Columnists

Wildlife conservation paying dividends in Luangwa Valley

Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
UNTIL you have been to our national parks, you may not appreciate the role non-governmental organisations play in supporting Government, through the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), in safeguarding our wildlife

and ecosystems.
The main component of wildlife conservation in Zambia is anti-poaching – targeting poachers and also educating communities and providing alternatives where necessary.
This is a mammoth task given that Zambia has 21 national parks and 36 game management areas.
While it is the DNPW’s responsibility to safeguard our pristine wildlife and ecosystems, it cannot manage because it is critically understaffed and logistically constrained.
It needs the help of partners and donors to fulfil its noble mandate to effectively conserve wildlife.
That is why several NGOs have come in to collaborate with the DNPW in ensuring that poachers do not wipe out our wildlife.
In Mfuwe, Conservation South Luangwa (CSL), a Zambian registered NGO, is working closely with the DNPW and the local communities in conserving the country’s wildlife.
CSL’s mandate under the support and guidance of DNPW includes anti-poaching, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, wildlife veterinary support for snared and injured animals and alternative income-generating projects such as chilli production.
However, with poachers devising more complicated methods of poaching, CSL has a mandate of being equal to the task.
In 2014, CSL introduced a sniffer dog unit in partnership with DNPW, who are adept at finding firearms, ammunition, ivory, game meat, leopard and lion skins and bones, pangolins and mukula wood hidden in craft places. They also make use of a light aircraft, a Cessna 180 for aerial surveillance of the vast South Luangwa National Park with DNPW wildlife officers on board.
CSL owes its efforts in safeguarding wildlife and ecosystems to its donors, mostly lodges dotted in the national park and game management areas (GMAs).
It also collaborates with community-based natural resource boards.
Dividends
The Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) Report for 2016 notes an increase in numbers of wild dogs, with the highest numbers ever recorded in its study area.
The 2007 Action Plan for African Wild Dogs estimated a total of fewer than 150 dogs for the whole of Zambia; however, ZCP continues to document record numbers of wild dog packs (13) and identified over 170 in its study area despite severe snaring problems in Lupande and Lumimba GMAs that continued to severely impact dog populations.
The report further says three packs denned in the main safari area of South Luangwa National Park in 2016, making dog sightings a daily occurrence for tourists. Intensive and collaborative anti-snaring work between ZCP, CSL and DNPW contributed significantly to the increase in wild dogs by minimising snaring by-catch mortality through an array of anti-snaring work facilitated by being able to monitor and de-snare dogs via aerial and radio-tracking of collared packs and dispersing groups.
The report says similar to wild dogs, lion numbers continued to be at their highest recorded numbers for the study area.
“We identified and monitored 222 lions in 21 prides and 17 coalitions in our intensive study area. Substantially, more males, cubs and sub-adults were present in the population, and there was higher survival across these age classes prior to that observed before the 2013-2015 hunting moratorium,” the report says.
For herbivores, the report has highlighted the striking different densities in the GMAs relative to the national park, likely owing to game meat poaching, particularly snaring being elevated in the GMA.
Lodges have also been helping out community members by sending children to school through the provision of scholarships, school feeding programmes and building education infrastructure.
The multi-stakeholder participation has proved a success, although there is still a lot of work to be done to bring poaching to zero.
With concerted efforts and involvement of individuals like soccer icon Kalusha Bwalya, the war against poaching will be won.
More celebrities should join in raising awareness so that the conservation messages get to the poachers.
A lot has gone into safeguarding our wildlife and ecosystems by men and women. ZCP chief executive officer Matthew Becker and his CSL counterpart Rachel McRobb are among the heroes of our time in Luangwa Valley.
Next time, President Edgar Lungu will be honouring deserving individuals. Those who safeguard our wildlife and ecosystems should be remembered, too.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.

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