NDANGWA MWITTAH, Livingstone
‘WE can benefit more from these animals if we start seeing the tourism potential they offer. It is also important that everyone has a stake in this conservation project without thinking that the task belongs to Government alone,” said Southern Province Minister Edify Hamukale recently in Mwandi.
Dr Hamukale, who is passionate about wildlife conservation, said this when he commissioned the release of 120 out of 200 buffaloes translocated from Namibia by Peace Parks Foundation to the Simalaha community joint conservancy.
Dr Hamukale’s passion for wildlife is influenced by his childhood experiences while growing up in the Kafue Flats game management area.
“Growing up, I experienced what I would call a wonderful co-existence between man and animal,” he said.
But over the years, the level at which the game has continued to dwindle in the Kafue Flats has worried the provincial minister.
“That’s our biggest challenge,” he said in relation to poaching.
He added; “Let us replicate this model for a start in Southern Province, especially in the Lochinvar National Park where we have a very big problem of poaching…where we have about 10 to 12 lechwes dying every day all because they are being sold for meat when we could have benefitted more through tourism.”
Receiving the animals on behalf of the community, Dr Hamukale said it was terrible that animals that should be protected were instead being killed.
“It’s just terrible,” he said with a sad face before adding; “we had two wildebeests and they are all gone.”
Simalaha Community Wildlife Conservancy is an initiative proposed by communities in the chiefdoms of Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta of Mwandi, Sesheke and Mulobezi and Chief Sekute of Kazungula districts.
Stakeholder consultations resulted in the two chiefdoms requesting the assistance of Peace Parks Foundation through the then Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), now Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), to establish the Simalaha area on both sides of the Kasaya River as a community- owned wildlife conservancy.
Peace Parks Foundation has been actively involved in the establishment and development of 10 of the 18 transfrontier conservation areas found throughout southern Africa, all of which are in various stages of development.
This initiative fitted in the Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) transfrontier conservation areas’ vision of re-establishing ecological connectivity in the KAZA landscape, to once again allow wildlife to roam freely to and from the various wildlife dispersal areas.
The KAZA transfrontier conservation areas is a SADC approved conservation, tourism and sustainable development initiative of the governments of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The KAZA TFCA Treaty for these five partner countries was signed on August 18, 2011 at the SADC Summit in Luanda, Angola.
About Simalaha, the two chiefdoms identified an area in extent of 280,000 hectares of which 20,000 hectares has been fenced as phase one of the conservancy.
Funds have also been secured through cooperating partners to train community wildlife monitors or village scouts selected from communities within the Simalaha Conservancy area.
KAZA executive director Nyambe Nyambe said the exercise is a major milestone.
Dr Nyambe said one of his organisation’s objectives is to implement programmes that will enhance the sustainable use of natural and cultural heritage resources to improve the livelihoods of local communities within the KAZA transfrontier conservation areas and contribute towards poverty alleviation.
“The KAZA member states are clear on one thing: the promotion of trans-boundary management of resources is meant to improve the socio-economic status of the people in these areas and the promotion of wildlife acceptance among the people,” he said.
Deputy Chief Sekute is also of the same view.
His wish is for the conservancy to be the preferred destination for tourists as opposed to Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana.
“We are always at pains to see tourists come into the country through the Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone and transiting to Chobe National Park in Botswana. Very soon, we will turn this situation around,” he said.
The traditional ruler also urged his subjects to play their part in marketing the conservancy and also guarding the game in it so that it thrives.
“Gone are the days when we never used to see eye to eye with these animals. Let us learn to live with them by having a mindset change so that we can boost tourism in the country,” he said.
The same view is shared by Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta.
“What we are remaining with now is the stage of infrastructure development such as the safari road network around the conservancy, putting up camp sites, lodges, water points for both wildlife and community usage,” he said through Induna Anasambala.
Currently, the conservancy has over 1,300 different species.
It also has two programmes running side by side; wildlife and conservation agriculture which now supports about 1,000 farmers with production levels yielding from 10 bags per hectare to about 20 bags per hectare.
Peace Parks Foundation chief executive office Werner Myburgh said the translocation of the buffaloes from Namibia cost the organisation K4.2 million.
“But we know that with time, these animals will be able to generate a lot more than that amount. This is the first community conservancy in Zambia and must be guarded jealously,” he said.
Mr Myburgh said funding has been secured to stock the conservancy with 4,000 animals in the next four years.
In 2013, the organisation embarked on a programme to restock the conservancy with various wildlife species such as impala, blue wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, red lechwe and giraffe.
The Zambian government through the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, as its contribution, provided some seed stock of wildlife species that have since been translocated into the conservancy.
These are 300 impala, 200 red lechwe, 20 kudu, 100 wildebeest, 100 puku, 50 waterbuck, 20 eland and 10 giraffe.
Dr Hamukale congratulated the traditional leaders on providing leadership that inspired action.
“We encourage you to create partnerships with the private sector as you design the way forward for this unique project,” he said. “I am inviting the local community to cherish, own and jealously guard the conservancy and its wildlife resource. This is your programme, its failure or indeed its success lies in your hands.”
The Ministry of Tourism and Arts is exploring ways of replicating the initiative in other chiefdoms.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts Howard Sikwela said the ministry is engaging communities and traditional leaders on the importance of initiating game ranches.
“It is President Edgar Lungu’s desire that all chiefdoms come up with game ranches because such projects can improve the nutrition and economy. This is what this government desires,” he said.
So far, some communities in Sioma in Western-Province and some parts of North-Western Province have been engaged and have shown interest.
NDANGWA MWITTAH, Livingstone