Klaserie River Sands

Volunteering with anti-poaching rangers in Zimbabwe

Written by Sarah Addison

As part of our four-month trip around Africa, we decided to spend some of our time volunteering with the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) based in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, not only support the cause, but in hopes we would also have a unique and unforgettable experience.

The IAPF was founded by ex-Australian special forces soldier, Damien Mander, in an effort to protect and conserve the endangered African rhino, and after seeing him speak at the Perth Zoo a year prior, we decided to lock in a month with IAPF as part of our trip.

rangers, International Anti-Poaching Foundation, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

We spent our days working closely with the IAPF rangers patrolling the reserve, slashing grass, sweeping for snares, painting, installing and checking camera traps, collecting firewood, distributing water and food supplies to the various ranger camps and anything else they needed.

In the evenings we camped out with the rangers within the reserve which often meant we woke to the sounds of the resident buffalo chewing grass behind our tents or the calling of lions who were moving about at night.

One night (early in on our stay) we decided to brave the darkness and walk to the ablution block with our head torches, but after running into two sets of buffalo eyes reflecting back at us only metres away we decided night toilet runs were probably no longer an option!

tents, accommodation, International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

During foot patrols we were surrounded by wildlife and learnt so much about the bush, the animals, and tracking from the rangers. The vegetation was exceptionally thick and on one of the foot patrols we walked right into a large herd of buffalo without realising. Watching the buffalo run through the bush around us was another moment we won’t soon forget!

The best part of our time at IAPF was getting to know the anti-poaching rangers. These guys relentlessly patrol and protect the reserve and its inhabitants (primarily the black rhino) day in and day out and were always ready to go no matter the time of day or night. We joined the rangers for various activities including a drill in tracking and arresting potential poaches on the reserves.

For this drill we took off into the bush as fictitious poaches with three other volunteers and two rangers. After walking for 15 minutes or so, in extremely dense vegetation, we waited to see if the rangers could track us down. Within minutes they had traced our steps and captured us – an amazing display of their talents!

ranger, international Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Late one evening before heading to bed news came through that potential poaches were on the reserve and like lightning all rangers were dispatched. We got our gear on and joined the vehicle patrol team. It was an exciting, slightly scary evening which ended with us silently parked in by a herd of buffalo. The rangers on foot quietly manoeuvred their way through the buffalo herd to join us and told us of a very close encounter they had with a male lion they had stumbled across moments earlier.

No poachers were caught that evening but because the team dispatched so quickly and diligently, all rhinos were safe. Despite the risks associated with night patrols these guys do not think twice before heading out.

rangers, volunteer, International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
When researching volunteer options for this part of our trip we were very conscious about only committing to genuine organisations. This can be a difficult thing in a world where ‘volunteer’ often means ‘revenue’ and although we did pay for our time at IAPF, funding from the program provides the majority of the financial support required to sustain the whole operation.

We were fed three meals a day, provided with a tent and our own walking guide (Leon Varley) for our entire stay and after the month there we could clearly see the rangers and managers on the reserve are incredibly committed to the conservation of the African rhino.

rangers, volunteers, International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
We would recommend the IAPF’s Green Army volunteer program to anyone who is looking for a genuine experience in the African bush, no matter your age, gender, occupation or physique, IAPF can use you. Just have an open mind and be ready to rough it a little! Though if you’re afraid of spiders or snakes, then I would probably rethink it…

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  • Mr. Douglas B. H. Pinchen.

    I don’t think volunteers should be treated as ‘free labour’. It is intensely annoying that people who offer voluntary services should not be paid a subsistence wage. A small recompense gives dignity to the Charity and dignity to the Volunteer. The difference still remains they are not obliged to sign prolonged or temporary contracts, but they can at least be offered or pay for their own personal insurance, surely?

    • A volunteer is there for altruistic reasons, not the money. How much are you going to pay a volunteer from the U.S., U.K., or E.U? $5/USD per day? Anything you would pay to the volunteer is trivial to them and would only take much needed resources away from the APU activities.

      When I give my time to an organization I believe in, I do so to help that organization in its mission and goals. I don’t need or want to be compensated. In fact, volunteer time (for me) always come with an out of pocket cost that I’m happy to spend.

      Volunteer travel is getting big in the western world and it’s not cheap; people are more than willing to spend their money to be a volunteer for both what it gives and the experience they get from it.

      • Douglas Pinchen

        Sounds like sentiments of Kibbutz and that is not agreeable to me personally either. Altruism is merituous but unaffordable to most. You have a pool of local talent and knowledge who are being ignored. It might be worth investigating whether ‘commercial altruism’ has a place in the Commonwealth Charter or if it provides the State with an excuse in the end for slave labour. North Korea is full of merituous individuals coerced into free labour. Further, would your altruists be happy knowing they are perhaps taking work that could be achieved by local talent with a knowledge of local importance – and who would be available indefinitely? Just asking.

        • It seems to be eluding you that these volunteers are eco-tourists paying for an experience. The current IAPF Green Team cost is $550USD/week (about the amount that an APU ranger is paid each month). This is a source of funding for the IAPF, these funders aren’t taking jobs, they are funding jobs and funding the IAPF. How you tie North Korea into this is baffling to me, since no one is forcing anyone on a plane, forcing them to write a check, and forcing them to share their experience with others all in hopes of raising more money for the IAPF. When their eco-vacation is over they return home, non-stop sharing on facebook, instagram, and twitter – all of which share the IAPF message and drive more funding via more eco-tourists. WIthout this significant source of funding the IAPF would have two choices, figure out how to quickly raise substitute funds or cut back its mission – and with staffing being the largest cost of any ground based operation it would be staffing cuts first.

          So what do you want? You want cash in hand eco-tourist to stop coming for the exact experience they seek and are willing to pay to get? How much are you willing to contribute to the IAPF? Can you pony up $26,000USD/year to them to make up for the loss of just 52 tourists weeks per year?

          • Douglas Pinchen

            No, it’s not eluding me, and I stick with my sentiments, but in the United Kingdom which is subject to The Charter of the Commonwealth, the enforcement of Human and Civil Rights, the greatest form of altruism is the donation of human organs free, through the NHS to those who can use them when you die an untimely death. Your ‘volunteers could be classified as people on ‘work experience’. There is nothing wrong with that in essence, but your business, may I suggest is similar to an ‘Export Processing Zone’ which is common in developing countries and usually doesn’t stimulate the local economy. My opinion.

          • You are just off the wall bizarre. Take your NHS card to your local GP and get your meds adjusted – that is if they’re aren’t trying steal your organs. Really. You want to determine what people can do on vacation? An educational or working vacation is slavery? Wow, you are NUTS!

          • Bundubele

            What’s up with the Union, Jack?

          • Don’t know, I’ve never been a member of one.

          • Sarah Kate

            You are spot on! It is crucial funding to the whole operation, without it they would not exist and neither would the rhinos.

  • John Davison

    Some of the comments completely miss the point of volunteer tourism. Not for profit organisations operating in defence of African wildlife provide once in a lifetime mind bogglingly wonderful experiences to volunteers who if they were paid a stipend would immediately donate it back! Ask not what the world can do for me but what I can do for the world. IAPF is right up there in protecting Africa’s wildlife heritage and volunteers far from being exploited cheap labour are extremely lucky to spend such quality time in a noble cause.

    • Sarah Kate

      Well said John 👍🏽

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