Conservation in Zambia, as in many other parts of Africa, takes place through the goodwill of nearby communities, and the application of national law by government. Under the Community Forests Program (CFP), BioCarbon Partners (BCP) and the Zambia Wildlife Authority ( ZAWA) are collaborating in Rufunsa District to promote community-based management of natural resources, including threatened wildlife populations, in a globally significant Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA).
The Lower Zambezi ecosystem is one of the most important wildlife estates within Zambia and comprises the Lower Zambezi National Park, Game Management Areas (GMAs) and Rufunsa Conservancy. The ecosystem is part of a globally significant TFCA shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe (‘Lower Zambezi-Mana Pools TFCA’), which contains one of Africa’s largest remaining elephant populations.
Elephants are under increasing immense threat from poaching for Asian ivory markets. These illegal wildlife markets threaten long-term elephant survival across the African continent and associated tourism-based economies.
A significant part of any local conservation strategy in the Lower Zambezi ecosystem, therefore, is to support the law enforcement activities of ZAWA in customary land, the Game Management Areas, and Lower Zambezi National Park.
The CFP has received a waiver from USAID allowing us to support ZAWA’s conservation enforcement efforts, by providing direct support to ZAWA and to a local Community Resource Board (CRB), including joint operations and collaboration. This collaboration takes different forms, including: sponsoring Village Scout (VS) payroll, providing training, equipment, and institutional and support to the Mpanshya CRB, as well as support to ZAWA patrols in terms of VS manpower for joint patrols, transport for deployments, patrol rations, and radio and GPS equipment loans.
Resources in the northern sector of the ecosystem for conservation management are limited, yet this area is where many of the threats to the park originate from—due, in part, to the proximity of this area to a major highway, and denser peri-urban population expansion than other boundaries of the park. The northern sector of the park is thus an important buffer to elephant populations in the Zambezi Valley, but is being used as access to poach within the Valley.
Under the CFP, as part of on-going REDD+ activities in Rufunsa District, BCP has been able to collaborate with ZAWA and the local Mpanshya CRB to patrol the northern boundary of the Lower Zambezi National Park, along the project area of the Rufunsa Conservancy, as a means of providing critical monitoring and enforcement along one of the Park’s most threatened and vulnerable boundaries.
On the morning of December 24th, 2014, BCP transported a small team of ZAWA scouts to the northern area of the Lower Zambezi National Park, to an area known as Ikondo. The Wildlife Police Officers headed out on patrol. Their mission was to work their way on foot toward the southern end of the park, camping at different locations each night on their way to a set rendezvous point.
Within hours of this deployment, the ZAWA Senior Ranger had contacted BCP to inform us that the Scouts had encountered a group of armed individuals, and they had recovered a weapon and ivory, south of the drop-off point. With the nearest ZAWA vehicle at least 5-hours’ drive away, ZAWA requested for BCP to retrieve the Scout group and to collect the confiscated materials. BCP responded by immediately fetching the team with their confiscated materials and dropping them at the ZAWA office in Chinyunyu.
The officers on the patrol related how they had come across a group of approximately 10 people at a makeshift camp in the National Park. When they saw the Scouts, the individuals immediately ran away. However, as they ran, they dropped a modern .375 heavy rifle, 4 tusks of ivory, bushmeat, axes and a scale. No arrests were possible, but the ZAWA team managed to recover and confiscate all of these materials – materials that clearly indicate involvement in serious poaching activities taking place in the Lower Zambezi National Park.
This particular case is an illustration of how strategically important CFP support to ZAWA is in the Lower Zambezi ecosystem, and how rapidly important resources can be deployed to support ZAWA operations, as part of this collaboration.
Through generous USAID/Zambia support through the CFP, in December 2014, 12 Village Scouts were sponsored through formal ZAWA training. As a result of USAID’s expressed commitment to support on-going collaboration with ZAWA under the CFP in Rufunsa District, BCP has signed agreements with Mpanshya CRB to continue supporting these 12 new Village Scouts, as they support on-going joint-patrols, monitoring and enforcement in the Lower Zambezi ecosystem, including the National Park and GMAs.
In 2015, these new Village Scouts have begun supporting ZAWA officers on patrols, and their presence is expected to greatly increase community-based natural resource management in this strategic ecosystem.
The collaboration between USAID/Zambia, ZAWA and BCP in Rufunsa District is therefore an important demonstration of the potential of the USAID-funded Community Forests Program (CFP) to promote improved collaboration between local communities, Government and private sector entities, to support community-based natural resource management, and enforcement of Zambian laws, to protect local natural resources and wildlife in critical, threatened, globally significant ecosystems.