Written by: Andrea Reid
The horses at the Bangweulu Wetlands Project were introduced by the previous Bangweulu Wetlands Park Manager, Craig Reid. He was a keen horseman who was convinced that horses could greatly assist with monitoring wildlife and, eventually, with anti-poaching patrols.
The horses arrived in early 2013 and no-one knew how they would adapt to Bangweulu Wetlands with its thick elephant grass and vast dambos. Local communities, who had never seen a horse, greeted them with suspicion and excitement. The Bisa people are traditionally hunter-gathers and keeping livestock is not common.
But the equestrian unit has been a valuable addition to the area. The horses can cover four times the distance than rangers on a foot patrol. They have a height advantage, with the ability to see poachers and wildlife ahead of them, which is great advantage in a place like Bangweulu with small hills and high grass. The wildlife are also more relaxed in the presence of the horses which has enabled management to get a better understanding of the species diversity and populations.
However the integration of the horses has taken time as the horses needed to adapt to their new environment which was very different to their lush kikuyu pastures. The staff also needed to build relationships with the horses.
Albert Mupangachabe, one of the scouts at Bangweulu, was the first to express interest and proved to be great horseman. Albert took to riding immediately and was a natural on a horse. When you ask Albert about the highlights of his job he explains how much he enjoys riding and the experience he has had with animals whilst on horseback. Recently he identified a remnant population of sable who are thriving as a result of the extra protection they are receiving from the Bangweulu Wetlands scouts. He returned that day excitedly telling the park members how close the sable came to him and how they just continued to graze. Lastly he added, “I also enjoy it when each morning I arrive at work and Fiddles greets me with a ‘whinny’.”
The riders have also been taught that it is important to know how to care for the horses which includes all equestrian related tasks such as mucking out stables, grooming and feeding. Banguweulu Wetlands plans to grow the equestrian unit to include four members who will all work on rotation.