2018 Mandela Washington Fellow Dr. Suleiman Makore developed a love for animals early in his childhood in Gweru, Zimbabwe. He admits that despite a longing to work with animals, he never sought out a wildlife-related career due to the societal stigmas surrounding wildlife work and the perception that such jobs are reserved for white citizens. For Suleiman that meant a professional career in medicine, with his free time dedicated to wildlife volunteer work.
After he became a doctor, Suleiman was able to focus more on his love for animals and interest in wildlife conservation. Soon after graduating from medical school he became involved with Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe, a nonprofit engaged in conservation efforts and public education services on the importance of protecting wildlife and the environment.
In this podcast, Suleiman shares some of his daily projects at Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe and discusses the many challenges that the organization faces, such as combating poaching and involving local communities. He also touches on his goals for the organization’s future and his hope of seeing more black youth become involved in the field of wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability.
“My dream is for more involvement of the indigenous population,” Suleiman says. “I think our future will be brighter, our animals will be safer in our country.”
Suleiman invites YALI Network members to follow him on Facebook at suleiman.makore.
Listen to the YALI Voices podcast or read the transcript below.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: SULEIMAN MAKORE
SULEIMAN MAKORE: My name is Suleiman Makore. I’m from Harare, Zimbabwe. I grew up in a town called Gweru, Zimbabwe. It’s the third-largest town, city in Zimbabwe, or so they say. I think it’s much smaller than that. But, relative, one of those towns where everyone knows each other, and even when I visit to this day, people still recognize me.
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Suleiman Makore is a medical doctor with a deep love of nature and animals, a love that developed when he was a young student in Zimbabwe. Today, he volunteers his time away from practicing medicine to help protect and preserve Zimbabwe’s wild spaces for future generations.
In this YALI Voices podcast, Suleiman talks about how he came to be so passionate about wildlife, his work with Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe, and why all people benefit when Zimbabwe’s wildlife are allowed to thrive.
SULEIMAN: A question I’ve been asked a lot by people is how a doctor like me can be so interested in wildlife and conservation. A lot of people actually say, “Why aren’t you a vet?” You know, that’s the sort of thing they expect.
So, the story all starts from my childhood. As I mentioned, the school I went to, I went to a school in the town of Gweru called Midlands Christian College. It was a very nice school, and we were trained well and the people loved us.
But one thing I loved about the school is they had lots of extracurricular activities. They used to take us on field trips quite a lot, sometimes to places which are not the major tourist areas, to people’s private farms.
So in particular when I was in grade 7, I remember we went to a private game reserve for a whole week. It was called Jabulani Safaris. It’s in Zimbabwe, very close to our town. So they have lots of wildlife in this game reserve.
And it was the best time of my life. I remember, even to this day, I still remember that field trip. So I think after that, I just had this longing. I just liked animals for some reason. I remember, even to this day, when we drive along the road, I always look out for animals. I always — when we go to our bigger national parks, I always love seeing elephants along the roadside.
So I think for me, it really started there. But there’s a point in my life when I think it was suppressed because of society. Society tends to view such jobs, activities within that sector, as being low-paying. Either they’re low-paying or it’s elitist, reserved for one particular group.
In our country, there’s a perception that it’s reserved for white people. It’s based on historical issues with regards to land ownership in the past, so people just assume the people who are focused on animals are white.
But I’ve always had that longing, and I think it was growing but it was suppressed to a point when I became an adult, I then realized that, no, I love this. When I’m at home, I prefer to watch National Geographic, a documentary, or Animal Planet than watch a soccer match on TV.
So it was only after I became independent as a doctor that I was able to actually able to chart my own course and join societies which are focused on wildlife and on conservation.
SULEIMAN: In terms of the work I’m doing in wildlife and conservation, as I mentioned, soon after I graduated as a medical doctor, I reached out to an organization called Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe. So as I talk about it, it’s abbreviated as WEZ, so if you hear me saying WEZ, I mean Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe.
So WEZ is a nongovernmental association, purely voluntary. People subscribe, we actually subscribe to be members of it. It’s people who have a passion for wildlife, and their theme, rather our theme in WEZ, our vision in WEZ is to raise awareness of the value of our environment and nature and our nation’s wildlife, and to encourage people to use resources, our natural resources, in a sustainable way for all generations that will come.
So some of the practical things we do is we work alongside the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority, which is the main regulatory body for our national parks and game reserves in Zimbabwe. It’s a state institution.
So we work alongside them with providing various activities. One of the main ones is helping provide water provision in some of our major national parks. Some of them do not have natural water supplies. There are no natural rivers. So a lot of the animals have to get water from wells or boreholes, as we would call them in our context.
So these boreholes need funding for them to be dug, for them to be maintained. And of late, actually, we managed to source funding as a society to have solar-powered boreholes dug. And there are quite a lot in our largest national park now, which is Hwange National Park.
Another activity we do and which I love the most are what we call our annual game counts, which is a formal survey, but for animals. So it’s a basic form of quantifying how many animals you have in each park, and this helps the ecologists in the park to plan, and also as an early warning sign when there are problems.
So what these game counts are basically about are teams which go out into the park. They are placed at waterholes. So these waterholes are where animals come to drink water. So, typically it’s done in the summer season when the water supplies are low, so what animals do, and it’s hot, so animals need to come and drink a lot.
So you have teams parked, usually a team of no more than six people, who will come and park their vehicle in a secluded place near the waterhole, but can still see the animals. And you basically count every animal that comes to drink.
At the end it’s an estimate, because you do have errors, such as animals coming more than once. But based on known animal behavior, we tend to know which animals drink once a day and which ones have huge territories. So, all those results will be tallied from across these huge — because these parks are very large.
And all graphs will be done, and tables, and this information will eventually be presented to the National Parks Department. To tell them that, for example, in the year 2017, we had in Hwange National Park, we had, for example, 13,000 elephants, we had 56 lions. These are just figures I’m giving as an example, but that’s the general context.
And because these counts have been done since the mid ‘70s, we’ve got data stretching from then to the effect that we can actually tell trends in animal populations, and we have been able to tell, particularly of interest, of giraffe. And those tallies, which has been noted in other countries, the giraffe population has been dropping, declining significantly over the past few years. So now the main challenge is to find out why it’s dropping.
SULEIMAN: Currently the main threat that is faced by wildlife is that of poaching. We have a challenge of where the rhino — because of the trade in the rhino horn and ivory, particularly from the East, there’s a high demand for these. So in our country, these animals are protected by the National Parks Department, particularly the rhino, because it’s now critically endangered.
So the challenge now is we still have these animals being targeted by poachers. Usually now these poachers have become more and more organized. They come in gangs, with quite very militarized, with high-powered weapons, sometimes come in at night with night-vision goggles.
So our National Parks Department, together with other security forces, actually have to fight, form teams to fight off these gangs, because they have powerful syndicates backing them from outside. The people who poach typically are not the ones who then do the final deals. Usually it’s someone in another foreign country, and they deal with a local person who then organizes these gangs who go and shoot.
So I think our major challenge regarding wildlife is poaching of the major species — particularly rhino and elephant for the horns. However, another side effect of poaching now, a minor side of it, is what I would like to classify as small-scale poaching. That’s not an official term, it’s something I’ll say. It’s typically people from small communities surrounding your national parks or communities living in wildlife-rich areas. These are people who will set wire snares. So basically, a wire that is attached maybe to a tree, and it’s in the form of a loop, so that when an animal steps in this wire, the snare will snap shut almost around the animal’s leg.
So these are not specific, they’re not species-specific. So even though the person who sets this is targeting a little antelope, a lion that walks past can be caught in the same thing. So we’ve also seen animals being caught in these snares, so this is a big problem around some of the major national parks because it affects the unintended species.
SULEIMAN: With the smaller scale of poaching, where it’s your individual going out with his dog to hunt something, will just do illegal or setting a wire thing, it’s through community engagement. I think that’s the biggest thing, because it’s usually an issue of people not knowing. It’s simply ignorance sometimes, or people not understanding the value.
So the issue is of trying to partner with organizations that actually do community outreach. The issue is getting into the community, telling them that, no, these animals are here for us, they’re here for our children’s generation, for our children’s children. It’s not just — ’cause the moment you deplete our wildlife resource, that will also have a trickle-down effect to everyone because tourism also contributes significantly to our economy.
So within that local area, tourists will come in wanting to see wildlife in the major national park. So when you set more traps, more animals are getting killed.
But an issue that always needs to be addressed, which we are still learning as a society, is that it’s usually poverty that drives people to then go and hunt. Because they don’t have meat, they’d rather go catch it in the bush as opposed to go buying it in a shop. So the issue is now trying to encourage people by doing community outreach, actually going to communities that live nearby, forming an awareness club, a wildlife club, for example, for school children, to say, no, these are the creatures you have, they are beautiful like this. So I think that’s something we have tried.
In terms of the larger-scale poaching, because this is a nationwide scourge, it now involves interdisciplinary networking between societies such as ourselves and others, ’cause I’ve just mentioned WEZ, but there are many conservation trusts in Zimbabwe having a voice on social media.
In Zimbabwe, for example, people are very active on social media, on Twitter, on Facebook. So, having — societies having their page on these Facebook platform, always posting about it, posting about why. As opposed to saying, “Don’t do this, don’t do this,” tell them why it’s nice to have game in your area, for example.
So I think that’s one thing we have done, and always working closely with national parks, because one thing we have done, by doing the boreholes and the wells and the pumps, maintaining the pumps, we’ve built a good relationship with the national parks people, enough that they now trust us when we go out on the game count, but if we see anything amiss, they know we’ll report it to the authorities and they can go out and catch them. Because when it comes to the wider-scale poaching, that, because it involves heavy arms, that is really an issue for the security services to deal with.
SULEIMAN: In terms of where I see conservation in Zimbabwe, my dream, if I could pretend to be Martin Luther King at this moment, is to see involvement of more young black people in the field of wildlife conservation. I say that because most of these societies, even if you attend the meetings, not by design, they tend to be white-dominated. It’s just that black people tend to want to shy away. When I joined WEZ, some of the meetings I would attend, there could be a hundred people in the room. I would be the only black people, black person there.
And for me, I don’t feel that is sustainable, given that, for example, in our country of Zimbabwe, white people only constitute 1 percent of the population. So any strategy that works will need buy-in of the majority population.
So my dream is for government to actually have — government and societies that are involved in conservation to actually have a partnership where they actively — recruit is a bad word to use, ’cause it entails like it’s a job. But actively promote awareness of wildlife and visiting our national parks, because, remember my story, I said my interest was piqued when I visited a game park for one week.
So if you have programs where children can be taken for camp, for example, for free for three days, for two days, and shown around and they get to see elephants. In that trip with 30 kids, maybe two or three — it doesn’t need to be the whole class — those two or three kids will suddenly, whose light is switched on, may actually become the next environment minister who now has concrete plans.
So for me, if you ask me, where do you see your country, what’s your dream? My dream is for more involvement of the indigenous population to have that same passion, and I think our future will be brighter, our animals will be safer in our country.
VOICE OVER: Thank you, Suleiman. If you’d like to learn more about Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe, please visit wezmat.org. That’s w-e-z-m-a-t dot o-r-g.
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