Bangweulu Wetlands “Where the water meets the sky”
Poverty is on the decline and Black Lechwe population is increasing
Bangweulu Wetlands is the only place in Africa where the Black Lechwe still occurs in significant numbers. The population in 2005 was estimated at 35,000 but the area has the potential to carry up to 350,000 Black Lechwe. The wetlands are classified as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International, and the Chikuni area is a Ramsar Site (wetland of international importance). Bangweulu is especially well known for the rare shoebill, and a large population of wattled crane. Much of the area is swampy grasslands and termitaria woodlands. There are only a few large mammals in the area: buffalo, elephant, hippo, roan, sable and zebra.
Recognizing the challenges of wildlife depletion, the Ministry of Lands, Natural Recourses and Environment Protection, together with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) have been implementing the Reclassification and Effective Management of National Protected Areas System (REMNPAS) Project which is funded by the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme. The project aims to improve the management of existing Protected Areas through law enforcement and to propose new protected area categories to ensure the community owns and manages the natural resources in a sustainable manner. In the Bangweulu Wetlands, a Public, Private (with African Parks Network) and Community partnership began in 2008; a key aspect of the Community Partnership Park concept.
The project has put in place strategies for conservation through improving the law enforcement by recruiting 80 village scouts to patrol the area and sensitization of the communities on the benefits of natural resources management such as job creation through tourism, community development through social amenities development and opening up the area by backward and forward market linkages through tourism development which contributes to poverty reduction. Today, over 200 community members have been employed in law enforcement, construction, brick laying, carpentry and painting, increasing the local economy and alternative livelihood options, such as honey production and crop production, have been offered to reduce the temptation for illegal hunting of wildlife. Social amenities such as rural health posts, mother’s shelters at clinics have been constructed from tourism earnings, improving the quality of life of residents of this vast ecosystem. Local communities will continue to reap the benefits as the project progresses and impacts are scaled up.
In terms of wildlife conservation impacts continue to grow with ever improving law enforcement, better planning of land use and improved community involvement in protection strategies for wildlife and birds. Indications are that previously endangered wildlife populations are now “turning the corner” and showing signs of increase. For example there has been increase in the population of Black Lechwe from 35,000 in 2005 to be about 75 000 in 2012. The key draw card species for many bird watchers, the shoebill, is showing signs of improved breeding success as a direct result of implemented strategies. Tourism too has been growing steadily from earnings of $ 200,000 in 2005 to about $ 5 million in September 2012.
A project of this nature is a long term undertaking. Greater impact such as eradication of poverty among the communities and also to reach the carrying capacity of Black Lechwe in this area will take time to be realized. However, with real commitment being demonstrated by all partners - ZAWA, African Parks Network, traditional leaders and communities and support from Government there is a very strong likelihood of success. Ultimately it is the environment and people that will benefit when conservation of resources becomes an engrained part of everyday life and the water that meets the sky in Bangweulu is restored to its natural beauty.