June 23, 2023
As the Land Cruiser turned onto the sandy track of the dry river bed, we spotted them. Two Shona men on foot in the remote wilderness, wielding pump shotguns. We’d already encountered one pair of poachers during a stalk a few days earlier and, when I saw these two figures, a surge of adrenaline shot through my veins. Poaching is a serious problem in Zimbabwe’s remote Zambezi Valley thanks to a corrupt central government, an inept and underfunded National Parks Department, an infiltration of Chinese mining interests and unimaginable poverty. These men weren’t poachers, though, they were game scouts employed by the Dande Anti-Poaching Unit (DAPU).
DAPU is a privately-funded and operated conservation effort created by Charlton-McCallum Safaris (CMS) in-cooperation with the local community. Thirty-two scouts operate under the capable leadership of Bongie Ndebele, a mountain of a man who formerly served as a tracker for CMS. These men combine their impressive fieldcraft with a steadfast dedication to protecting the game and habitat from destruction. With few resources and against steep odds, DAPU is achieving results.
DAPU was founded 10 years ago by Zimbabwean Professional Hunters James “Buzz” Charlton and Miles McCallum when elephant poaching in the valley had reached catastrophic levels. During a 2-year period, 76 elephants in the Dande Safari Area were confirmed to have been killed by poachers. Since DAPU’s founding, those numbers have fallen to the single-digits. In 2021, just one illegally taken elephant was discovered. During its short history, DAPU has confiscated more than 10,000 wire snares, arrested and convicted 250 poachers, seized 202 weapons, and paid out significant cash rewards to cooperating locals. It’s a success story by any measure.
As hunters, we talk a lot about the conservation efforts of our community, but we rarely offer specifics. DAPU might be the single best example of what the safari industry is doing to ensure the long-term viability of animal populations. CMS has also voluntarily reduced its big-game quotas, sacrificing short-term revenue for the sake of building healthy populations of elephant, buffalo, cats and plains game. Is that self-serving? Perhaps, but I doubt that the animals care why they are being protected. Schools have been built and wells dug. During the 16 days that I spent on the ground in Dande during 2022, I saw the fruits of these efforts firsthand.
DAPU is funded by CMS, fees levied on hunters and conservation groups including Dallas Safari Club, as well as individual donors. Every penny of DAPU’s budget is accounted for and released through quarterly emailed reports that track everything from wages paid to uniforms purchased. Supporters can see exactly where their contribution dollars are being used, and 100 percent of the money flows directly to the effort. CMS carries the administrative burden; how many charities can make that claim?
The Zimbabwe government is incapable of or unwilling to protect these animals. DAPU has stepped into the gap. DAPU’s scouts are in the bush day and night, patrolling the remote bush and interacting with tribal villages to gather intelligence. Though poaching still occurs, the scouts’ presence, along with sport hunters in the field, makes for a serious deterrent and a boon to local game populations.
The safari industry is making a real difference in Dande, something that hunters can be proud of. If you are interested in supporting DAPU financially, reach out to the Louisiana-based Conservation Force. Contributions are tax deductible.
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