Analysis: NDANGWA MWITTAH
ZAMBIA’S Vision 2030 is anchored on a firm recognition of sustainable environment and natural resources
management principles. Therefore, its aspirations to transform Zambia into a middle-income country cannot be realised without the sustainable management of the environmental assets which include water, soil, climate, forests, fisheries, minerals and wildlife.
In fact, wildlife plays a key role in tourism development. But over the years, wildlife tourism has continually come under threat. The Kafue Flats, shared between Southern and Central provinces, has not been an exception.
The animal population in this game management area has significantly reduced over the years.
The Kafue Flats is home to the Blue Lagoon and Lochinvar national parks. It is endowed with abundant wildlife, which include a number of mammals, birds and reptiles of global conservation concern.
For instance, it is home to the Kafue lechwe, which is a unique and most dominant animal in the Kafue Flats. The species is classified as a rare endemic antelope, and for that, it is even 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. But the rate at which its population keeps reducing is disturbing, to say the least.
According to the 2015 population survey reports by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the population of the Kafue lechwe, which is predominantly the most abundant species numerically in the park, has significantly declined to about 28,000 from over 250,000 back in the 1930s.
The current statistics suggest that approximately 1,000 Kafue lechwe are lost due to poaching every year, whereas the Blue wildebeest population is on the periphery of extinction – the entire Kafue Flats only has one wildebeest, and it’s female.
The species is as good as extinct.
Other big game such as hippotami, buffalo, zebra and kudu remain vulnerable to poaching, whereas, according to other latest figures, about 40 percent of large mammals that used to be found in the Lochinvar National Park have all gone extinct.
These include big cats such as lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetah and also prime big game such as eland, sable, roan antelopes, waterbuck, hartebeest, puku and warthog.
Other species of conservation concern in the Kafue Flats include globally threatened species of birds such as the wattled crane, grey crowned crane, and several species of stork, pelicans, including the Zambian barbet. Just like the lechwe, this bird which is depicted on the K1 coin is endemic to Zambia.
Unless something is done to protect wildlife, many more species in the Kafue Flats will be extinct in no time.
With these numbers, one would therefore understand why Southern Province Minister Edify Hamukale has literally taken it upon himself to fight poaching in the area he says he grew up from.
As he rightly observed, there is need to, among many other things, intensify the policing and monitoring of illegal activities in the Kafue Flats game management area, allow wildlife officers to operate at toll plazas with sniffer dogs, institute control measures aimed at recovering illicit firearms currently owned by local communities within the conservation area and maybe also institute a temporary ban on hunting of wildlife, particularly the Kafue lechwe in the Kafue Flats.
Other measures being floated by Dr Hamukale include engaging the private sector and community-based organisations to introduce initiatives that promote alternative livelihoods, prohibit the carrying of any domestic dogs and guns to cattle posts located in the Kafue Flats, and also control human encroachment on the wildlife habitat that is critical for the survival of the Kafue lechwe and other globally threatened species of birds.
What is crucial is to promote mainstreaming of conservation awareness and education in the education system (syllabi) and activities for the younger generation in public schools.
What happened to those wildlife conservation radio programmes we used to grow up listening to? Perhaps, now would be the best time to have them re-introduced, as rightly observed by Dr Hamukale.
There should also be an even more aggressive campaign against poaching and illegal trafficking and trade in wildlife products and a sense of individual and collective community action towards wildlife and environmental stewardships and sustainable utilisation.
A small boy of something like 12 years old was asked which meat is tastier between that of a cow and game meat. And without even wasting time to think through his answer, he excitedly said bush meat was by far tastier.
It wasn’t shocking because the innocent young man is but just a beneficiary of proceeds of crime – but of course, he doesn’t know that because of lack of knowledge.
For as long as the problem isn’t tackled from the grass roots, the country will continue to lose precious game to poaching.
But of course, in order to sufficiently fight the scourge, Central Province and all government wings and departments mandated with the core tasks of protecting, managing and also conserving natural resources must equally step up efforts to ensure that the species in the Kafue Flats and indeed all over the country are protected.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail correspondent based in Choma.