In remembrance of the dedication and sacrifice of one of the first black rangers who lost his life to poachers in 1989 while defending wildlife, Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), recently donated a ranger boat to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) adding to the huge investments in digital technologies the organisation has made to improve wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe’s Middle Zambezi Valley (MZV).
Born in 1949 at Pfumbe in the Save Communal Lands near the Zambezi River, Agrippa Nhamo was a ZimParks ranger who was instrumental in the fight against rhino poaching in the Zambezi Valley.
He attained the rank of sergeant, and was able to account for many heavily armed poachers, recovered some weapons, ammunition, rhino horn, and ivory, often with complete disregard for his safety.
Nhamo died on 18 January 1989, while on an extended patrol in the Gota Gota Hills area near Makuti.
He was ambushed by a rhino poacher whom he was tracking following an earlier exchange of gunfire. The poacher, rose eight meters from his position and opened fire, hitting Nhamo in the neck and chest.
AWF Director Olivia Mufute, said her organisation donated a ranger boat in honour of the bravery and sacrifice that was shown by Nhamo to motivate young rangers with an inspiring story of one of their colleagues.
In Zimbabwe, rangers play a critical role in guarding protected areas as they keep an eye on wildlife, stop poaching through the involvement of residents in conservation efforts, aid in resolving human-wildlife disputes as well as promote tourism.
“As AWF we handed over a 12-seater, state-of-the-art boat to the ZimParks that was named after Agrippa Nhamo, a wildlife ranger who was killed by poachers in 1989 while protecting rhinos in the Zambezi Valley to revive the spirit of fighting among the young rangers,” said Mufute.
“The boat is also fitted with sensors that allow it to detect human activity on the river day and night and this will improve patrol efforts on the Zambezi River.
“AWF strongly believes that donating the ranger boat to ZimParks in honour of their best senior ranger who sacrificed his life on duty in the wilderness will advance story-telling on wildlife conservation from an African perspective in which the audience understands and identifies themselves within the message.”
The Agrippa Nhamo ranger boat is being used on the Zambezi River from the Kariba Dam Wall to the Luangwa (Zambezi confluence), an approximately 257km river stretch. It is deployed from the Zambezi River Anti-Poaching Unit (ZARSAU) Base Camp.
ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said Nhamo was an expert at his job of tracking down rhino poachers and capturing them.
“It is said that he often led his team into firefights with poachers as part of Operation Stronghold, which used to be Zimbabwe’s war to save Africa’s last great herd of black rhinos,” Farawo said.
On the day that Nhamo lost his life, he and his two young scouts were on patrol when they heard shots, saw smoke, and crept up on four poachers. They opened fire as the four sat under a tree feasting on rhino meat.
The poachers scattered, two of them holing up wounded in a dry stream bed. As the game officers searched for bodies, one of the poachers shot Nhamo, 38, in the throat and chest with an AK-47 assault rifle, killing him.
Nhamo’s death resulted in a series of crippling setbacks for Operation Stronghold, that have resulted in now-rampant poaching in the game-rich Zambezi Valley bordering Zambia.
According to statistics from the International Ranger Federation two rangers are killed every week worldwide.
Despite efforts to protect wildlife in Zimbabwe, nearly 500 rhinos have been killed since 1983. The Zambezi Valley has a population of 600 rhinos, which is enough to breed normally.
AWF has over the last four years made huge investments in digital technologies to improve wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe’s protected areas including some communal areas within the Middle Zambezi Valley.
The investment seeks to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of ZimParks rangers while improving conservation management of wildlife and protected areas.
Mufute said the intervention came after the realisation that ZimParks was using old analog radio systems which were not compatible with modern communication systems.
“There was an urgent need to revamp, digitise and upgrade the radio communication systems in line with modern trends and best practices in protected area management globally. Nowadays, poachers use very sophisticated equipment, therefore, it was crucial to upgrade all systems to improve anti-poaching patrols,” said Mufute.
“Through the assistance of ZimParks, we identified the gaps within the intervention points due to the limited communication between staff at anti-poaching offices and anti-poaching rangers in the field among other things.”
AWF purchased and donated modern ICT equipment such as complex hardware needed in digital radio communication systems to improve efficiency and effectiveness of anti-poaching, among them personal hand-held rugged devices that are used by rangers during patrols, hand-held digital radios, laptops, large screens and monitors for the control rooms.
The gadgets are very similar to mobile phones but with more capabilities and special software to document observations by rangers during patrols. They have GPS coordinates and are able to record wildlife species they encountered for ease of reporting. Devices such as Runbos that uses special software known as SMART which stands for Specialized Monitoring and Reporting Tool, are part of the tools.
“SMART is currently being used to track anti-poaching patrols in the landscape and this will contribute immensely towards identifying trends and threats for species conservation, which is in line with AWF’s vision,” said Mufute.
The investment also includes the construction and equipping of specialized Radio Control Rooms to coordinate all anti-poaching patrols from the key base stations, installations of digital radios in all anti-poaching vehicles and boats for quick deployments, ranger safety as well as search and rescue operations in the vast wilderness areas.
Mufute said in some areas around the Mid-Zambezi Valley, AWF invested in solar equipment and related infrastructure, to ensure good energy and power supply.
The MZV is a key biodiversity conservation area with huge significance at national, regional, and global levels.
The protected areas within the MZV landscape include Mana Pools National Parks, Sapi Safari Area, Chewore Safari Area, Hurungwe Safari Area, and Doma Safari Area.
The landscape is a diverse habitat supporting key populations of a variety of threatened and endangered wildlife. In addition, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an Important Bird Area & Ramsar Site, a Biosphere Reserve, and cultural Significance (Archaeological, Sacred & Religious sites)
Farawo said upgrading technology in national parks and other biodiversity conservation areas contribute immensely towards the safety of rangers, and the protection and conservation of all species of flora and fauna.
“The advanced technologies and communication systems focus on protecting all the wild animals including large mammals, endangered and threatened species in the Mid Zambezi Valley Landscapes and all flora and fauna to ensure that ecosystem services continue to function and prove vital life support systems for humanity,” he said.
Digital radio communication system installation in the MZV is 90% complete and is being done under the European Union CITES MIKE project working with ZimParks and the United Nations Development Program under GEF 8 Project.
AWF has also been supporting wildlife community scouts from the Mbire District, where 75 community wildlife scouts have been trained. The scouts have been supported with Runbos with SMART technologies, laptops, desktops, printers and chargers.
WI-FI has been installed at some base stations used by community wildlife scouts.