Q&A: Charles Mbao, Commander at Zambia’s Special Anti-Poaching Unit, on World Ranger Day

Today, as we celebrate World Ranger Day, I had the privilege of sitting down to talk to Commander Charles Mbao from the Zambia Wildlife Authority’s (ZAWA) Special Anti-Poaching Unit (SAPU). An IFAW team is spending a few days here in Kafue National Park, one of the world’s largest parks, protected by Commander Mbao and incredibly dedicated individuals from ZAWA and our friends at Game Rangers International.

Commander Mbao has been working in wildlife protection and conservation for 25 years. Now as a Senior Wildlife Police Officer and member of the Special Anti-Poaching Unit, the father of 4 works tirelessly to protect elephants, lions, antelope and all other species by patrolling the park and catching poachers.

Below is our conversation:

Commander Mbao has been working in wildlife protection and conservation for 25 years. Commander Mbao, first of all Happy World Ranger Day. How did you get started in this career?

Thank you. I’ll be honest, growing up I never dreamed of being a Ranger. But as a student, I remember our school won a contest and the prize was a field trip for me and my classmates to South Luangwa National Park. It was there that we first saw lions, leopards, elephants, and giraffes. I was completely amazed. Professors were explaining their behaviors and what touched me the most was how the entire eco-system works as a chain, that is, when you remove one link, everything collapses. It was also clear that man is the most destructive creature in this chain. That was how I became interested. Later in life, I became a cadet and had an interest in security. When a neighbor of mine alerted me that National Parks and Wildlife was recruiting, I immediately applied for a position. In 2000 I became a scout with ZAWA.

We are all amazed by the brave individuals who put their lives at risk to protect animals. What are the biggest challenges you face as a Ranger?

Realizing we can’t be everywhere at once. We are constrained by the limited resources we have. But we will not stop trying and doing our best to reduce poaching in Kafue National Park.

In all of these years, is there any operation that stands out in your mind?

Last year we received intelligence of people trafficking elephant ivory in the Kaoma district, and we immediately went undercover and posed as buyers to arrest the criminals. In the middle of the operation I realized that they had also been working undercover to spy on us and suddenly realized they might be onto us. There were very tense moments during the operation that lasted several days but we were able to catch them. They had several tusks representing a number of elephants and we were ablt to arrest all of them. In the end a successful operation but I really feared the worst a few times.

Why do you do what you do? Knowing the incredible risks?

Because wildlife is important and needs to be cared for. Protecting wildlife is the duty of every person, and we must realize that if we don’t do anything the crisis will in the end affect mankind.

Would you like your children to follow in your footsteps?

I would love to see that. My eldest daughter is already working with wildlife in a way: she works in the Fisheries Department. I’d like everyone to know that I think knowledge is the most important thing. Having the knowledge of the animals and how they all behave and their place in the eco-system chain will make everyone love and respect nature.

--MB

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