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After the deaths of her husband and three of her children, Sibuselaphi “Busi” Ndlovu has found consolation as a ranger protecting orphaned elephant calves cared for by the IFAW-Wild is Life Panda Masuie Release Project in Zimbabwe.
When her husband passed away in 2003, life changed drastically for Ndlovu, a 31-year-old single mother of four at the time. “Without any stable source of income, l had to make tough decisions to fend for the kids,” she says.
She joined the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe as a general hand. Soon, though, Ndlovu decided to become a ranger. She wound up being deployed to protect the wildlife in Panda Masuie.
Panda Masuie Forest Reserve lies close to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe’s northwest region. With its crucial location along the Hwange-Kazuma Chobe wildlife dispersal area, the 85,000-square-acre reserve brims with biodiversity and serves as a haven for wildlife—especially orphaned elephants.
The Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe and Wild Is Life co-manage the forest with support from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). The trio of organizations works together to secure, restore and maintain healthy ecosystems that support rehabilitation and release of orphaned elephants back into the wild.
The Forestry Commission and IFAW have taken several steps to protect the reserve, including establishing anti-poaching units. Ndlovu serves in one of these units, tasked with protecting wildlife at Panda Masuie.
With the loss of her husband, “my world changed, and life became unbearable for me and the kids,” Ndlovu says.
Tragedy struck again soon after her husband’s death, when two of her four children passed away. A third child died in 2020.
Determined to provide for her family, Ndlovu decided to become a ranger. She joined up in 2010, going through a “grueling” ranger training course that she describes as a test of “physical and mental strength.”
After completing the course, Ndlovu was deployed to Panda Masuie, where she helps protects traumatized orphans cared for by the elephant release project.
Ndlovu, whose name means ‘elephant’ in the Ndebele language, has formed special bonds with the orphaned animals. One is named Anabelle, who arrived at the reserve at age three years, missing a large part of her trunk. “She must have been attacked by a lion when she was young,” says Ndlovu. “Annabelle is special to me.”
Annabelle was translocated from the Wild is Life elephant orphanage in Harare to Panda Masuie in 2018 after a successful rehabilitation.
Ndlovu is one of only two female rangers among the 14 protecting Panda Masuie. “There is absolutely nothing that can stop women from taking up the responsibility” of serving as a ranger, she says. “It is all about dedication and sacrifice.”
Francis Ncube, another ranger at the reserve, believes that Ndlovu’s story could inspire more women to help protect the country’s wildlife.
“She is an amazing character,” he says. “She chose a very noble profession, and together we are here to safeguard our treasured wildlife resources.”
“Busi is a fantastic asset to the team of people working at Panda Masuie. Both the elephants and the elephant handlers are very fond of her and feel confident around her, when she escorts them on their daily missions into the wild,” said Jos Danckwerts, Project Manager for the IFAW-supported Panda Masuie Release Project.
IFAW Director of Landscape Conservation, Philip Kuvawoga, reaffirmed the organization’s long-term commitment to support ongoing work aimed at protecting wildlife and their habitats, saying: “It is IFAW’s commitment to ensure that the brave men and women tasked with the responsibility of protecting wildlife are well equipped and trained to secure our natural assets.”