Editor's Comment

Protection of Kafue lechwe from squatters welcome

WILDLIFE is one of Zambia’s highly prized natural resources, with potential to develop the country’s tourism sector and contribute to economic growth.
If well protected and harnessed, Zambia’s unique species of wild life can be a source of the much needed foreign exchange.
For instance, in the world Zambia boasts of being the only home to the lechwe found in the Kafue Flats-Lochinvar National Park in Monze.
The magnificent-looking and fleet-footed lechwe, which stands up to 100cm tall and weighs between 70 and 120kg, is classified as a rare endemic antelope.
The species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to its status. It is regarded as a protected animal in Zambia.
It is, however, worrying that this valuable natural resource has been declining at an alarming rate due to poaching.
A recent population count by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife with support from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Crane Foundation (ICF) has shown evidence of continued decline of the endemic Kafue lechwe.
The Kafue lechwe population stands at approximately 23,306, the lowest ever recorded for the Kafue Flats, down from historical high population counts that exceeded 100,000 in the 1970s and 250,000 in the 1930s. The last survey, conducted in 2015, estimated a population of 28,711 -suggesting a 19 percent decline in five years.
Early this year, Southern Province Minister Edify Hamukale unearthed a scam where a cartel of senior civil servants, civic leaders, traditional leaders and National Parks and Wildlife Authority officers have been poaching 15 to 20 lechwe per day in the Lochinvar National Park leading to a further drastic reduction of the species.
If the poachers continue to kill a minimum of 15 lechwe per day, it means the country will lose 5,475 animals per year.
Given the population estimation of 23,306, it will only take about four to five years to completely wipe away the species.
In essence, this is working towards harnessing the tourism potential key to the diversification agenda and transition to middle-income status by 2030.
We cannot afford to sit idle and watch a precious and valuable natural resource such as the Kafue lechwe go into extinction.
It is, therefore, commendable that a joint operation of law enforcement agencies has swung into action to remove people who have been illegally squatting in the park.
According to Southern Province permanent secretary Mwangala Liomba, the operation aimed at stopping the illegalities in the park started on Friday.
Mr Liomba said the people being displaced have been asked numerous times to vacate the park but have not done so.
“Even last week they were told to vacate the park because of the problem of poaching which is going on in Lochinvar National Park, thereby, threatening the lechwe,” he said.
There are no two ways about it, if poaching is to be contained in the Lochinvar National Park; the first step is to remove the illegal settlers.
The fact that these illegal settlers are living right in the park, it means they have access to the animals making it is easy for them to poach.
It is actually these same people with easy access who end up being used by cartels as exposed by Southern Province Minister early this year.
While it is appreciated that the illegal squatters are being removed, it is also necessary to get rid of criminals in the wild life authority and civil service who are sabotaging our economy through senseless acts of poaching.
Let no stone be left unturned in protecting this highly prized Kafue lechwe and other species.

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