By Benedict Tembo
The Sioma Ngwezi National Park in Western Province had for many years recorded a marked decline in wildlife population due to insufficient investments in law enforcement operations to protect the game.
This led to uncontrolled harvesting of game meat by local communities and was exacerbated by the civil war in Angola. The park was used as a refuge for guerilla fights during the the detriment of wildlife conservation.
In line with the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature global goals of zero loss of natural habitats as well as zero extinctions of species, WWF Zambia teamed up with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the Barotse Royal Establishment and Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) to work towards the restoration of Silowana ecosystem which includes Sioma Ngwezi National park and surrounding parts of the game management area (GMA,).
Since 2017, WWF Zambia has in partnership with the DNPW restocked over 900 various key wildlife species namely, Sable antelope, wildebeest, impala, zebra, and buffalo.
“Over the years, the restocking exercise impacted the ecological bottom-up model where a restoration of a functional herbivore population has led to the increase and thriving large carnivore guild. Sioma Ngwezi National Park has recently recorded many large carnivore sightings e.g. lions, cheetah, hyena, leopard and wild dogs which positions it as another major tourism destination between Livingstone and the Liuwa plains. This partnership has deliveref results,” said WWF Zambia Country Director Nachilala Nkombo.
Ms Nkombo said with increased wildlife numbers, WWF Zambia faced the challenge of increased human -wildlife (HWC) conflicts. Elephants, hippos, crocodiles, spotted hyenas, leopards and lions have been frequently cited conflict causing species.
“There are over 7,0000 people living within the Silowana complex, and reports from 2017 to 2021 community led game counts indicate a constant increase in wildlife population. With the expanding population of local people and wildlife, competition for space and water at the Zambezi and Kwando rivers has become more intense resulting in frequent and widespread human wildlife conflict incidents,” Ms Nkombo said.
She said HWC are mainly driven by the local economy which is driven 60 percent of the local people who depend on agriculture and cattle rearing.
“As a result, the impacts of human wildlife conflict from both herbivores raiding their crops and large carnivores predating upon their cattle has potential to negatively impact the local economy and household food security. It is important to also note that women and children are often the victims of wildlife attacks. Women are traditionally expected to fetch firewood and water from the bush and rivers respectively while children act as cattle herders,” Ms Nkombo said.
She adds that luckily, the partnership with the likes of Panthera and Elephant Connections have enabled WWF Zambia to successfully map wildlife corridors so as to enhance efforts to protect people from wildlife and wildlife from people.
“Our work in Silowana complex has included concerted efforts to support reduction in human wildlife conflicts through strengthening community resources boards (CRBs) that have directed community law enforcement work, led communities in the establishment of fences, we have invested in building alternative resilient water sources for communities and wildlife. Our programme has supported over 7,000 farmers practicing sustainable forestry and conservation agriculture away from wildlife corridors with great success. Over 100,000 hectares of forest in the Silowana complex is under community management and has provided an opportunity for the development of forest based community enterprises related to honey, mungongo oil and devil’s claw productions. These have increased income opportunities for locals to transform their lives.
“WWF has equally prioritised capacity building of CRB/Village Action Groups governance structures to localize effective management of natural resources, prevention and mitigation of human wildlife conflict, and monitoring for sustained restoration. WWF Zambia is in the process of upscaling its current approach to HWC to the SAFE systems approach,” Ms Nkombo said.
She says the The human- wildlife conflict SAFE Systems is a suite of actions across all the six elements; response, policy, monitoring, mitigation, prevention and understanding the conflict that contribute to a single long- term goal for an area: to make it safe – safe for people, assets, wildlife and habitat.
“Conflict prevention measures installed include elephant restraining fences, crocodile restraining lines, and predator proof Kraals. Two HWC rapid response teams have been formed and equipped with an all-terrain Land Cruiser for easy mobility and reduced response time,” Ms Nkombo says.
She says there has been success on all sites where the HWC interventions have been installed with near zero conflict incidents since 2021 compared to the years before that when up to 100 forms of conflicts would be reported in the same hotspot areas.
“With a holistic approach to ecosystem restoration and human-wildlife coexistence, a thriving Silowana complex is a possibility,” Ms Nkombo says.
On December 20, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed World Wildlife Day (WWD) as a global celebration of the biodiversity of wild fauna and flora to raise awareness of numerous benefits of conserving it to people.
However, the commemoration falls on the March 3 every year.
This year’s theme for WWD is ‘Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation.’ The theme perfectly describes the work of WWF in securing key landscapes such as Sioma Ngwezi, Bangweulu, Liuwa, Luangwa, and the Zambezi.
“This WWD we spotlight the value of our partners in restoring wildlife in the largest park in Zambia that started in 2017,” Ms Nkombo says.
Apart from working in close collaboration with DNPW), the BRE, and PPF, WWF Zambia has also been liaising with the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation secretariat, various donors, and the communities in the surrounding Silowana under a powerful common vision to restore wildlife in an almost forgotten park and transform lives.
Ms Nkombo says this year’s commemoration presents WWF Zambia and its partners with an opportunity to advance these partnerships that encourage a human-wildlife coexistence and deliver a transformational conservation driven local economy that delivers more opportunities for local people from sound natural resource management and ecosystem stewardship.
Commenting on the World Wildlife Day theme ‘Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation’, Conservation South Luangwa Law Enforcement Advisor, Benson Kanyembo said there was need to work across governments, civil society, and the private sector to turn commitment into action.
“We need much bolder actions now to cut emissions, accelerate renewables, and build climate resilience.
Throughout, we need to place the voices of local communities and indigenous people – our world’s most effective guardians of biodiversity – front and centre,” Mr Kanyembo said on his Facebook page.
He added:” Today and every day, let us all do our part to preserve natural habitats and build a thriving future for all living. “