For long-term conservation initiatives to succeed, there is a need for more wildlife research to be conducted in the Victoria Falls region of Zimbabwe. Wildlife Encounter strives to fill this gap through studies of local predators, large mammals, and environmental ecology in the years to come.
ZAMBEZI NATIONAL PARK HYENA PROJECT
As the most common and abundant mammal predator in Africa, spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) have an important ecological role for maintaining prey populations and controlling the disease. They are also often involved in incidences of human-wildlife conflict. Therefore an understanding of their ecology and behaviour is of great conservation importance to provide evidence-based management guidelines for conservation practitioners, researchers and reserve managers and for appropriate and effective mitigation of conflict with humans. However, relatively little is known about the species compared to other large predators such as lion, leopard, wild dog and cheetah. No studies had been carried out on spotted hyena in the Zambezi National Park prior to the initiation of the Zambezi Hyena Project in 2015 by ALERT/Wildlife Encounter. Significant expansion of this project is planned for the year ahead. Wildlife Encounter’s recent purchase of dedicated research will help enormously in this regard.
ZAMBEZI NATIONAL GIRAFFE PROJECT
With an estimated population of less than 100 000 individuals in Africa, one of the world’s most recognizable animals and the tallest land mammal, the giraffe, has recently been up listed from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and added to Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species Appendix II. The largest threat to giraffe in Africa today is human population growth, and associated habitat loss, changes through expanding agriculture and mining as well as illegal hunting, increasing human-wildlife conflict and civil unrest. Wildlife Encounter/ALERT began giraffe research in the Zambezi National Park (ZNP) in February 2017 to begin assessing the state of the giraffe population in the park, with the aim of contributing to a global database produced by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), a Namibian non-governmental organisation focused on the conservation and management of giraffe throughout Africa. As well as compiling a continent-wide giraffe photo-identification database, GCF’s goal is to further understand the social structure, population dynamics and inter-species interactions of this relatively understudied animals.
ZAMBEZI NATIONAL PARK MANAGEMENT ASSISTANCE
As a key stakeholder in the Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks, Wildlife Encounter in conjunction with ALERT has an important role to play in assisting ZPWMA to manage the park estate for the benefit of the wildlife and vegetation, parks personnel as well as visitors and tourists. To achieve this, as and when necessary Wildlife Encounter/ALERT with assistance from volunteers engage in various activities such as litter picks, snare sweeps, infrastructure maintenance and repair, alien plant removal etc within the Victoria Falls and Zambezi National Parks.
MATETSI HUMAN WILDLIFE CONFLICT MITIGATION PROJECT
Human-lion conflict issues are widespread across Africa. With an increasing lack of prey availability and suitable habitat, lions have become a health and safety hazard to many rural communities through the injuring or killing of livestock and people. As a result, lions are viewed as dangerous pests and are destroyed through retaliatory killings or by Problem Animal Control departments. In 2015, Wildlife Encounter/ALERT in partnership with Coventry University started an initiative to help rural farmers resident in the Matetsi area, to protect their livestock against attacks from wild lions. In November 2015, with permission and help from the Matetsi community the team began installation of the lights on livestock kraals to deter lions and camera-traps to monitor predator visitation. These lights were installed within the Masikili, Sikabelo, Kalala, Woodlands, Breakfast and Khaya-lethu areas of the Matetsi Environmental Conservation Area (ECA). Interviews and regular contact with these local communities are a vital component of the project, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the conflict and societal perceptions as well as facilitate community engagement and support.
The aim of ALERT/Wildlife Encounter’s Conservation Education programme in Victoria Falls is to encourage young people (aged 10 – 12) to engage with the natural environment in which they live and to help them understand the advantages of living alongside and conserving local wildlife, habitat and ecosystems. The 12 week course teaches students foundation concepts within Ecology so they can better appreciate the value of the natural environment. This, in turn, enables students to adopt and develop practical approaches to conservation and managing their environment so that nature and people can co-exist harmoniously for mutual benefit.
LION REHABILITATION AND RELEASE INTO THE WILD PROGRAM
Wildlife Encounter supports and facilitates the Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program. The programme has successfully released two prides of captive-bred lions into fenced release areas, where they are thriving; successfully raising offspring, free from human contact, which are now ready for reintroduction into the wild- the final phase of the project. The data collected from our release sites is a world-first; describing behaviour, interaction and hunting performance of the release prides as being equal to that of wild born lions. The programme is overseen by ALERT’s executives, who are , between them, members of the IUCN SSC Reintroduction and Conservation Breeding Specialist Groups, as well as the African Lion Working Group. Our work has been featured on the BBC, Animal Planet, ITV, CNN and more. Through these endeavours and more, such as the introduction of World Lion Day, we work continuously to highlight the plight of the African Lion to the world.