The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
Two things became crystal clear in 2020: the work we do in restoring a healthy balance between humans and nature has never been more important, and secondly, we need to rethink the norm.
For over 20 years, Peace Parks continued to build on the visionary foundation laid by our founding patrons, men whose beliefs and dreams changed conservation in Africa. We challenged the traditional thinking of ring-fenced conservation areas and focused on building functional ecosystems that stretch beyond borders. Through partnerships with governments and like-minded organisations in southern Africa, we changed and saved the lives of thousands of species, including humans, that depend on these landscapes for survival.
Made possible through the support of our dedicated donors, we work in the field, side-by-side with local conservationists and communities, to put systems and processes in place that strengthen development, governance, and protection of conservation areas.
We walk fence lines, inspect water sources and count herds of animals as they grow in numbers. We put our lives on the line to stop wildlife crime, and rescuing all manner of living things, including hippos, elephants, pangolins, and even snakes, from man-made dangers. We sit down with communities living in and around these protected spaces, learning about their challenges and triumphs, working together to implement creative solutions that can deter human-wildlife conflict and promote socio-economic well-being. We understand the challenges parks, reserves and communities face because we are there living those realities.
We were, therefore, deeply concerned when the world went into lockdown and revenue streams to many protected areas dried up overnight. We also knew that the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 would be deeply felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially migrant workers and people that rely on the tourism industry for their livelihoods. We immediately reached out to our donors for support and were humbled by the response. The German Government, through KfW Development Bank, responded in a massive way and through a COVID-19 emergency relief fund donated €6 million for health and employment programmes that are meeting the most urgent needs of thousands of families who suffered a loss of livelihoods in the wake of the pandemic.
2020 allowed us to reflect on who we are as an organisation and how we work to achieve our goals. We realised that many of our operating models are no longer as effective as they once were, and we came to see that we need to be more innovative in how we solve conservation challenges. Like so many others, how we began this year is very different from how we are ending it because the way we function has fundamentally changed.
The eventual shift to digital was inevitable, but none of us expected to do this overnight. Our homes, dinner tables, makeshift studies and digital communication channels replaced offices and boardrooms in a matter of days. Amid so much uncertainty and disruption, we had to learn how to be effective and productive while balancing increased family responsibilities. Despite all this, we kept park operations, anti-poaching efforts, and community projects going.
Border closures hampered rewilding efforts, yet we still managed to translocate more than 700 wild animals to Zambia’s Simalaha Community Conservancy and reintroduce the first large resident predators, a clan of four hyena, to Zinave National Park in Mozambique. Despite the many uncertainties that still lie ahead, our plans for the 2021 rewilding season are ambitious and exciting in equal measure as we hope to further build the carnivore guild in Zinave. We are also working on an exciting project that will bring you right into the action, only a step away from actually running with the crews.
Another highlight of the year was in October when 2 000 people from 80 countries around the world supported wildlife rangers in 20 African countries. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge had people from all walks of life lacing up their running shoes and tackling various distances to raise funds for rangers whose income had been affected by COVID-19. Not only did our ranger teams from Nyika and Sioma Ngwezi national parks take part, but the Peace Parks team were also out in numbers to virtually run with the rangers, showing them that they are not alone in protecting our conservation areas.
More than ever before, there is a global awareness of the dangers that surround the illegal trafficking of wildlife and their products. During the year, we had many successes in reducing wildlife trafficking in southern Africa. We commend the counter-trafficking K9 unit operating in Mozambique’s Maputo International Airport, jointly founded by ANAC, African Wildlife Foundation and Peace Parks, who apprehended a suspect attempting to smuggle products derived from the poaching of at least 10 lions and four rhinos.
With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the five partner states of the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) embarked on a collaborative initiative to improve capacity, synergy, and effectiveness of customs and law enforcement agencies responsible for controlling the movement of goods through all 33 of the TFCA’s ports of entry and exit.
In Malawi, 12 Intelligence and Investigation Officers were trained to bolster anti-poaching efforts in Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, whilst in South Africa, the Wildlife Zones Initiative was launched by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in partnership with Peace Parks – an initiative that will see the country’s rhino being protected as a single national herd.
We are a passionate and committed group, and to say that I am proud of what was achieved does not come close to the deep appreciation and respect I feel towards my team who stepped up and kept going. Our mission to restore balance to Africa’s wild spaces is not something we can put on hold, especially when faced with what we’ve known for a very long time: unless we find a way for humans and nature to live in harmony, this pandemic will not be the last of its kind to threaten our existence on this planet.
The coming year will not be an easy one with the effects of COVID-19 sure to linger for the foreseeable future. We commit to sharing with you when and how we need support as we will heavily rely on our donor community and businesses to help us overcome the new and intensified challenges. We’ve adapted, grown and are excited about what the future holds. We look forward to sharing our innovative solutions with you and bringing you closer to Africa’s wildernesses, no matter where you live.
Thank you to all of our donors for your unwavering support. We also warmly welcome the German Postcode Lottery that recently joined the Peace Parks donor family along with the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries. Without your support, we would not be able to do our part in restoring tomorrow. May you enjoy this holiday season with your loved ones.
Werner Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation