Emmanuel Koro :JOURNALIST
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.
The 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. This involved incentivising community involvement in wildlife anti-poaching activities and habitat conservation.
The 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. This was a continuation of the Lirdp community wildlife management approach, but this time being applied nationally, including in South Luangwa.
The 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.
The 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 double-gain from wildlife revenues has caused a large and important shift in community attitudes toward wildlife conservation (and undoubtedly also in their own sense of self-worth),” wrote Oxford University-educated environmental economist Dr Brian Child.
Indicators of the South Luangwa hunting communities’ wildlife conservation success showed through wildlife population growth. This 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.”
The challenge was to find out more innovative ways to cultivate the anti-poaching culture beyond South Luangwa communities that were benefiting from hunting.
The 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. They called it Poacher Transformation.
The 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. The Comacomarket intervention provides thousands of families with a reliable income and removes the driver for wildlife and timber poaching.
“Thanks to the consumers of It’s Wild! products, lives are improving for small-scale farmers and elephant populations are on the rise,” Comaco said in a recent statement. “The Poacher Transformation programme has reformed poachers to become some of Zambia’s fiercest advocates for both wildlife and habitat conservation.”
Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalists who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.