The lady with the gun

The lady with the gun
The lady with the gun

Memory Shakoi has an engaging smile. Dressed in a colourful chitenge, the simple cloth wrap that women wear for a skirt in Zambia, she seems like any other young lady in the village. Dressed in trousers, and with a rifle, she’s a different proposition.

Memory is a village scout in Imosho district, just a few kilometres across the border from Namibia. There is little to separate the two countries at the border – there’s no river, just a line on the map. On both sides there are trees, elephants; and poachers.

As a village scout Memory is on the lookout for the tracks poachers leave, for snares, and sometimes for dead elephants. Imosho is sparsely populated. The villages are within the borders of Sioma Ngwezi National Park, which was created around them. There are a few sandy tracks connecting the settlements, and one of them leads to the Namibian border.

Rumours travel faster then vehicles here, and acting on a tip off Memory set up a road block, waiting for a car. When it arrived, there were three men inside and a haul of elephant tusks. The poachers were taken by surprise by the two young ladies, who called ZAWA, the Zambian Wildlife Authority, which arrived to arrest the poachers.

Times are changing in Imosho. First and foremost, as far as conservation organizations like the WWF are concerned, people are getting involved in the effort to eliminate poaching. The two countries are part of KAZA, the Kavano Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area, and Imosho villagers are participating in a project that is helping them as much as the elephants.

The CCCD project is supported by WWF Zambia. Its full title is Community Centered Conservation and Development. Under it, village action groups participate in programmes to improve crop yields, and in measures to deter elephants from raiding the precious maize harvests. Villagers are also participating in a cross border initiative with Namibians in Caprivi Region, who speak the same language and face the same problems.

The WWF is a strong supporter of communal conservancies in Namibia, which for years have been dealing with elephants raiding village crops. There are a mix of solutions to the problem. Chilli is grown and used in slow burning bombs made of elephant dung, to deter the giant marauders. Corridors are demarcated as no-go zones for agriculture, allowing the free movement of wildlife, large and small. Most important in some conservancies, tourism has been promoted, bringing income from visitors who want to see wildlife, especially elephants.

Now that elephants have a value to communities, people are much more likely to want to protect them. The Namibian formula includes game guards who are on the look out for poachers, and who work together with rangers from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Their experience in Caprivi is rubbing off in Imosho, just across the border.

Memory is employed by the CCCD project and her salary is paid by the WWF. Her job is to support the ZAWA park rangers in their anti poaching efforts. But as elephants are no respecters of borders, the anti-poaching teams in both countries have to work together.

Above the trees there are radio masts in Imosho and in Kwandu Conservancy. Twice a week the two areas are in contact; more often if needed. If it’s an emergency, Memory simply gets on the cell phone to her opposite number in Kwandu. The car she stopped with the elephant tusks had Namibian number plates, and with that information the police can start to run checks.

Recently three countries were involved in an incident. KAZA comprises five southern African states: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its name comes from the basins of its two principal rivers, the Kavango and Zambezi, but there are several other rivers, like the Kwando, which meanders down between Angola and Zambia before entering the Caprivi Strip in Namibia.

It was an Angolan police patrol that spotted an elephant carcass on the Zambian side of the river, and alerted the Namibian police, which in turn alerted ZAWA. The rangers and village scouts found three elephant carcasses at the spot. That time they did not catch the poachers, but they patrol the area more often now.

Namibia and Zambia conduct joint anti-poching patrols and discuss wildlife movement on a regular basis. Wildlife corridors are being established to link the five countries, allowing elephants to move from Botswana, where they are in great numbers, through Namibia and Zambia to traditional habitats in Angola. Game monitoring techniques evolved in Namibia will find application throughout the region, enabling a better picture of wildlife numbers and movement to be established.

While KAZA is a political animal, set up by the governments of five states, it is the animals on the ground that are beginning to benefit.

Steve Felton
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