National Parks & GMA
In practice, there is room for both types of visitors in Zambia: the photographer and the hunter. The national parks are designated for photographic visitors; here no hunting is allowed. Around these are large areas designated as Game Management Areas (GMAs). GMAs contain villages and local people, and hence small-scale farms, but hunting is (at least in theory) controlled and practised sustainably. Both local and overseas hunters use these, and the latter usually pay handsomely for the privilege.
Integral to this model is that the GMAs provide a buffer between the pristine national park and the land outside where uncontrolled hunting is allowed. This should serve to protect the national park's animals from incursions by poachers, whilst the park acts as a large gene pool and species reservoir for the GMA.
The theory of GMAs is good, but their administration has many practical difficulties. In some of them hunting by the local people has been uncontrolled, and in a few much of the game has been wiped out – resulting in no income from the wildlife, and so more pressure to hunt unsustainably. Many have projects that aim to reverse this trend, to regenerate their game resources and then set the communities off on a sustainable path. However, much more work needs to be done if there is to be a long-term effect felt across the country.
Zambia Wildlife Authority
As part of the government's drive to liberalise the economy, government departments with the potential for self-sufficiency are being reformed. Several years ago the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was disbanded, and replaced by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) which has more autonomy and greater financial independence.
After tales of government corruption and complicity with poachers, those travellers who have not ventured into Zambia can be forgiven for asking, 'Is there any game left in Zambia?' The answer is a definitive 'yes'.
The 1970s and especially the 1980s saw rampant hunting in the GMAs, and considerable poaching of Zambia's national parks – partly small-scale hunting for food by local people, and partly large commercial poaching operations. The government reaction to this was a mixture of indifference and, allegedly, complicity. The only national park with an appreciable number of foreign visitors, South Luangwa, was effectively defended from all but the persistent infiltrations of specialist rhino-poachers. Other parks were, to various extents, neglected. Most still suffer from the results of that past neglect even now.
However, various parks and GMAs are now, once again, being developed for visitors. With that development comes a reason to protect the parks (as well as a financial motivation). Kafue's game populations are almost back to normal, as are those in the Lower Zambezi National Park. Both Kasanka and North Luangwa are being effectively protected with the help of two very different private conservation initiatives, whilst Liuwa Plain is just embarking on that model. The WWF has long been working hard to help the local people earn an income from the sustainable utilisation of wildlife around the Bangweulu Swamps. Camps are opening up along the upper reaches of the Zambezi.
So the message from Zambia is upbeat. The main parks have excellent game populations and many more are gradually recovering. Unlike much of Africa, Zambia has not generally been ravaged by overgrazing, and so even the parks that have suffered from poaching have usually retained their natural vegetation in pristine condition. This gives hope that good game populations can be re-established, and that large tracts of Zambia will once again be returned to their natural state.