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MINISTRY of Tourism and Arts permanent secretary Stephen Mwansa inspecting a guard of honour during the Zambia Wildlife Authority village scouts pass-out parade at Chunga Training School in Mumbwa recently. PICTURE: SITEMBILE SIWAWA

Village scouts cardinal in wildlife conservation

EVERY job is important but not all of them are given the credit they deserve. Village scouts perform one of the most dangerous duties in Sub-Saharan Africa but their sacrifice often goes unappreciated.
A risky  job in that village scouts do not only face danger from the animals they preserve but they also face harm or even death from poachers as they struggle to protect wildlife.
Village scouts are drawn from communities by Community Resources Boards (CRBs) and are trained by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) in conservation of wildlife in game management areas and national parks around the country.
Their job, which entails conserving wildlife and other endangered animal species, is critical to Zambia’s tourism.
And the preservation of wildlife is the conservation of Zambia’s heritage for future generations.
The work of village scouts is also cardinal as they supplement the efforts of wildlife police officers in ground patrols.
And to strengthen the existing cadre of ground patrols, 129 village scouts recently graduated from training and were unveiled at a pass-out parade held at ZAWA’s Chunga Training School in Mumbwa.
The training school is located in the heart of the Kafue National Park, Zambia’s biggest and oldest wildlife sanctuary, about 21 kilometres south of the Lusaka-Mongu road.
Of the 129 newly trained village scouts, 117 are male while 12 are female from Eastern, Central, Muchinga, North-Western, Southern and Western provinces.
Drills, cultural performances and AK 47 rifle assembling characterised the ceremony as the graduates treated the guests to a rare trait of entertainment activities.
One of the most intriguing performances was when five male graduates assembled AK 47 rifles while blindfolded.
The graduation ceremony was the seventh that was spearheaded by government in an effort to conserve wildlife and create employment opportunities for youths in the country.
The new village scouts are expected to be deployed to various game management areas around the country.
The village scouts are paid by CRBs from the money the boards generate. The other funds are spent on community development projects such as construction of schools, clinics and bore holes. The CRBs get a certain percentage of the funds ZAWA raises from its hunting activities, from donations by the corporate world and from anti-poaching fines.
Officiating at the event, Ministry of Tourism and Arts permanent secretary Stephen Mwansa underscored the importance of village scouts in the protection of wildlife in the country.
Mr Mwansa said village scouts also help in preserving the country’s heritage, which is beneficial to future generations.
“Wildlife sustains the livelihoods of the people around game management areas and government is committed to helping the village scouts perform better in conservation,” he said.
And speaking at the same function, ZAWA acting director general Kampamba Kombe called on village scouts to be bold and use the skills they acquired during training to face poachers and help conserve wildlife.
Mr Kombe said the work of village scouts is broad and requires determination and being selfless.
“As the Bible says, go there and serve, we are sending you today to go out into the world and fight poachers in an effort to preserve wildlife and other endangered species,” he said.
Meanwhile, a graduate from Moomba in Southern Province, Harriet Kasonkonya, said the training of village scouts came at a time when poaching and encroachment in national parks are rife in the country.
Ms Kasonkonya described the training as suitable for the kind of work she would be involved in as she holds the protection of wildlife at heart.
She, however, said the training she was subjected to was tough for a woman to contain, but that with the passion for wildlife, she was determined to go through it all.
“The training is not easy for a woman because it is tough, but it’s a testimony to all women that there is nothing difficult we cannot do. For me, the toughest part of the training was walking a 50-kilometre stretch carrying a 15-kilogramme bag of cement.
“I really found that exercise too tough but all that was to make me tough and get ready to face poachers as they come along in order to protect mother nature,” she said.
Ms Kasonkonya said with the skills and techniques she acquired during training, she is ready for the task ahead of her.
Another graduate, Nelly Chinyama, from Itezhi-tezhi said her ability to successfully complete the ‘tough’ training was a sign that she was ready to serve the country with diligence.
Ms Chinyama said the moment she stepped into the training school, she knew she was going to make it because of the passion she exhibited from the beginning of the training.
She said wildlife has to be protected not only because it is good for tourism but it is also there to create employment for village scouts.
“The journey to Kasama [type of training village scouts undergo] entails walking a 21-kilometre stretch with your knees and having your toes up. Sometimes you move using your elbows. We were thrown in a house and then gased just to prepare your mind to face poachers and other dangers that come along with game preservation,” she said.