Zimbabwe is facing food and water insecurity.

Officially called the Republic of Zimbabwe, this Southern African country is located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. Home to 350 species of mammals, more than 500 birds, and 131 fish species, Zimbabwe is mostly grassland, but its mountains give way to tropical and hardwood forests. Zimbabwe supports the second largest population of elephants, important and growing populations of lion and wild dogs, and was once the agricultural breadbasket in Africa.

The natural beauty here is picturesque with sights that include Mt. Nyangani and Victoria Falls, one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. The country is continuously faced with recurring droughts that cause both food- and water-security issues for people and wildlife alike.

The Challenge Today

Zimbabwe’s food, forests, and wildlife are declining.

At one time, Zimbabwe had an abundance of forests and wildlife and was the leading destination for wildlife-based tourism; however, political instability is threatening the country’s wildlife and tourism industry. In addition, major drought, poverty, a growing population, and a lack of fuel have all led to massive deforestation. This, in turn, has caused soil erosion, destroying what fertile farming land there is.

Deforestation has accelerated, as rural communities use firewood for fuel as well as the high demand for wood fuel used in tobacco — particularly in the Hurungwe communal lands of Zimbabwe. The rate at which the impoverished communities are collecting firewood is unsustainable, and their actions are creating food-security issues. With the damaged soil unable to grow crops, people continue to turn to poaching as a way to eat and earn income.

Conservation intervention is critical to ensuring Zimbabwe’s natural resources persist for generations to come. While Zimbabwe is a highly educated country, training opportunities are needed for Zimbabweans to learn new skills that aid in conservation and help better the lives of all. The protected area authority has an exceptional staff, but they lack the resources needed to protect their conservation estate.

Elephant populations will be decimated within three decades if poaching continues unabated.

Over 80 percent of the critical population of elephants in Lower Zambezi live in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, between 2001 and 2014, the number of elephants was dramatically reduced by 36 percent. This significant decrease in the population is a strong indicator that this area has become a hub for elephant poaching.

If poaching for illegal ivory continues at this rate, then elephants in this landscape will be decimated within the next three decades. However, elephants aren’t the only iconic species suffering at the hands of poachers. In only five years, about 500 rhinos were lost to poaching in Zimbabwe.

Effective communication is one of the simplest and key deterrents to poaching; however, many parks suffer from a lack of funding, which results in rangers using outdated equipment and radios that poachers can hack, accessing sensitive communication among anti-poaching units.

Meeting the Challenge

Our solutions to protecting Zimbabwe's unique biodiversity:

The right technology and support could save elephants and other iconic wildlife from the wildlife trade.

Within the Lower Zambezi Valley is one of Zimbabwe’s most ecologically significant national parks — Mana Pools National Park.

Mana Pools is home to critical populations of elephants, lions, and other wildlife that congregate on the floodplains of the Zambezi River.

African Wildlife Foundation is working to protect the park’s incredible biodiversity. AWF works with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, and other key partners to strengthen the capacity and management of rangers throughout the landscape. We built a rapid response unit, trained rangers in advanced ecological monitoring with CyberTracker and SMART, and installed a full-time anti-poaching specialist within the park. We are also equipping the wildlife authority with an upgraded digital radio system, which not only provides secure and encrypted radio communications but also allows easy communication between the rangers in Mana Pools and their colleagues at the Zambezi Valley Reaction Unit — an anti-poaching base.

Increased security provided by improved technology and better coordination of operations between rangers and reaction units is key to fighting Zimbabwe’s poaching crisis.

Zimbabwe is losing approximately 20 percent of natural forest annually through deforestation, specifically for tobacco curing.

Illegal settlements, wood traders, and poachers come to areas right outside of protected parks, like Mana Pools and Chewore Safari Area, and illegally cut down tree species resulting in increasingly deforested areas outside of protected areas. This deforestation, in turn, results in significantly reduced habitat available to wildlife in the buffer zones adjacent to protected areas as well as fragmented wildlife migratory corridors.

AWF, with support from the European Union, is working with the Zambezi Society to implement and address the unsustainable use of natural resources in and around park borders. The preliminary groundwork included mapping boundaries of protected areas, distinguishing major migratory corridors, and locating deforestation hotspots and trends. AWF plans to reduce habitat conversion by promoting conservation-friendly land-use and engaging tobacco farmers to promote efficient post-harvest technologies and practices.