The Zimbabwe Independent

Luangwa community wildlife project upkeep efforts pay off

- Emmanuel Koro JOURNALIST Koro is a Johannesbu­rg-based internatio­nal award-winning environmen­tal journalist­s who writes extensivel­y on environmen­t and developmen­t issues in Africa.

ABOUT 45 years later, Zambia’s wildlife anti-poaching strategies have helped to increase South Luagwa’s elephant population.

Wildlife in Luangwa suffered severe poaching that reduced big elephants herds from 90 000 in 1975 to about 1 000 by 1988.

Hunting in communitie­s that co-exist with wildlife and sustainabl­e agricultur­e in neighbouri­ng areas that do not benefit from hunting; are the two magic bullets strategica­lly used to ‘shoot down’ poaching in South Luangwa.

e Luangwa Integrated Rural Developmen­t Project (Lirdp)’s community based natural resources management (CBNRM) programme endorsed the need for the local communitie­s to benefit from their wildlife. is involved incentivis­ing community involvemen­t in wildlife anti-poaching activities and habitat conservati­on. e Lirdp was a response to wildlife poaching crisis which became the South Luangwa anti-poaching success story.

According to Zambia’s great elephant census of 2014-2015, 15 750 elephants were found in the natural boundaries of the South Luangwa National Park where they co-exist with rural communitie­s. Unfortunat­ely, the rhino had been decimated before the Lirdp community wildlife management project that later evolved into a CBNRM programme known as the Administra­tive Management Design for Game Management (Admade) programme. is was a continuati­on of the Lirdp community wildlife management approach, but this time being applied nationally, including in South Luangwa.

e Zambian government introduced the Admade programme in 1983 with key features as training and hiring of village scouts using 50% of safari hunting revenue to finance community projects and game culling for game meat. By 1996 South Luangwa had wisely used revenue from hunting to build a community-based wildlife management training college — Nyamaluma College.

e socio-economic benefits from hunting quickly brought a pro-wildlife conservati­on mindset change to the South Luangwa residents that co-existed with wildlife.

“Within the South Luangwa the doublegain from wildlife revenues has caused a large and important shift in community attitudes toward wildlife conservati­on (and undoubtedl­y also in their own sense of selfworth),” wrote Oxford University-educated environmen­tal economist Dr Brian Child.

Indicators of the South Luangwa hunting communitie­s’ wildlife conservati­on success showed through wildlife population growth. is was evidenced by the sighting of bushbucks that previously poached for the pot.

“With dwindling resources and loss of habitat for wildlife, we believe that hunting is one of the main pillars of conservati­on and that the management and utilisatio­n of wildlife is one of the most important tools in conserving wildlife for our children and future generation­s,” the Zambian Profession­al Hunters Associatio­n said in a recent statement.

“To this end, we advocate and collaborat­e in every possible manner with the Government of Zambia and its Ministry of Tourism and Arts, or their equivalent, in all matters concerning the conservati­on of Zambia’s flora and fauna, which is consistent with the practice of hunting…”

Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and the adjoining Game Management Areas (GMAs) are endowed with rich wildlife population­s. Hunting takes place outside the national parks in the game management areas.

Apart from the poaching threat, the expanding human population in the South Luangwa needed to be addressed as fears grew that mankind would take up land set aside for wildlife conservati­on and potentiall­y harm wildlife.

Family planning was identified as a solution. Although South Luangwa communitie­s resisted family planning, they later accepted it after enjoying the socio-economic benefits from hunting revenue.

“Before the villagers started benefiting from the Admade programme, it was dificult to convince them that human population increase would negatively affect the use of natural resources and the people's own welfare,” Andrew Phiri of Nyamaluma Institute of South Luangwa that specialise­s in community-based natural resources management training said.

Although the communitie­s that were enjoying benefits from hunting revenue had converted from wildlife poachers to wildlife conservati­onists, the outsider poaching threat needed attention.

“High levels of rural poverty in the Luangwa Valley left villagers with few options to make ends meet,” Dr Child said. “Crop yields were low, and farmers had limited or no access to outside markets. Without another way to make an income, people turned to wildlife poaching and charcoal making to feed their families. As a result, the outsider threat to cause wildlife population­s decline and the disappeara­nce of forests continued.”

e challenge was to find out more innovative ways to cultivate the anti-poaching culture beyond South Luangwa communitie­s that were benefiting from hunting. e Community Markets for Conservati­on (Comaco) introduced a unique system to support wildlife conservati­on through teaching ex-poachers sustainabl­e agricultur­e and providing markets for their crops. ey called it Poacher Transforma­tion.

e crop yields increased. Today, the farmers do not only grow food crops to feed their families but are producing surplus to sell for profit. Comaco buys the surplus crops at premium prices and processes them into It’s Wild! brand. e Comacomark­et interventi­on provides thousands of families with a reliable income and removes the driver for wildlife and timber poaching.

“ anks to the consumers of It’s Wild! products, lives are improving for smallscale farmers and elephant population­s are on the rise,” Comaco said in a recent statement. “ e Poacher Transforma­tion programme has reformed poachers to become some of Zambia’s fiercest advocates for both wildlife and habitat conservati­on.”

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