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Land preservation is key - Zambia Conservation issues

Posted 3/7/2019

mighty Muchinga escarpment - Luangwa valley, Zambiamighty Muchinga escarpment - Luangwa valley, ZambiaHaving dedicated close on 30% of its total land area in the form of National Parks and Protected Areas and reserves (PA's), Zambia's wildlife estate was once the most promising in all of Africa.

The situation today is marked by declining wildlife numbers through poaching, ineffective wildlife law enforcement, human encroachment, deforestation and bad governance in most National Parks and PA's.

In short, those Parks and PA's areas that do not have external funding and management are in decline and set to continue down this road unless MAJOR policy reforms are implemented. Regardless of the intentions of the Zambia Wildlife Authority or Government to change policy which will encourage private sector involvement in the Wildlife estate (suggested as far back as 2006), the situation on the ground for the animals and habitat is not getting better.

In the 62,000 sq kms plus of Zambias National Parks we are meant to have the nucleus, the very last reserve repository of not only species but unique ecological habitat. The suggested rule of thumb for dedicated protected areas is plus 10%. This means at least 10% of each unique ecological system in Zambia should be under absolute secure protection and with this purpose many of the National Parks were originally established throughout the different eco regions of the country.

Today it is only those National Parks that have received donor funding and external management partnerships that continue as they were and in some cases improve significantly. It goes without saying then that many of the original national parks have declined to such an extent where they could be declassified as parks and are devoid of game and original habitat.

 

slash and burn agriculture destroys habitatslash and burn agriculture destroys habitatIn addition the protected areas known as GMA's (game management areas), created to serve as a buffer zones around the majority of National Parks, encompasses and is gazetted at about 172,000 sq kms. These were established by ardent conservationists back in the late 1950's as they recognized the importance of community benefit and keeping land utilization through agriculture away from the national Park boundaries.

Agreements were made with chiefs of local tribes to set aside these lands as protected areas in return for some form of compensation and benefit. In those days trophy hunting seemed the more obvious choice as the colonial government was embarking upon game control measures through culling of large herbivors. In addition revenue and meat from game hunting served as a form of compensation for living with wildlife and not wiping it out.

 

The GMA's served as an effective land preservation program as it took into account the needs and compensated local communities for sacrificing their tribal land to conservation. Regardless of the obvious distaste to many so called conservationists and lobbyists, the establishment and continuance of these GMA's has in no uncertain terms succeeded in protecting vast swathes of wilderness habitat and secured national park boundaries allowing wildlife to thrive.

The GMA's have become synonymous with Trophy Hunting and whether we like it or not, remains the single largest financial contributor to the revenue of the current Zambia Wildlife Authority at over 55% of annual income (more than all other streams of revenue such as photographic and eco tourism combined).

For those opposed to hunting, the obvious fact remains this – vast tracts of habitat adjacent to national parks have been afforded at least some form of protection under the guise of safari hunting revenue, in a country where private investment into such lands (possibly for eco tourism) has been severely stifled by the Zambian government, it's politics, and legal policy pertaining to wildlife.

Ironically most of the high end photographic safari lodges in Zambia exist on land which is privately titled in these existing GMA's. Which raises the point - why does hunting still provide more revenue towards wildlife management given that photo lodges do exist in these GMA's – why have they not managed to generate the same level of income and surplant trophy hunting?

 

However many issues which did not exists at the declaration of these GMA's has now come to serve as catalysts for destruction rather than preservation. Local communities have had to endure decades of government mismanagement and political interference in the use and benefit of their heritage, essentially creating a disillusioned mechanism of land and wildlife destruction.

Living with wildlife demands benefits! The obvious answer remains the dog headed, politically driven inability to implement effective policy change allowing private / public partnerships to gain management control over the land and the wildlife which communities rely upon and live within. The benefits forthcoming and associated with community biodiversity resources has been tightly controlled and manipulated to remain within the circles of government, safari operators and the upper echelon of each tribes hierarchy. 

 

 

indiscriminate poaching is wiping out wildlife outside of GMA'sindiscriminate poaching is wiping out wildlife outside of GMA'sThe call for a policy overhaul regulating the bulk of Zambia's protected land (national parks and GMA's) is nothing new and while the Zambian government has shown fits and starts of possible meaningful reform, we still find ourselves stuck in the myriad of issues which have become Zambia – political nepotism, corruption, greed, corporate ignorance, emergence of hunting cartels, poorly directed international aid, misguided anti campaigners etc

While we as stakeholders and Zambians are involved in this melting pot of obstacles there is one unfailing and constant truth – nothing is getting better for the wildlife or the habitat in these protected areas – they are facing an ever present and growing threat from poaching and invasive land destruction while we all wrestle and grapple with each other over reform and how change should look!

At the end of the day the majority of stakeholders within this wildlife industry are searching for the same outcome, there are different roads that lead there but the ultimate goal is enhancement and protection of habitat and species at any cost!