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Luangwa Forest Reserve 2017 Poachers Report - Part 1

Posted 3/10/2019

bushmeat poaching - indiscriminate killingbushmeat poaching - indiscriminate killingAlong the entire length of the Muchinga escarpment, poaching is the most common illegal activity reported by the zambia national parks wildlife scouts and rangers.  The range drops down into one of Africas greatest wildlife repositories protected in the guise of the North and South Luangwa National Park as well as various community hunting zones known as GMA's. Despite this protection however it has long been seen as the hub of various poaching gangs and groups operating primarily from the main east and north access roads of the country. 

The often treacherous and steep terrain does not allow easy movement for anti-poaching patrols and the endless secret valleys and gullys offer easy cover for seasoned poachers. In the wet season wildlife moves from the valley floor into the hills and the upper reaches of the escarpment in search of better grazing and offer an easy target for poachers lying in wait.

Poaching tends to be divided quite clearly between that for "bushmeat" and those that seek greater rewards in the form of Ivory and body parts. However over the past decade these have been merging into a wholesale slaughter of anything and everything which can be sold to both local Zambians as well as a large population of foreign nationals from China and the far east.

worth saving - intact wilderness at Nsansala Conservancyworth saving - intact wilderness at Nsansala Conservancy

SafariBwana's Land 4 Lions project and the Nsansla Conservancy initiative!


Background - L4L project area!

The Mupamadzi Farm block originates from the old Tazara corridor rail reserve which was under the control of the now defunct Tazara Railway Company. Essentially having this control over the land above the incumbent chief of the area, TZR subdivided roughly 300 farm blocks and proceeded to sell them off before being stopped by the Ministry of Lands under accusations of corruption. It appears the Ministry of Agriculture then took over the mess and gradually blueprinted the same farms to the same initial buyers, many of whom have now been issued with title documents and are proceeding to embark on farming ventures. Some of the land has already been clearcut for cropping while others have existing herds of cattle, goats and sheep.

Baboon with snare around its neckBaboon with snare around its neckIt is interesting to note that the land was only available for sale to indigenous Zambians, meaning those with a certain designation on their National Registration cards. Essentially this excluded anyone else from the land during the initial stages, meaning large scale farmers, foreign businesses and any non indigenous Zambians which included long term foreign national residents.

However at the current rate this could change and the demand for large parcels of agricultural land is very high in the surrounding region due to fertile soils and abundant water. The vegetation of the area also lends itself to ideal cattle country and there are currently a number of operating farms with large herds of cattle.

The farm block itself runs in a north south direction roughly from the Mununga quarry area near Chief Mpumbas palace to beyond the town of Mpika. It extends east west from the Great North Road to the rim of the Muchinga escarpment where it bounds the Luangwa National Forest Reserve No. 251 (LNF). From here it is roughly 100 kms direct line to the boundary of the South Luangwa National Park through the LNF as well as the Nyampala GMA. It is roughly 5000 sqkms

3 major river systems drain the escarpment and serve as important, if not major catchment areas for the Luangwa river. They also serve as important access routes for wildlife up into the hills of the escarpment during the rains, while they also serve as access routes into the forest reserve and national park, for poachers.

There are 3 wildlife camps along the great north road evenly spaced although they do not function as intended due to poor funding and lack of technical support.

The popular Mutinondo Wilderness area lies pretty much in the middle of the farm block and while they have done a sterling job to keep their 10,000 acres in reasonable shape, they too are sorely lacking support and financial drive.

Within the Mupamadzi farm block, Nsansala Conservancy has 4 titled blocks of land; 2 near the Kalonje wildlife post operating as a cattle ranch while the large 11,000 hectares lies in the heart of the Muchinga escarpment and borders the LNF at the base of the valley floor.

Permission has been granted by DNPWS to operate these 4 blocks as open game ranches and field surveys of habitat and wildlife were undertaken in October 2017. In addition close collaboration with the Department of Forestry to assist in management of the adjacent forest reserve extends the entire project area into a viable landscape project.

To date the L4L and Nsansala Conservancy project area encompasses about 200,000 acres of various land and habitat which extends from the great north road eastwards to the boundary of the south Luangwa National Park. While much of this remains unexplored and intact forest reserve, our initial expedition into the area established one key concern or threat - that of bushmeat poaching and clearcut deforestation for farmland.

In 2017 we established formal ties with the Kalonje wildlife post as well as the Forestry department in Mpika, gaining their support and co operation to set up a combined Anti-Poaching team for the entire Mupamadzi farm block region. Core to this will be law enforcement support for the current game scouts at Kalonje as well as increasing the boots on the ground by employing more local community scouts many of whom were once hardcore poachers.

DNPWS officers and local village scouts with confiscated bushmeatDNPWS officers and local village scouts with confiscated bushmeatThe 2017 expedition was funded by a longstanding client and friend of mine who kindly donated both equipment for the initial team of scouts as well as a cash donation to cover their annual salaries. We are eternally grateful for such contributions and understanding as our program cannot survive on commercial income at this early stage.

Sadly what we encountered during a short 10 day stay shocked us deeply as we had not imagined the wanton destruction through bushmeat poaching to be as bad as it was. Within the first 5 days we had encountered over 9 different groups of poachers operating within a small 25,000 acre area and were directly threatened on 2 occasions. Poaching was primarily done at night with home made black powder guns and headlamps and was both indiscriminate and bold. The hauls of bushmeat we confiscated was sickening and alarming including the tiny bushbabies and pheasants to duikers, bushbuck, monkeys, baboons, bushpigs, reedbucks, hartebeests and the noble and rare sable antelopes.

One morning, whilst tracking a gang of poachers, shots were fired near us and upon arriving there we found 2 poachers about to butcher a beautiful Sable mother. After chasing them down we returned to the carcass and found her young calf standing next to the body of its dead mother - this was sickening and without success we tried to catch the baby sable! Within my soul I vowed at that point to commit all my efforts to end this poaching scourge.



2017 Nsansala Expedition photos - Part 1