Fighting poachers in Africa, and on Canterbury stage

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By Whitstable Times | Thursday, February 14, 2013, 08:00

HUNTING poachers, working with villagers in Africa to make their food stocks sustainable, heading up a charity which carries out projects to combat poverty and other issues in the country and now taking to the stage to get the message across that wildlife conservation is vital, are just some of the tasks undertaken in the busy life of Manny Mvula.

Now living in Whitstable with his wife Dr Cheryl Mvula, Manny's work still lies more than 5,000 miles away in his homeland of South Luanga and in Kenya.

The 45-year-old told Kathy Bailes about appearing on stage at the Gulbenkian in Canterbury, the complexities of his "real" work and encountering witchcraft.

Snared is a play about poaching, conservation and the fraught issues underlying both activities in Zambia. How did you get to play the part of the wildlife ranger Mangani in it?

The whole play is centred around Cheryl's and my life and the work we are doing in Africa.

I have never acted before, this is my debut, although I was on TV when Animal Planet was filmed in 1994 in Zambia and I was shown doing my job as a safari guide. It was shown in 300 countries.

Why did you decide to be a part of this play?

We are trying to raise awareness and these issues very rarely get to the doorstep of people who will be interested in knowing about them.

Rather than ordinary media we wanted to create an impact and drive change through a personal perspective, theatre and film, because people relate to individuals and we think that can have a lot of influence and make people aware of what's happening in Zambia.

Snared is based on both your and Cheryl's work in Zambia. What do you do?

Through our charity the High Five Club we raise funds through individual memberships and that is used for conservation, de-snaring and anti-poaching programmes.

We want to make sure that communities, particularly those who do not generally benefit from the tourism industries, do get some kind of benefit from wildlife.

We work with them to identify projects and we help to build and fund projects and help them understand wildlife.

What projects have you worked on recently?

Currently we are working at the Masaai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and another one in south Luangwa, Zambia, where I come from.

In south Luangwa there are a number of different alternative livelihood projects.

We have women making briquettes instead of cutting firewood, so they are not destroying the woodland.

We are also teaching them to provide for chickens. They raise the chickens rather than killing the wildlife and this gives them an alternative source of protein, such as the eggs. It encourages them to look favourably at protecting wildlife because what drives people into poaching is the lack of protein – hunger.

By having alternative food sources they see there is a way out of poverty. Now many help with de-snaring and report poaching at the national parks.

What experience do you have with poachers?

I have been working in Africa for more than 15 years. I am an honorary wildlife ranger, work with anti-poaching patrols and carry out conservation work in the national parks. And I am involved with the local communities, educating young people about the value of wildlife conservation.

I have met notorious poachers, the ones who never listen. But there are those that if you convince them, well it takes a thief to catch a thief, then we use them to inform.

We pay them rather than them getting their money through poaching and they help us catch the hardcore poachers.

What is the most satisfying part of your work?

In south Luangwa there is a conservation scheme run by a young lady who darts animals that have been snared. Then the snare is taken off. When you see the animal finally walking free it is nice and so therapeutic.

Also, when you see people coming together and understanding the value of our wildlife and how we can benefit from looking after it. We are all parts of a jigsaw and if you take one piece out the rest can no longer be whole.

And the most frustrating?

When you encounter people within government who are corrupt. You then have to fight tooth and nail to make them come on board.

Some people try to use their status for corrupt processes. The biggest poachers are those with money rather than villagers. These are the ones with the connections to, say, the Chinese.

You are married to Cheryl, who works with African communities, conservation groups and tourism businesses to support wildlife conservation and local development. How did you get together?

Cheryl used to work for Shell as a financial manager. In the early 1990s Shell was in Nigeria but there was a lot of environmental damage from petroleum dumping.

At this time Ken Sora-Wiwa led a non-violent protest, campaigning against the pollution of Ogoniland.

He was executed for leading that campaign and on that day Cheryl resigned. She said she could not work for blood money. Instead she went into conservation.

She came to Zambia when she was researching her dissertation for her Masters in conservation biology at Canterbury University. That is when we met.

How did you come to live in Whitstable?

Cheryl had been stationed there with Shell. When she resigned she stayed and volunteered at Howlett's and Port Lymne animal parks and then went into conservation.

We both think Kent is ideal. Whitstable is fantastic, it is quirky and interesting, close to Canterbury and London and the coast is beautiful.

We have been here since 2000. We live here some of the year and work in Africa about five months of the year.

Any children?

No, but we have a cat, we call him our black panther. His name is Chiko and it means loved one.

First record?

I was in the UK in 1996 and bought one by Roxette.

First car?

A VW Polo

Ideal dinner guests?

Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela and a man who is a real inspiration to me, former president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda.

Have you ever seen a ghost?

I would not like to think so but I have seen some very interesting things relating to witchcraft. If I totally believed in witchcraft I would not be alive because, in my capacity at work, I have been threatened many times.

Some people, like those in the community, totally believe and then if they are taken out on patrol and threatened they get sick because they believe and so they worry.

Find out about the work of the High Five Club and how to support it by visiting www.highfiveclub.



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