appreciate this initiative and we thoroughly enjoyed the tournament. We played well and we are happy to engage with Matopo National Parks Rangers and Chapo Netball Team.
“This should not be a once off thing but we need such things daily we also have our women football team which needs sponsorship,” she said.
Dube said villagers now understood the importance of conserving wildlife as they received educational awareness messages during the tournament.
She said failure to protect wild animals in the area, directly affected the community’s livelihood.
“If we don’t help conserve the animals and Matopo National Park, it means there won’t be tourism in the area.
“We won’t get people coming here to tour the place if we don’t take care of the environment. So I feel we need to work together with these Rangers in preserving our area so that tourists come in numbers to see the beauties of Matopo National park. This will also bring income to the area which will develop the community.
“We as a community are also guided by the laws here and once we see someone breaking the laws we are happy that we now know who to contact. We used to be scared of these rangers. Now have seen they are friendly people and we can work together . As a community those who break the laws, are taken to the community leaders and punished but then if they keep on breaking the laws, that’s when the rangers can be involved,” she said.
Pamela Ndlovu of Chapo in ward 17, said besides being an eye-opener about wildlife, the tournament helped women to come together share ideas about many things that include empowerment ideas and areas of collaboration to improve lives in the area.
“We are happy that Gwema brought such an initiative as it helped us to exercise our bodies. As women, coming together like this, makes us happy as you can see. It makes us forget about the stresses we have at home, share our problems, find solutions and even share ideas about projects.
“So we have benefited a lot. We have gained knowledge and have started the journey towards financial freedom. We will use the money we got here to develop our netball team, or do home projects which can help us in raising money for the team,” she said.
Village Development Committee member for ward 17 , Sipho “Skywalker” Dube said the initiative strengthened the relationship between the community and ZimParks.
“We are in the area of convergence of wild life, if the community stands alone, while the Parks works independently, nothing will be achieved. to protect these wild animals, needs unity between the two parties.
Dube said the tournament was a catalyst for fruitful future engagements that fostered harmony and a single-mindedness to develop the community.
“This should be a continuous engagement so that we can preserve our wild animals for the next generation. Even employment opportunities should go to the community. The community should have more participation because they are the ones who know these areas better,” he said.
Dube said involving community members in wildlife conservation issues created a sense of ownership among villagers, which he said was a great motivation to play a part against poaching and other wildlife crimes.
Hezrom Ndlovu of ward 16 in Silozwi Community said if animals are not conserved, they will become extinct.
“We appreciate this initiative, I’m the manager of Silozwi team. We were socialising with rangers from Matobo National Park and this made us become one. We need to conserve these animals because if we don’t, they will become extinct in the area.
“We need to try by all means to protect them. And now that we are mingling with the rangers, it will give us an opportunity to alert them if we see any funny movements in the area, be it poaching of animals or burning of the bushes in veld fires.
“We also need grass to thatch our homes, there’s a certain area which we are told to cut, we don’t cut everywhere . All this requires a permit from them so you see it’s good to work together,” he said.
“Even when it comes to fire wood, we now know where to go, so that we can get a permit. This also helps us to curb deforestation. It’s not only these wild animals which need to be conserved but we have trees, grass and rivers. We need to take care of nature as a community. So we need to work with these rangers to keep Matopo National Park alive and kicking. This place is secure because of them.”
Senior Wildlife officer in Matopo Kainos Mugande said they have been preaching no poaching and the community seems to conforming.
“We told them that were meeting these people we were telling them that when you come across a pangolin, submit it to the parks or police or local leadership. So that it can be sent back to the national park.
“Those who know criminals in the community, remember these criminals hide within the community, should expose them. The community is our eyes when people share that information with us.
“Culprits are brought to book, the same with those who possess illegal fire arms, illegal horns like rhino horns or elephants tusks, they come and report. So we have got that inter-relationship,” he said.