Does Wildlife Help Forests Store More Carbon?

During these difficult times around the world, one source of hope is seeing the return of life to landscapes where conservation efforts are taking root. One of these stories of restoration is BCP’s Rufunsa Conservancy – a private 40,000 hectare game reserve that protects 60 kms of frontage of the Lower Zambezi National Park and is the main site for BCP’s Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.

Despite its proximity to one of the most wildlife-rich parks in Zambia, this area has long been depleted of wildlife due to poaching. This is beginning to change. We are now seeing a resurgence of species like lions, sable antelope, southern ground hornbills and roan antelope.

BCP teamed up with Lion Landscapes to help us monitor some of the trends we have been seeing. Despite the best efforts of predators such as lions, hyenas and leopards, large herds of roan and sable are now often seen. When we did some (non-scientific) back of the envelope calculations, we estimated that the amount of dung dropped on the Conservancy was the equivalent of around 6 full 747 cargo jets of fertilizer. That’s a lot of fertilizer! The BCP team and our partners have been thrilled by the amounts we’re finding as it tells us that we’re not only protecting forests, but we’re also helping to conserve wildlife.

“Well-managed forests provide much more than carbon storage, a sustainable source of firewood, or building materials. Healthy forests also support a host of wildlife species” – Dr. Alayne Cotterrill, Lion Landscapes

As part of the annual carbon audit trees are remeasured.  In the last two years, on average the trees are getting bigger.  This was pointed out by Francis Eaton, lead auditor from SCS Global based in California:

“Compared to other miombo areas of East Africa where I have worked, the miombo across the reserve is healthier and trees are noticeably bigger. While assessing the impact of the community scouts I noticed that evidence of tree cutting, and human foot trails are almost non-existent, and this fact is not lost on the wildlife. Each year I return to assess the carbon project, I see more and more wildlife returning to the area, including some species I have never encountered before in my East Africa work.” – Francis Eaton, Carbon Verification Forester

The increase in flora and fauna across the Conservancy can be attributed to some of BCP’s management interventions. For the past 8 years, BCP has invested in a partnership with DNPW to build a trained community scout team to protect forests and wildlife.  In the early days, the scouts were filling up floor space with the wildlife snares collected on patrols. Nowadays, we rarely collect any snares and operational coverage has increased. 

“In 2011 on my first visit, all I saw was one bushbuck sprinting away. Sable, lion, hyena and other species are more common now. When we started the project we thought the Conservancy’s forest were mature and we did not expect growth spurts. The links may be anecdotal for now, but we are thrilled reduced fire stress and increased wildlife numbers cause trees to store more carbon.” – Dr. Hassan Sachedina, BCP

Our efforts to preserve the Rufunsa Conservancy forest to generate carbon offsets has not only helped enhance forest growth but it has also brought back wildlife to the area. We are increasing our efforts to help restore wildlife across more areas and to reduce fire impacts moving forwards as part of our mission of making wildlife habitat conservation valuable to people.  The carbon offsets may be hard to see, but the presence of lions and antelope are undeniable, and quite frankly, inspiring.

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