THE DROUGHT BREAKS
In 2018/2019, Zambia had one of its worst droughts in generations, in the southern and western parts of the country. This drought was particularly severe in the Rufunsa District of Lusaka Province, resulting in tragic Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) in the Rufunsa Game Management Area (RGMA).
Game Rangers International (GRI) - Rufunsa Conservation Project commenced in 2019 to support the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in the resource protection of the Rufunsa Game Management Area.
Rufunsa Game Management Area (RGMA) is an area of 300,000 hectares (800,000 acres) on the eastern boundary of the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP). This GMA provides an important ‘buffer’ for the LZNP and acts as an essential corridor between the Luangwa and Zambezi eco-systems. RGMA is a crucial Transfrontier Area being the international border between Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
GRI have entered into an agreement between DNPW, the Mburuma Community Resource Board (CRB), the Mphuka CRB, the Mpanshya CRB and Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ) for the resource management and community development of this important eco-system through the engagement, training and operational support of 20 new Community Scouts – 10 GRI and 10 CLZ scouts.
GRI received donor support for this project from the Charlie Ross coordinated group of the Janotta/Pearsall Family, Gary and Veronica Silberberg, Geoff Tennican and Jennifer Durnican, and Mark Headley and Chris Pehl, through the Endangered Species Fund.
In late May and early June 2019, three local residents were tragically killed by elephant. This was a result of herds of elephant moving from the hinterland to the Zambezi and Luangwa Rivers, where people reside on the banks of the rivers. The inland areas where elephant would normally frequent had no water sources left for the elephant to survive – they were forced to migrate to the perennial rivers in search of water, as shown in the map above
With approval of the District Commissioner, the traditional authorities and the DNPW Director, short term physical mitigations were undertaken to limit further conflict by agreement for the establishment of wildlife corridors that keep humans and elephant apart, and the provision of alternative water sources for the elephant away from villages. The creation of water holes in upland areas was a key intervention in RGMA. This was made possible with advice from Chief Mphuka and older residents of the area, alongside technical hydrological advice from Naested Smit which identified the areas where springs existed, but were not functioning due to the static water level receding with the drought.
Through the provision of financial assistance from Dino Bianchi and Toyota Zambia Ltd a total of four water sources were successfully dug using a Tractor Loader Backhoe (TLD) brought from Lusaka. The photos below show two of the water sources dug:
This intervention has been successful to date. The water holes are holding their capacity, and large numbers of game are using the water source, including several herds of elephant who seem satisfied in remaining in the area, and are not returning to the villages close to the Luangwa and Zambezi Rivers.
There have been no further deaths of humans or elephants since the middle of June.
Further short term assistance to RGMA was provided through the approval by the DNPW Director and Senior Warden of Kafue National Park, by use of the GRI-supported Special Anti-Poaching Unit (SAPU) to assist in the management of the current human animal conflict. SAPU's (Fish Eagle) patrol team of 6 Wildlife Police Officers - B. Nyondo, M, Simbeleko, A. Sakala, J. Mwiya, D. Siyakwasia and D. Kabaza - and Peter Mvula of Chongwe Region Office lead The Park Ranger of SAPU, Charles Mbao, as the patrol members undertook the operation, providing assistance to the community by:
Patrolling areas where HWC was occurring and persuading elephants away from habituated areas.
Identifying wildlife corridors where elephants can safely drink.
Disseminating information on the placement of such corridors with all affected parties
Assisting villagers in undertaking their daily activities at safe places and times.
This operation was received well by the Luangwa community.
As part of the mitigation against HWC, GRI funded a meeting of all community stakeholders on 17th June 2019 under the Chairmanship of the Luangwa District Commissioner. Those present included their Royal Highnesses Chiefs Mburuma and Mphuka, the Area Member of Parliament Hon. S. Miti MP, the Headmen, the Councillors and Heads of all Government Departments in the District. This was very well received with over 100 participants and has cemented GRI’s place as a serious participant in activities of the area. Resolutions for appropriate responses to HMC were passed at the meeting.
On 15th November 2019, the rains returned with 28mm being recorded. Almost 6 months since the tragic deaths of the villagers in a two week period in June, there have been no further serious incidents of human wildlife conflict; the waterholes remain full, providing valuable water resources to inland wildlife, and communities are more knowledgeable on their choices in avoiding wildlife conflicts. The 20 new Community Scouts – 10 GRI and 10 CLZ - are now mobilised and are operational in the field in RGMA and the eastern portion of the LZNP. All parties must remain vigilant in absorbing the lessons learnt in 2019 to mitigate further incidents of Human Wildlife Conflict.