Sifelani Tsiko-Environment Editor
Britain’s Prince William has recognised Zimbabwean wildlife ranger Mr Jealous Mpofu and his out sized impact on the protection of painted dogs in Africa, presenting him with the 2023 Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award.
The Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award is given to celebrate the dedication and commitment of an individual who works in the field on a daily basis to protect Africa’s wildlife.
This award gives international recognition to the men and women who face danger every day to protect biodiversity.
Rangers often work for little reward, risking and regularly losing their lives to protect the world’s wildlife and its fragile ecosystems.
Mr Mpofu (54), a chief tracker at Painted Dog Conservation at Hwange National Park, was among several African conservation champions that were honoured by the Prince of Wales at the annual Tusk Conservation Awards in London on Monday.
The Prince focused his speech on environmental issues, emphasising the need for collective efforts to combat the alarming loss of species and habitats in Africa.
Mr Mpofu won the 2023 Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award for his dedication and commitment in the protection of painted dogs in the country.
This prestigious event honoured outstanding conservationists and showcased their exceptional contributions to protecting Africa’s natural heritage.
“I am so excited to have been honoured by Prince William. This means a lot to me, my family and Zimbabwe,” Mr Mpofu told The Herald in an interview on Tuesday.
“This is a great honour and it will raise the profile of our conservation efforts to save painted dogs in Zimbabwe. We must continue with the good work to save painted dogs from extinction.”
Mr John Lemon, chairman of Painted Dog Conservation Inc, said: “Jealous is a home-grown hero and has helped shape the future of the next generation.”
Mr Mpofu joined Painted Dog Conservation in March 1997, where he now heads a team whose daily job is to track down and monitor the study packs of painted dogs in Hwange National Park.
His work includes reporting the whereabouts of packs on the buffer zone between Hwange National Park and the local Dete community, where locals supported by Tusk remove snares and help conduct surveillance to fight poaching crimes.
Mr Mpofu looks after five packs of dogs which have a combined territory of more than 3 000 km² and he knows each one as an individual — they are “his dogs”.
Mr Mpofu is a well-respected member of his local community and has been an amazing role model for aspiring conservationists, teaching others to learn to conserve what they love, and to have understanding and empathy.
Tusk CEO, Mr Charlie Mayhew said: “Each year we are blown away by the commitment, excellence and passion of our winners. Our 2023 conservation leaders are no exception.
Truly exemplary, Ekwoge Abwe (Cameroon), Fanny Minesi (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Jealous Mpofu (Zimbabwe) are inspirations to their communities and the pure definition of biodiversity defenders. It is an honour to celebrate them.”
Mr Mpofu has for more than 25 years dedicated his life towards the conservation of painted dogs, also known as African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus).
Painted dogs are the largest canids, dog species, in Africa and the second largest in the world after wolves.
The dogs are an endangered species and are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Mr Mpofu has been at the forefront of carrying out vital work to protect painted dogs which are facing numerous threats such as poaching, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.
PDC marketing and communications manager Mr Ronnie Sibanda hailed Mr Mpofu for winning the award.
“This has been long coming and it’s a well-deserved recognition for someone like Jealous. He has selflessly given himself to the cause of painted dog conservation,” he said.
“We are so happy and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with him here. He is a really determined and dedicated man to what he does.”
In the past, Africa had around 500 000 painted dogs but the numbers have declined to around 7 000 largely due to poaching, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, plus deliberate destruction by those who saw them as a pest.
Zimbabwe has around 700 painted dogs which live in the wild, making up about 10 percent of the world’s population.
Africa is facing an unprecedented spike in poaching and illegal wildlife trade which is threatening to decimate the continent’s rich wildlife resource base.
Poaching is threatening the survival of elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, lions, hippos and a whole list of other animals still found on the continent.
Wildlife crime is now prevalent across Africa, with a complex web of highly dangerous international networks.
Wildlife and animal parts are being trafficked to various parts of the world.