NDANGWA MWITTAH, Monze
DID you know that the Kafue Flats, which is home to the Blue Lagoon and Lochinvar National Parks, is the only place in the world the Lechwe can be
If you didn’t, now you do.
For those that may have already known this fact, be also informed that this particular species that is indigenous to the Kafue Flats is headed for extinction – if nothing is done, anyway.
According to the 2015 population survey reports by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the population of the Kafue lechwe has significantly declined to about 28,000 from over 250,000 back in the 1930s.
The current statistics suggest that approximately 1, 000 Kafue lechwe are lost due to poaching every year, whereas the Blue wildebeest population is on the brink of extinction. You can as well strike it off since the only one remaining is female, which cannot even reproduce.
Other big game such as hippopotamus, buffalo, zebra and kudu remain vulnerable to poaching.
According to other latest figures, about 40 percent of large mammals that used to be found in the Lochinvar National Park have all gone extinct.
These include big cats such as lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetah and also prime big game such as eland, sable, roan antelopes, waterbuck, hartebeest, puku and warthog.
Edify Hamukale, now Southern Province minster grew up in the game management area.
He recalls that back in the days, people used to be scared of lions and other big cats. But, because of poachers, that’s not the case anymore.
“It’s not scary anymore. All that people are scared of now are poachers. All the cats have died because they don’t have anything to eat. All the weaker animals that was easy prey is gone and all that is remaining there are clever ones and can’t be easily caught,” said Dr Hamukale, who has embarked on an ambitious programme to fight poaching in the Kafue Flats, a place he holds dear in his heart.
“I have lived there and it touched me when I was briefed about how the numbers of animals are significantly dwindling. Just this year in February, I was told that there were two wildebeests, but now there’s just one. It’s as good as gone too,” he says.
Dr Hamukale realises that unless something is done to curb the poaching scourge and also illegal fishing and forest degradation, the province and indeed the country at large, risks further loss of biodiversity, as most of the animals in the Kafue Flats, including the Kafue lechwe which is regarded as a prized species that the entire world cannot offer but Zambia.
In fact, the species is classified as a rare endemic antelope and is also listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to its restricted geographical range.
Due to its status, the Kafue Lechwe is regarded a protected animal in Zambia.
But, nevertheless, its population keeps reducing, due to commercial poaching.
To curb the vice, Dr Hamukale and his provincial administration have identified the community and children as key players in fighting crimes against wildlife.
In this vein, the provincial administration recently organised an anti-poaching public awareness campaign meeting in Monze to sensitise children and also the community on the need to conserve wildlife.
“We realise that children can play a very big role in the fight against poaching. Honourable Minister, what better way to conserve wildlife than to teach these little children on the importance of wildlife conservation,” said Eneya Phiri, marketing and communications manager at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The awareness, which started with a march past from the district administration block in Monze, through town to the Showgrounds was attended by about seven schools and civic and traditional leaders of Monze, Mazabuka, and Namwala districts.
It was held under the theme, “Conservation by the people for the benefit of people and wildlife”.
Its objective was to promote public awareness on the need for individual and collective responsibility as well as community action towards biodiversity conservation, with a goal of reversing the population decline and loss of biodiversity on the Kafue Flats.
But of course, reversing this requires not only the laws and existence of institutions mandated to protect, conserve and manage the natural resources, but the full participation of local communities.
“My administration strongly believes that securing protected areas would not only maintain optimum levels of wildlife populations that will sustain consumptive use and maintain continued flow of economic benefits but also unlock opportunities for recreational enjoyment, research and scientific training, investment in tourism business and also job creation,” Dr Hamukale said.
Zambia’s Vision 2030 is anchored on a firm recognition of sustainable environment and natural resources management principles. Therefore, its aspirations to transform Zambia into a middle-income country cannot be realised without the sustainable management of the environmental assets which include, besides wildlife, water, soil, climate, forests, fisheries, and also minerals.
“In line with the government’s vision, the provincial administration in Southern Province takes cognition of the significant contribution of nature-based tourism, which besides agriculture, is one of the key economic drivers of the province. We are committed to ensure maintenance of vital ecological systems in the province and protection of the full range of the wildlife and other natural resources,” said Dr Hamukale.
Environmental education and public awareness is no doubt a key requirement for sustainable environmental management.
At the same function, Dr Hamukale gave out numbers of law enforcement officers, including his own, to members of the public to report cases of crime against wildlife to.
It was a first of many other public awareness meetings against poaching that the provincial administration has lined up.
Andrew Chomba is assistant director at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. He says his department which is mandated to protect, conserve and manage wildlife resources, requires the support of everyone to effectively manage the scourge.
“Let us therefore take active individual and collective responsibility and report any acts of wildlife crime,” he said.
The Kafue Flats is endowed with abundant wildlife which includes a number of mammals, birds and reptiles of global conservation concern. These include globally threatened species of birds such as the wattled crane, grey crowned Crane, and several species of stork, pelicans, including the Zambian barbet, the bird depicted on the K1 coin. Just like the lechwe, this bird is also endemic to Zambia.