International Anti-Poaching Foundation
Sign up with the IAPF's Green Army and take part in the frontline of Conservation. Members will be integrated into the lifestyle of an anti-poaching ranger. This means heading...
Two weeks on the Anti-Poaching Frontline with IAPF
Submitted by Greg Johnstone - Brisbane | January 07, 2015
I volunteered for two weeks in November 2014 with the International Anti-Poaching Foundation’s (IAPF) Green Army Volunteer Program. IAPF are based a short drive from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe at the Stanley & Livingstone Private Game Reserve.
What tasks did you do?
Days on the volunteer project started at dawn and comprised of foot patrols, tracking, snare sweeps (to collect wire traps left by poachers), covert operations and training, sometimes into the early hours of the next day. Generally each project activity was conducted for 3-4 hours and was followed by a drink/food break. Some people might consider this uncomfortable and arduous work but the IAPF Rangers made each day enjoyable and educational.
It was horrifying to learn first-hand the imminent threat of extinction of the Black Rhinoceros. The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) was set up to provide the comprehensive training, equipment, management and support to a team of anti-poaching Rangers; they form the first and last line of defence for nature.
Volunteers participated in daily training sessions with the Green Army Rangers to build their knowledge and capacity as a team. During our stay the training sessions included: Senior First Aid and CPR (run by an Australian Paramedic volunteer); Encounters with Dangerous Wildlife; Tracking Poachers and Wildlife; and Compass Navigation.
Fitness sessions were led by Green Army Rangers at either dawn or dusk, and had a similar format to common boot camps. Most sessions included running, weight-lifting, chin-ups, tractor-tyre flipping, stretching, frog jumps, duck walk, ‘burpees’, push-ups, and combat/defence work. It would be a good idea to pack some running shorts/singlet in the bag to make these sessions more comfortable.
What were the accommodation conditions like?
Base camp for project volunteers consisted of an undercover kitchen/communal space, toilet (flushing)/shower facilities, and several tents. These canvas tents are intended to sleep two (2) people on stretcher beds, and are permanently erected on a concrete pad. I found that these facilities were adequate and comfortable, and the only issue that we experienced was fighting with the zip on the tent each day to get it to open/close.
What was the weather/climate like?
Zimbabwe in November was hot; the thermometer sat between 30-40°C most days. The savannah landscape was dry and brown, which made wildlife viewing easy and spotting potential poachers easier (many bushes were reduced to sticks, and the grass was short). During our first week on the project the property received its first rainfall for the season and within days leaf, buds and flowers emerged across the landscape (a cicada-led orchestra arose in celebration). Most outdoor activities with volunteers were planned within the cooler parts of the day to mitigate heat exhaustion, and ensure that all were happy campers.
To protect against sun damage, thorns and insects volunteers should wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, solid walking boots, and a hat for most of the project activities.
Who did you work with?
The IAPF Rangers are local Zimbabweans who are friendly and keen to share the Green Army experience with volunteer groups; they were highly knowledgeable of local wildlife and vegetation, and keen to answer any questions directed to them. The Rangers skillsets are continually being upgraded through IAPF programs and they are keen to learn from the volunteers also.
Our volunteer group (8 people in total) were from a variety of countries, including Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. This group also had a diverse background which included Defence Force personnel, a Doctor, a Paramedic, a Freelance Journalist, a Marketing/Sales Entrepreneur, and Environmental Scientist. Knowledge and skillsets were shared with the Rangers, and vice-versa, during training workshops each day.
During our stay an Australian Paramedic presented two sessions on First Aid and CPR. Volunteers that believe that they can provide some training to the Rangers should contact IAPF, and bring any relevant material along with them.
Did you pay to participate in this volunteer project?
I paid $1200 USD/person for two weeks with the IAPF Green Army. This contribution covers your food, accommodation, activities and transfers. Our camp chef ‘Hope’ produced amazing food each day and he is very proud of his work too; his meals were easily one of the camping highlights. As a vegetarian who is used to travelling overseas, I did not anticipate the high quality of vegetarian food that Hope continued to rustle up in the bush in Zimbabwe. The meals were a delight and far exceeded our expectations!
I was told that as an Australian resident our contribution may also be lodged as a tax-deductible donation – it would be a good idea to check with IAPF staff whether this applies in your country.
What did you learn whilst volunteering with IAPF?
I thoroughly enjoyed learning tracking theory and practice, and really appreciated being able to do so with the Rangers (such a good educational structure). During a practical tracking session we followed footprints of ‘poachers’ to decipher how many were in their group, and analyse the story in their tracks. We tracked prints into thick bush and discovered a sleeping IAPF Ranger under a tree. Analysis of wildlife/human tracks was a highlight and is as much an art-form as it is a science.
It was a pleasure to observe the abundant wildlife around the 6000 acre property. During my stay I saw as many mammals there, than I had during a 3 week tour of Uganda’s National Parks. I enjoyed speaking with the Rangers and learning about their life and work. In particular, it felt good to contribute to the patrol operations of the game reserve, and come away with a greater understanding of anti-poaching operations, local wildlife, land conservation practices and Zimbabwean local culture.
Would you recommend others to volunteer with IAPF?
Most definitely! It was an experience that I won’t forget, and would recommend to anybody that can get there! If you do choose to volunteer with IAPF, consider packing some items from their wishlist to donate: http://www.iapf.org/en/getinvolved/wishlist. IAPF are a small-scale not-for-profit organisation and do not have abundant resources.
Do you have any funny / special stories from your IAPF experience?
My first day - We had just entered the IAPF HQ, and were in the back of a ute in transit from Victoria Falls Airport, when we were surrounded by a herd of Elephants and mock-charged by a young bull! Not long after dropping our backpacks at camp that afternoon we got an emergency radio call to rescue a young rhino from the water, both from its territorial father and a large crocodile waiting behind it for a feed! It was a special introduction to IAPF and the local wildlife!
What was the worst bit of it?
I honestly loved the whole experience, and only mention our fight with the tent zipper to be picky!