Changing Planet

400 Poachers Snared in a Year: Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit on a Roll

Photo by VFAPU

Every year, thousands of travelers from all over the world visit the Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe and Zambia, to watch the waters of the Zambezi River thunder into the deep Batoka Gorge, and to appreciate the abundant wildlife that roam the areas around the Falls.

But like anywhere in Africa, where wildlife and local people live in close proximity, there are poaching threats to the animals.

The Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit (VFAPU), based in the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, is a non-profit organization working to fight poaching in the Zambezi National Park and adjacent Victoria Falls National Park.

The unit reported capturing a total of 400 poachers in 2014, including the successful investigation and capture of a number of poachers who were involved in a terrible elephant-poisoning incident in Zambezi National Park.

“It was shocking to experience our first case of cyanide poisoning,” said VFAPU operation co-ordinator Charles Brightman, “where poachers placed poison in a mineral lick and sadly, five elephants lost their lives.”

“It’s a new method of poaching, the use of poisons rather than shooting, with the main object being to get tusks for black market sale.”

The investigation into the incident was a joint effort by the Environmental Management Authority, Zimbabwe Republic Police, National Parks and Wildlife Management, VFAPU and the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, he said. The cyanide poachers were arrested and their court cases are pending.

VFAPU scouts patrol through the Zimbabwe bush. Photo by VFAPU


Also arrested in 2014 were 358 wood poachers, 11 fish poachers, one thief, eight illegal miners, two bush meat dealers and five persons entering the park’s estate illegally.

A total of 158 snares was recovered from the field, a dramatic drop from the more than 4,000 found in 1999, when VFAPU was formed.

The Unit started out hiring only three scouts, and with assistance from the local hospitality group, Africa Albida Tourism, which operate lodges in Victoria Falls and Chobe, now has 17 scouts, operating seven days a week, patrolling an area approximately fifty square kilometers (19 square miles, smaller than Manhattan) surrounding Victoria Falls.

The operations are now expanding further afield, said Brightman, as the VFAPU help with manpower, logistics and equipment to assist in joint operations.

Already, in the first month of 2015, the VFAPU assisted local police and National Parks in arresting two suspected ivory dealers, who have been charged with possession of ivory with the intent to smuggle it out of the country, and are now awaiting trial in Victoria Falls.

“We are thankful for all the support in 2014,” said Brightman. “We can’t let poaching continue unabated, and we must all take a stand together.”

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Related News: Zimbabwe Planning to Increase Its Sales of Baby Elephants, Sources Say

Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram
  • pat mcginness

    Well done to all the guys who capture these horrible poachers they should all be hung….. keep up the good work guys xx

  • Diane and Steve Woodard

    We had the pleasure of spending a morning with Charles Brightman, learning about the VFAPU on our 2012 Zimbabwe trip. It was one of the most memorable things we’ve ever done. Congratulations to them!

  • Margaret Morris

    my first sight of elephants was in 1997 whe we saw a herd wading through the Zambesi from Zimbabwe into Zambia. It was a magnificent sight so I am so pleased that all those poachers are being caught. Well done to all those BFAPU members.

  • Hooman Melamed

    Thank you for all you do!!

  • rosemary garrow

    You guys are doing a marvellous job out there. It is so good to hear your success stories. Keep the poachers down. Thank you

  • Richard

    What a wonderful job. I have just been to visit the falls and it is such a treasure! The people the animals the surroundings the tourists, the place is buzzing . I hope more people would help donate funds towards this project and others so wild life can be preserved. My children had the time of their life there. Cheers!!

  • kk

    that is so cute

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