For decades, Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve (VFPGR) was utilised as a consumptive hunting concession and had a small anti-poaching unit to protect its area and biological assets – mainly from subsistence poachers residing in neighbouring communal land and high-density suburbs on the periphery of Victoria Falls town.
The then anti-poaching unit (APU) consisted of six members – mainly ex-soldiers from the liberation struggle. The unit was armed, but with antiquated weapons; uniforms were seldom replaced; little other equipment was available to the unit; no ongoing training was offered; and accommodation was very basic. At this time, the modus operandi was very simple and consisted mainly of daily general patrols.
Then in 1996, VFPGR was purchased by Sheikh Adel Aujan Adel who was extremely passionate about Africa and its conservation. Adel immediately transferred the land utilisation option from consumptive hunting to non-consumptive conservation and wildlife-based tourism activities.
The perimeter was secured by an electric game fence and various tourist amenities, such as hotel and lodge, were established. Adel also saw the importance of the anti-poaching unit in his new venture and the APU was rearmed and better housed.
Although this was an immediate relief and a positive move, especially with the addition of two more members, it was still a far cry from what can be considered an effective force against subsistence poaching and, more seriously, the threat of commercial poaching.
Adel’s passion for wildlife drove his determination to make a real difference and rhino conservation was very close to his heart. VFPGR was awarded custodianship of black rhino in June 2006, becoming a designated rhino Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ), and received its four founder members that same year. In the time since, the programme has been an amazing success, with the population of black rhino reaching a peak of fourteen individuals.
This outcome surprised even experts in the field, and has enabled us to translocate black rhino to assist other breeding programmes in neighbouring countries.
Today, VFPGR APU consists of a highly qualified APU manager/instructor and 18 professionally-trained game rangers. This unit is a highly specialised and members are required to pass monthly fitness tests, undergo additional quarterly training in applied fields, keep up to date with current trends and operational issues, and attend training in other countries to ensure the highest standards of proficiency in anti-poaching systems and techniques.
The VFPGR APU is housed in three separate modern base stations, strategically located around the property, with a headquarter base that also serves as a central control station. The unit is equipped with two 4 x 4 all-terrain vehicles and a comprehensive radio communication system.
With regards to arms, we issue heavy-calibre firearms to some individuals, but most the team are given LM5 semi-automatic assault rifles. Weapons training, including live ammunition range training, takes place a minimum of four times a year.
Other equipment includes new uniforms, webbing and related attire, issued biannually. Binoculars, night-vision equipment, and other electronic aids are issued where necessary. VFPGR is entirely covered by a sophisticated network of camera trail traps and we are currently researching the use of drones as a monitoring option.
We have been instrumental and very successful in creating an informer network in Victoria Falls and also within neighbouring communities.