Up until the 20th Century, Africa’s wildlife had virtually unlimited spaces over which to roam and animals moved seasonally, allowing them access to fresh food and water and preventing overuse of natural resources in any particular area. Nature preserved a balance between various species and food resources. Today, to separate wild animals from ever-increasing human populations, wildlife is mostly restricted by fenced boundaries of national parks and private reserves. Within these areas, wildlife managers must intervene to maintain the balances that vast spaces and nature once provided.
The Conservancy carries out annual game counts each year consisting of both aerial counts and road strip counts that allow population numbers and the mix of species to be monitored. Individual ranches keep records of annual rainfall which can vary significantly across the Conservancy, and monitor the state of vegetation—grasses, browse, tree cover, and soil conditions.
Our broad objectives are to protect endangered species and preserve the diversity of wildlife and habitats that can be destroyed if not monitored and managed. We have a volunteer group of ecologists and wildlife specialists who serve as a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and they help us keep abreast of new research and evolving best demonstrated wildlife management practices. The TAC works with Conservancy Members to identify needs for new research where our knowledge is incomplete, and research projects are conducted with the help of outside experts. We also work closely with the staff ecologists of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Within this context of monitoring and applied science, management plans are put in place and revised as necessary to prevent imbalances in species mix and the degredation of natural resources. Offtake quotas are carefully set, animals are relocated to open, protected spaces within and outside the Conservancy, and water points are relocated away from degraded areas to reduce feeding pressure. In 2013 and again in 2017, over two thousand of animals, including lions and elephants, have been, or will be, moved to help restock game parks in neighboring countries under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation and the German Embassy.
Wildlife poaching is a continuous, growing, and evolving threat. Once, our largest poaching problem was from subsistence poachers: individuals or small groups who hunted animals for meat to feed their families with snares and dogs, armed only with spears and bows and arrows. This form of poaching is counteracted by teams of game scouts employed by individual ranches. These poachers are still active, and our ranch scout level, in total, remains at around 200 scouts.
But increasingly, the greater threat is posed by organized gangs of meat poachers that operate regionally and nationally, and especially by organized elephant and rhino poachers. Elephant and rhinos are poached for their tusks and horns by teams of poachers armed with high powered rifles, equipped with radios and GPS units, and fielded by criminal organizations that have broad financial and marketing networks. To counter this threat, the SVC maintains a highly trained, well armed and equipped team of over 30 rangers. These men constitute the Special Species Protection Unit (SSPU) which operates both independently and in conjunction with ranch scouts to combat the threat. The SSPU is largely funded by donor organizations including the Save African Rhino Foundation African Wildlife Fund, Tusk, and MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet. Two pairs of Belgian Malamute tracking dogs have recently been donated to the SSPU by the Joy Smith Foundation.
The Lowveld Rhino Trust fields a team of scouts who do biological monitoring of our rhino population. This includes ear notching so each individual rhino can be tracked and identified at least once annually, and the provision of veterinary services when animals are injured.