Zinave National Park, situated in the Inhambane Province of Mozambique is on the verge of becoming one of Africa’s most celebrated wilderness destinations covering some 408 000 ha. This follows the signing of a co-management agreement between the Mozambican Ministry of Land, Environmental and Rural Development and Peace Parks Foundation to jointly develop the park as an integral component of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.  

In an effort to restore the landscape dynamics, after a protracted civil war and years of extreme drought,  the aim has been to enhance ecological connectivity through the establishment of a wildlife economy within communal lands. As part the Park’s capacity development, Peace Parks has appointed a project implementation team and senior park staff were employed. The necessary equipment has also been deployed to enable them to do their work. Twenty-five rangers were recruited in 2017 and a further 34 rangers were recruited from the local communities in 2022 having graduated from a ranger course presented by the Southern African Wildlife College. The rangers have been appointed as part of the Zinave ranger force, more than doubling the size of the park’s patrolling capability. These rangers have also been trained in strategic patrol planning and equipped with Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) tracking systems. 

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Home to  pristine bush with thick vegetation, intense humidity, and heavy annual rains, and as part of its restoration strategy, the Park recently received black and white rhino and elephants from both within Mozambique and from South Africa in the hope of re-establishing the Park’s rhino and elephant populations. At present, and following their relocation, these animals are tense and uneasy as they are readjusting to their new habitats. This means it can be incredibly dangerous if you are in the bush unaware of how to read animal behaviour within this environment. 

Within the first two months of receiving the rhino, Zinave had two serious incidents between the rhinos and patrolling rangers – fortunately there were no serious injuries however Peace Parks Foundation recognised the urgent need to bring forward the training of the rangers in patrolling in an environment with dangerous game. Since all living generations in Zinave have never had contact with black and white rhinos, and had seldom encountered elephant and lion, this training is crucial in keeping the rangers in the Park safe, so Peace Parks reached out to Pieter Nel.  

Pieter Nel is a Senior Trainer at the Southern African Wildlife College’s Responsible Resource Management Department who specialises in rhino and elephant behaviour.Black rhinos feed at night and during the gloaming hours of dawn and dusk. They are nervous in temperament and can be quite aggressive, seemingly charging out of nowhere, as can an elephant when feeling threatened.  Mock charging, which is often misread, is a tactic elephants use to determine whether or not someone is actually a threat,” says Nel.  He suggested conducting Dangerous Game Awareness training as a first step, which could be condensed into a three-day course.  

The rangers were divided into two groups that rotated, so half of the park’s rangers were operational while the second half received the training and vice versa. The training comprised lectures and bushwalks. The rangers were first briefed on what he says are often actually the most dangerous namely mosquitos, ticks, bees, scorpions, and snakes before moving onto the behaviour of big game such as elephants, lions, leopards, rhino, buffalo, crocodiles and so on. “The training prepares rangers with the thought process a ranger should have when walking through the bush and how to pick up the signs when dangerous game is near. This is done by teaching rangers to recognise tracks, scent and to read the terrain,” said Nel.  

The first two days of training consists of morning lectures and afternoon walks. The final day is a full day of walking in the bush, so the rangers can apply what they’ve learned and implement the practices of moving around possible dangerous game, working with wind direction and not walking in ‘blind’. The goal is for rangers to ask themselves, ‘If I go into this area, will it be safe?’, and to make safety-oriented decisions without being less effective or impacting their patrol duties,” he adds.  

After he completed the training sessions, Nel also insisted on meeting with the rangers’ managers to brief them on the thought process that he had used in the training of their rangers. This so they can also understand the ranger’s decisions and patrol movements going forward in the hope that they use the newly acquired knowledge to keep everyone safe. “It’s important for the managers to understand this training is not a one-size-fits-all approach and decisions are made out of safety concerns rather than to destabilise a patrol,” said Nel.