A conservation group in Zambia is working to protect elephants from poaching and other kinds of conflict.
One of Africa’s most iconic species and one of its most endangered. One conservation group is hoping to change that.
For the past 22 years, Conservation Lower Zambezi has helped train and support scouts here in Zambia. They scour 9,000 square kilometres of the country’s Lower Zambezi National Park and Game Management Areas.
This is the team’s newest recruit. Dogs are being taught how to detect ivory, arms and bush meat.
“If we have got any information someone has hidden ivory, with the dogs it won’t take long to find that person and the ivory quickly. These dogs will help a lot in the conservation unit, I’m sure they will help Zambia which will benefit from the dogs, the job will be simple,” said Adamson Phiri, dog handler.
Poaching in Zambia has soared over the past two years. The team needs more resources to take on powerful syndicates.
“Poaching has become more sophisticated, it’s done on a regional and global scale so we’re relying on specialized units and using intelligence as much as possible,” said Ian Stevenson, CEO of Conservation Lower Zambezi.
“More regional level work needs to be done, it’s a crisis across Africa. Recent surveys show the elephant population is holding its own but we need to keep the pressure up on the poachers.”
The involvement of the local community is critical for Conservation Lower Zambezi, whether it’s training up foot scouts and dog handlers or helping mitigate human-wildlife conflict in surrounding villages.
As farming encroaches on wildlife corridors, elephants face threats from villagers trying to protect their crops.
“We depend on these gardens for our survival. The community buys vegetables from us but the elephants come and eat them, which impacts on our income. Sometimes we don’t have enough money to send our children to school. People have been attacked; some have died,” said Irene Kapesa, farmer.
“We, in conjunction with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, have brought in scouts to scare them away. But it’s not enough because we lack manpower,” said Stephen Kalio, Human-Wildlife Conflict Coordinator.
“We get the most help from NGOs — the government must do more because we’re talking about injuries and death.”
Tourism is a huge financial boost to conservation efforts. Lodges pay membership fees and raise revenue for the park. They also provide jobs for residents, and many guides double up as conservationists.
“Since 2008 we’ve been training guides, who act as ambassadors, educating children about conservation. I think the programmes undertaken will in 10 years from now show progress. Conservation is important, without it I wouldn’t be a guide,” said Chris Musonda, head guide of Royal Zambezi Lodge.
The last aerial survey showed there are around 23,000 elephants in the Lower Zambezi. It’s a fairly large number.
But conservationists say it would be unwise to take for granted that the population can withstand threats without help.