Nambiti’s hi-tech, heart-based Anti-Poaching Unit

Lewis Webster is the man who now heads Nambiti’s hi-tech, heart-based Anti-Poaching Unit.

He has a solid hi-tech background and extensive expertise; the right kind of bush training; and a fund of great stories!

He was born and raised in South Africa. He has a technical background as he had worked in the I.T. industry for some time. He moved around the country a bit, acquired considerable expertise, and then he realised — in his own words — “I wanted to go to the bush.”

When he decided he wanted to explore the wilderness, he spoke to his father, who supported his decision. His father had a good friend who was a ranger and guide, who was extremely well-travelled. He ended up going to Limpopo, to do his training. He built a good relationship with the police.

He went onto to work in Mozambique. The land he was working on in Mozambique was not a controlled private African game reserve; it was a concession. The concession consisted of 280,000 hectares. There were towns with local people living in them, in that area.

There were leopards, cheetahs, lions, hippos, and crocodiles in that concession; many of the animals that people are eager to see on their big five safaris in Africa.

He used to drive for days through that territory in Mozambique with his team, in their land cruisers. They would camp on top of their vehicles’ roofs at night and gaze at the huge stars shining in the vast African sky.

“We had quite a few scary moments in Mozambique,” he said. “We were working one night, and the team left. I was left behind at the vehicle as I was basically the recovery vehicle for them. I was so young — I had just got into it, and I was very green. I did not hear them on the radio for about three hours and it was getting dark, so I thought I needed to make a plan. So, I looked around and I thought right, I can’t see what’s happening, because it was so dark. I packed wood into bundles and lit fires all around me as well as my vehicle, so that I could see whatever came; hoping that whatever came would stop and not come closer!

We had elephants in that area, and those elephants were wild! We used to sit there and listen to elephants breaking trees. We used to sit around in the boma, socialising, and then we would turn around and there would be 60 to 80 elephants. We just watched them.”

Continuing his reminiscences about Mozambique, Lewis said “One night one of our team, a guy from Malawi, came running through the camp to my hut — these were real huts; I slept on a mattress made from bamboo — saying “Leopard! Leopard!” So, I said to him, where? He pointed down and I looked down and saw the leopard tracks. That one night I had left my door open because it was so hot. And this leopard had walked up to my door, he had turned back. He went into our dining room; went into our kitchen; I could follow the tracks. And I’m like…well, look at that! I never saw it and I never heard it. A leopard is silent.

We had a guest one night at our camp in Mozambique. He needed to get his medication. So, I said I would go with the guest to get his medication from the fridge in the kitchen and as he walked in, he felt something grab him and it was a black mamba snake. It was three metres long and quite thick. They are venomous and aggressive snakes. I jumped through the window and grabbed a shotgun but by the time I got back it was gone. This was in Mozambique, of course. We do not have many of those snakes in the Nambiti private game reserve as it is too cold for them.”

Lewis said, “It was hard to have a family in that game because I was gone for weeks, so it was difficult to get to really know anyone.”

After Mozambique he went back into the I.T. industry to earn money. He did not enjoy that, but he did what he had to do. And the universe had some plans for him because it was then that he met Lauren Kilfoil; GM at Cheetah Ridge, it was then that he found the profound love that also led him to the job of his dreams in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve. He got it all!

The couple met online. He did not even know about Nambiti at that time. They chatted for 4 months without meeting each other. It was a romantic “slow burn”. Then, they met up and went on a road trip that took them into a full-blown relationship.

He said “I applied in 2018 for a tracker role. I sent my CV through and did the interview and got the position. After a year, the position in Nambiti came up, and they offered it to me.”

When it comes to hiring staff for the reserve’s APU, Lewis said “I have to be very careful about who I choose to take on, as they need to be there for the sake of protecting the animals and not because they want money and to use the guns. It is an investment to train them. I look at people with at least 3 years’ experience on a big five safari game reserve. They go through rigorous police checks and lie detector tests. They need to be 100% free of previous criminal records, and of having and using unlicensed firearms.”

When Lewis was in Mozambique from 2014 – 2015 they had to fight against ivory poaching; elephants were being killed for their tusks. Thankfully, thus far elephant poaching is not a problem in the Nambiti private game reserve. However, the rhinos are at risk because international poaching syndicates kill them for their horns.

It is a dangerous job, fighting poachers who will do anything to invade a private game reserve in Africa where there are rhinos. Rhino poaching is on the rise. These noble animals are prized, and killed, just for their horns, because rhino horn is not only used in traditional Chinese medicine as a so-called ‘cure’ for several diseases, it is also a symbol of wealth.

However, as one of Africa’s big five safari animals, the rhino is a must-see for tourists. Ecotourism is an important source of income for local people.
People need to be educated about what is happening to rhinos; and the moral implications of killing an animal for its horn and money, which is cruel and unnecessary. The World Wildlife Fund instructs that “Rhinos themselves play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They’re important grazers, consuming large amounts of vegetation, which helps shape the African landscape. This benefits other animals and keeps a healthy balance within the ecosystem.”

So, the new recruits to the Reserve’s APU are trained to handle ruthless rhino poaching syndicates from all over the world; criminals who have access to state-of-the-art hi-tech equipment, and vast amounts of money. Criminals who are deadly serious about ruthlessly killing animals for money.

However, Wayne Scholes and all at The Homestead are just as deadly serious about protecting all the animals on the Nambiti private game reserve. In fact, we are deadly serious about protecting, conserving and cherishing all wildlife everywhere. Wayne goes above and beyond, to provide extra support for the APU at Nambiti. Wayne’s extra support includes a super-silent electric vehicle and specialist firearms training. Looking ahead to 2022, Lewis is so grateful to have this continued extra support from Wayne for the greater good of the whole reserve and APU’s mission to protect the wildlife.

“A gang of poachers will arrive in a truck filled with 30 or 40 hunting dogs,” Lewis said. “The law now says that we are not allowed to shoot a dog on a leash, so the poachers use leashes of up to 30 metres. If dogs are not on a leash and they are in Nambiti, it means that the poachers have shorted the electrics in the fence, picked up or cut through the fence, and let the dogs through. Although it is not something we enjoy, if those hunting dogs are in Nambiti, we can euthanize them.”

Every full moon he must go into the bush. When the moon is full, it is known as the poachers moon.

Lauren, Lewis’ partner commented: “It is great to be able to do what we both love to do, in the same vicinity. I must work late some nights and be out early at other times. I know Lewis must go out into the bush every full moon night but that is part of his job. There are no arguments about it. It is a compromise in our relationship; it is worth it so that you can see your other half doing what he loves.”

When Lewis goes out on full moon nights, he cannot see the poachers. He said “They whistle to communicate, and you can hear the dogs barking. “

Lauren added one of her own hunting dog stories “One day, just outside the reserve, it was about 10 o’clock in the morning in September or October and there was a blue Toyota vehicle, and I had a feeling that there was something not right. You get to know the community members’ cars and I had not seen it before. As he passed me, I saw the back was full of dogs. We got the registration number. I thought ‘What is your interest in driving around with 30 dogs in the back of the truck? You are definitely up to something’.”

Lauren continued that she understands that there is poverty, and you must do something to feed your family, but there is a difference between taking out one animal to feed your family, and ruthlessly killing animals for parts of their bodies so that you can sell those body parts for money; to make a huge illicit profit.

International African rhino poaching syndicates are using increasingly sophisticated methods; including helicopters and night vision equipment, to track rhinos; and extremely potent drugs to knock them out. This means that countries and conservationists and anti-poaching units everywhere need to match this level of technology to be able to fight them, while also working to reduce demand by educating people that rhino horn does not have the healing properties of legend.

However, the bad guys don’t always win. Nambiti’s APU has the heart; the state-of-the-art, highly sophisticated technical equipment; and the expertise; to fight these international gangs of African rhino poachers — and win.