By Peter Hamming – Researcher: Research and Development
“Campamento”…”não temos”, “Laco armadilha”… “temos”. Do you “comprende”? Me neither, at first. These words have become very familiar during my time giving SMART training to rangers in the Zambezi Delta. The Zambezi Delta is a 1.2 million ha area in Mozambique with sand forests, grasslands, swamps and floodplains. It is a fertile area that supports large numbers of animals. In the forest, you can walk into a tiny Suni or Red Duiker while the floodplains and swamps are teeming with herds of buffalo, elephant, majestic sables and many more. This vast area is under pressure from human exploitation for charcoal, bush meat, homesteads, and farming.
There is some hope for the area, as some pockets are being protected in the Coutadas and Marromeu National Reserve. The Coutadas are protected areas designated for wildlife utilization. Coutada 11 is one of these utilization areas. It is the size of the area, approach to sustainable and ethical hunting and the productivity of the environment that makes them important for the conservation of the Zambezi Delta.
In their efforts to protect the landscape, and with the support of grants from Fondation Segré and more recently from BIOPAMA, the managers of Coutada 11 have brought in the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) to train their rangers. Clive van Rooyen, specialist trainer in the SAWC’s Field Ranger Training department, with the support of the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance and Mark Haldane, has been a cornerstone for training the rangers and developing the ‘on-the-ground’ anti-poaching strategy. Their collective efforts have resulted in a noticeable increase in wildlife numbers.
With poaching down and wildlife populations increasing, the reintroduction of species that historically occurred in the delta has been enabled.
The first reintroduced animal into the ecosystem was the African lion in 2018. The reintroduction of 24 lions was the largest reintroduction of lion in history and was facilitated through anchor support from the Cabela Family Foundation in partnership with Zambeze Delta Conservation, the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance and ANAC.
Since their release, the population has increased significantly. More recently leopard have also been reintroduced to the area. The Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance and its donors have been instrumental in these efforts, which will see further species reintroduced in the coming months.
To ensure the protection and management of wildlife in this ecosystem, one needs to stay one-step ahead of the threats. To this end ranger teams have been trained to collect data using SMART Mobile, the mobile data collection version of SMART. SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is a software designed to make conservation professionals’ efforts more efficient and effective whilst assisting management in their anti-poaching efforts.
It has been an interesting journey training the rangers who understand and speak Portuguese and Sena, when I as a researcher and SMART trainer speak neither. The only language that we have in common is sign language. A translator assisted with the introduction of the tasks and training layout for the day, and then it was up to sign language and the handful of words we all knew. Simulations of what the Rangers might see in the bush on patrol were set up for practical training. The Rangers then had to go through the procedures to make sure all the boxes were ticked as they patrolled.
When I asked “Did you see a camp?” I could see the confusion in the trainees’ eyes. I tried again with hand signals and other words; while pointing to my eyes and the area in front of us, I asked, “Campamento?” Seeing nothing there, the replies came back, “não temos”. “Do you see any snares?” My hands came out again along with my attempt to say snare, “Laco armadilha?” In this case we had put some snares on the ground so the snares were counted and the information entered into SMART Mobile. After taking the end point and completing their simulated patrol, I showed them the results on the computer. This was when the Rangers started to understand the benefits of the modern data collection process and really got into the training process, and surveying an area as they would in the field.
The Rangers took what they learned in camp out to the bush and were debriefed every time they came back to base. There were some errors along the way, but the ball was rolling and the first monthly report was a success.
Feet on the ground is what protects our wildlife, but technology can guide the feet in the right direction, ultimately increasing the overall success of patrols.
With the Rangers now having been trained in the use of SMART we look forward to receiving the data in support of the conservation efforts taking place.