Analysis: VICTOR SIAMUDAALA
ITâ€™S only fitting that Zambiaâ€™s incredible wildlife is featured on all our banknotes. These animals, especially the African elephant, are the cornerstone of a tourism industry that contributes US$1.5 billion to Zambia every year.
But African elephants are under threat across the entire continent. Elephant experts estimate that several thousand elephants are killed by poachers every year, which could lead to the speciesâ€™ extinction within just one generation.
Thanks to the government, we now have the data we need to guide our way forward in protecting this most critical natural assets.
The Nature Conservancy, a science-guided international NGO, was honoured to work with Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the Vulcan Foundation to conduct a countrywide aerial survey of African elephants.
The survey report was released at a ceremony on March 3, 2016, hosted by the Minister of Tourism and Arts, Jean Kapata.
The survey was part of the first pan-African elephant census in 40 years, which is being conducted in 20 countries simultaneously. This data will allow the African continent to take stock of this keystone species and, through intergovernmental negotiations, develop a cohesive conservation strategy.
The survey will help direct resources to where they can have the greatest impact for both conservation and socio-economic development, from the community level all the way up to the national level.
The Nature Conservancy is cautiously optimistic about the results, which indicate that the population of African elephants in Zambia is generally stable except for limited, isolated areas.
This is a clear demonstration that collaboration between the government and other stakeholders in the wildlife sector can create positive results.
Experience over the last two to three decades has shown that in order to securely conserve our wildlife, we must invest in more areas other than law enforcement alone.
In order to do this, we will need to strengthen collaboration with key stakeholders, in particular the local communities, in the formulation of conservation strategies.
The Nature Conservancy believes that the long-term survival of the wildlife population in the country â€“ and the economic benefits associated with tourism â€“ can only be guaranteed if communities are transformed from passive participants to resource owners and managers of enterprises compatible with wildlife conservation.
We appreciate the governmentâ€™s commitment to transform tourism into a major economic sector. The potential for growth is enormous, and wildlife is an integral asset.
We pledge our support to the Ministry of Tourism in developing wildlife-based economies in Zambiaâ€™s important conservation landscapes for the benefit of both the nation and local people.
We believe that one way we can achieve this as a country is to restructure our community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) programme.
There is great opportunity to use innovative approaches that will provide for strengthened natural resource rights for communities, increase incentives for private sector investment and provide more opportunities for collaboration among government agencies, NGOs, investors and communities.
During the stakeholder validation workshop for the National Policy for National Parks and Wildlife, government, through the Ministry of Tourism recognised local communities, NGOs, and the private sector as important players in the development of the wildlife sector.
We believe that once approved, the policy will provide a platform on which to anchor future development in the sector.
We invite others in conservation and wildlife-dependent industry to step forward and scale up their support to the ministry towards the conservation of this vital asset and our proud natural heritage.
The author is The Nature Conservancy country director.
Analysis: VICTOR SIAMUDAALA