When you go on a Victoria Falls safari in Zimbabwe, spare a thought for those working behind the scenes to conserve the local wildlife through research, rescue and rehabilitation, and community outreach. Come with me to meet the hardworking team at the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust.
When they examined him, the VFWT found the back legs paralysed, probably after being hit by a car. Luckily, there was no structural damage and a wildlife vet thought the animal had a good chance of recovery. Aardy was taken to the VFWT’s rehabilitation centre in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
There he was given time to heal. Once inflammation went down, he slowly regained the use of his legs. Being a nocturnal creature, he would sleep most of the day then go out with his care team of humans to exercise his legs and forage from 20:00 until 03:00, before returning to the centre for a supplemental feed.
This rescue and rehabilitation success story is not uncommon at the VFWT, with some 50 animals a year being rescued and treated for snare wounds alone, before they’re released back into their natural environment. The non-profit unit was founded in 2008 by Roger and his wife Jessica and it now it has 17 staff members and runs 14 projects.
Thanks to Africa Conservation Travel, which tries to bridge the gap between tourism, communities and conservation by providing conscious travel itineraries in southern Africa, I was lucky enough on a recent visit to Victoria Falls to meet a few of the VFWT staff and talk about their work.
I learnt that their hands-on wildlife research projects include vulture conservation, lion research, the use of chilli pepper to deter elephants from crops, as well as mitigation of human-predator conflict.
Bongani Dlodlo heads up the community outreach arm of the trust, which includes a community clinic, now run by Vets for Animal Welfare of Zimbabwe (VFAWZ), to deal with vaccinations and sterilisations of pets. The team also helps combat erosion and litter, form firebreaks, and show teachers how to bring conservation into the classroom. For instance, children might count impalas rather than apples.
There’s also a programme of community guardians and mobile bomas that is doing great work in helping to prevent human-wildlife conflict in communal areas. I met Bongani in one of the communities where the results have been impressive – read more about the community guardians and mobile bomas here.
[Update: Sadly, Sylvester died in January 2019 as a result of injuries sustained in a confrontation with a leopard.]
Future plans include extending the lab for forensic and genetic work, creating an avian rehab centre, expanding the community guardians programme to help to lessen human-predator conflict in the communities, and monitoring the movement of vulnerable species like vultures and lions.
As with all non-profit organisations, funding is an unending mission. The VFWT is registered as a trust in the UK and US, but also works with local Victoria Falls lodges and hotels. For instance, Batonka Guest Lodge donates $2 per bed night, and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge donates $1 for each lunch ordered off their menu.
Visitors to Vic Falls who are really keen on conservation issues can make an appointment to tour the lab and rehab cages. And if you’d like to donate towards this important work in Victoria Falls and the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, please visit the VFWT’s donate page.
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