As we celebrate the launch of the 2022 Wildlife Ranger Challenge, in our latest instalment, we spoke with Wildlife Ranger Award winner, Benson Kanyembo, to see what he’s been up to since 2019.
How has your work developed since winning your award?
I’m still in charge of law enforcement operations; planning, organising, controlling, managing, training and supervising the community / village rangers together with the DNPW management.
Since 2019 I have taken advantage of using my social media platforms (including LinkedIn, Instagram & Twitter) to educate and raise awareness about the natural world and conservation. My followers keep growing every day.
A number of local institutions and schools have invited me as a guest speaker to encourage young people into nature conservation and leadership.
How did winning your award impact your work on the ground?
The award has given hope, courage and morale to all community and government rangers that you can be recognised for your contribution to wildlife conservation by the outside world.
How has the landscape for conservation changed since winning your award? What new challenges are you facing?
There has been a dramatic increase in livestock predation by lions in our landscape from 3 in 2019 to more than 110 in 2021. Other everyday challenges for rangers include the frequency of extended patrols, separated from their families. Their commitment to protecting our wildlife can mean they miss out on time with their families and bringing up their children.
The outbreak of Covid-19 was one of the biggest challenges for scouts on the frontline. The impact of Covid is affecting manpower as many rangers have and are still testing positive, forcing them to be off work for weeks. Luckily all of our rangers are vaccinated and no one has been very sick.
Bushmeat has ceased to become an issue of being hungry and bushmeat hunting has resumed as a commercial business, driving the illegal wildlife trade.
Habitat loss continues through human encroachment. Deforestation for charcoal production and agriculture are putting additional pressure on the land. At the same time, human population growth has resulted in people settling in once-open areas, exacerbating conflict with wildlife from crop raiding, property damage and livestock predation. A lack of a viable land use plan in the game management areas (GMAs) means that development is uncontrolled, with farms and infrastructure popping up everywhere.
Greater political will is also needed around wildlife and conservation issues. In a political climate where the government have to put great emphasis on human needs such as education, health, water and job opportunities, financing nature conservation and getting the right support is an ongoing challenge.
Of the species you work with, which do you think face the greatest threats?
Elephant poaching and the demand for ivory is high and South Luangwa has not been spared. The number of illegal elephant mortalities and the number of ivory tusks collected doubled in 2021. We can conclude that we had more poaching in 2021 compared to 2020. Like many wildlife rich places in Africa, we continue to face widespread poaching of big game and the never-ending challenge of snaring.
What have been your major successes since winning your award?
My major successes since 2019 have included:
- Renovating the new Command and Control Room, including the installation of a new digital radio communication system, SMART data and Earth Ranger software.
- Joint management of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) team, based at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) Headquarters ready for 24hrs service deployment.
- Elephant mortalities were reduced by 66% between 2018 – 2020. This was a major achievement and took an enormous amount of effort and resources from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and Conservation South Luangwa (CSL).
- Our human-wildlife conflict mitigation programs and community work were also greatly increased and improved. It is not something we take lightly or for granted and it will take a huge effort to maintain this and improve on it.
- Recording more ground and aerial patrol coverage in the park
- In 2020, organising the Community Game Drive and The Clean Sweeps programme* (an innovative joint CSL/ZCP programme) to ease the burden of Covid-19 in local communities. The programme engages conservation services from 700 lodge staff, by paying them to conduct snare sweeps. More than 450 snares were removed in the main Mfuwe area where snaring tends to be highest. This resulted in zero snared lions reported in South Luangwa for the first time in over a decade.
- Facilitating more than 900 people getting out on game drives, 59% of which had never been in the park before. All these people are from the local community and have lived around the national park their whole lives.