Recognising the plight of Wilderness Safaris communities in Zimbabwe after the devastating loss of tourism income from COVID lockdowns, in 2020 Children in the Wilderness Zambezi quickly set up a regional Conservation Heroes relief programme to assist their neighbours with food and other essential supplies. Their most recent outreach was conducted in partnership with WildAid. WildAid’s Southern African Consultant, Guy Jennings, reports on the campaign.
In September this year, WildAid, Wilderness Safaris and Children in the Wilderness (CITW) partnered on one of CITW’s incredible interventions to assist with food distributions to communities that have been adversely affected by the collapse of conservation-based tourism from COVID-19. WildAid and Wilderness contributed to food packs, nutritionally designed to feed a family of 4-6 for a month.
While this may have been the main aim of the trip, so much more was learned and experienced by the entire crew.
WildAid specialises in mass media communication campaigns to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products in Africa and Asia and to promote anti-poaching efforts, domestic wildlife tourism and local wildlife conservation projects. By engaging with local and international ambassadors, WildAid spreads our “Poaching Steals From Us All” messaging throughout Africa. One of WildAid’s hardest-working and favourite ambassadors in Zimbabwe, Rumbizai ‘Rumbi’ Takawira joined the trip to help with the distribution and experience the interventions.
In recent times, due to the pandemic and excellent conservation and anti-poaching work being done in Zimbabwe by our partners, WildAid has shifted its anti-poaching efforts to assisting the communities living in and around conservation areas with combating Human-Wildlife Conflict issues, as well as helping them through these difficult times.
The first activations took place close to town and at Jabulani Village (a community near Victoria Falls). VF is a town where 85% of the working population is employed in nature conservation-based tourism. The town has seen a massive loss of employment and subsequently a large urban-rural migration. Poverty, hunger and joblessness have led to an increase in poaching activities and hopefully, these kind of interventions can show that conservation still cares for the communities that are supported by the tourists who would normally visit their areas.
Rumbi assisted with the handovers and the activity went really smoothly with lots of smiles, laughter and a few tears. WildAid also visited the Ndau Studio, to film the Snare Wire Jewellery Project, where incredibly talented artists are re-purposing snare wire to make buttons for rangers’ uniforms and bespoke jewellery (we had to check Rumbi’s pockets on the way out – everyone loved the stuff so much)! CITW shared with us some amazing - and more importantly, sustainable - projects with the Jabulani community, including papermaking, ‘glass for bricks’ and their goat income-generating project, where a (VERY lucky male purebred) is used to mate with dozens of females, producing an excellent strain of valuable goats. These initiatives, although hard hit by the pandemic, will enable the community to produce an income revenue long into the future.
The following day WildAid, Rumbi, the crew, Shuvanayi ‘Shuv’ Taruvinga, and Tendai Mdluli headed for Hwange National Park to be hosted by Wilderness Safaris at their wonderful Little Makololo tented camp. On arriving at the camp, two things immediately strike you – the view of dozens of elephants on the plains in front of you, and the incredible friendliness of the staff. A word of warning, though – stay away from the chef’s fresh bread ‘balls’ cooked on the fire in the morning... O-M-G!
The entire staff were friendly, fun and completely engaged – and although they have also been through very tough times, welcomed us all like family.
The distribution took place at Ngamo Primary School, which was still closed due to COVID restrictions. We distributed food packs to the elderly and experienced such beautiful emotions, with singing and clapping. The highlight was Rumbi dancing with some of the community in celebration of them receiving the packs (not a dry eye in the house). We visited the basket-weaving group and saw first-hand how COVID had literally closed down these ladies' market for their stunning crafts.
Also, three smart young CITW Eco-Club members arrived in full school uniform to conduct an interview with us on their thoughts, hopes and experiences about conservation. A brief trip to the Scorpion Anti-Poaching Unit was a sobering visit to see and talk about the work they do, and the increase they have seen on their snare sweeps. Again, all we experienced was welcoming people, fun and laughter and a supreme level of professionalism.
While food distributions won’t solve anything long term for the communities in the region, the empathy and passion displayed by Wilderness and CITW shows that people, partnerships and wildlife are vitally important to the dignity and survival of all. It is never easy giving people food to survive, and was a deeply moving experience all round, but the way it was organised and conducted gave hope for the future. The sustainable community projects run by Wilderness and Shuv in partnership with CITW have the potential to be replicated in so many other areas around the continent, and we wish you all the very best with continuing and expanding these projects.
WildAid remains committed to strengthening these kinds of partnerships with Wilderness Safaris, assisting communities and promoting domestic, regional and international tourism in the region.
Passionate local ambassadors like Rumbi can spread the message to Zimbabweans to nurture their environment and conserve their heritage for future generations. Thank you for hosting us all.
Written by Guy Jennings
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