Conservation in South Luangwa
Hunting and poaching
South Luangwa has always been Zambia's 'most favoured park'. Over the years it has been given a disproportionately large share of the resources allotted to all of the country's national parks. Many would argue that this has been to the detriment of the other parks, though it did enable it to fight the plague of commercial poaching, which hit the country in the 1980s, with some success. The poachers came for rhino horn – which is sold to make dagger-handles in the Middle East and Chinese medicines for the Far East – and, of course, for ivory.
Sadly the valley's thriving black rhino population was wiped out, as it was throughout Zambia; the last confirmed sightings in the Luangwa were in 1987. (One or two sources suggest that a couple of individual animals may be left in the wild, but this is probably just wishful thinking.) However, the good news is that in May 2003 five new black rhino were moved from South Africa and re-introduced into a specially protected area within the North Luangwa National Park. I was lucky enough to be there to watch as they were each fitted with a radio transceiver, prior to their release. It's a tremendous achievement for conservation in the Luangwa, acknowledging a real volte-face in conservation in the Luangwa Valley.
Fortunately, the Valley's elephant populations didn't fare as badly as the rhino; they were only reduced. In recent years, thanks in part to the CITES ban on the ivory trade, they have bounced back – and South Luangwa, especially, has very healthy, large herds of relaxed elephants.
In the South Luangwa there's not only the national park's authorities who combat poaching, but also a private-sector organisation that supports them: RATS (the Honorary Rangers' Rapid Action Team). Together with the park's authorities, they do much useful work in keeping poaching at bay.
Today there is minimal poaching in the park, as demonstrated by the size of the animal populations, and certainly no lack of game. Only in the nervous elephant populations of North Luangwa does one get any echo of the poaching problems of the past.
Conservation and development in Lupande GMA
South Luangwa has always been protected from poaching in a way that Zambia's other parks were not. This wasn't always 100% effective, but it was a lot better than elsewhere. Several years ago a project was started in sections of the Lupande GMA, which is immediately adjacent to the national park, to distribute direct cash benefits from the park to the local people.
This has worked very well beside the river (ie: alongside the park), where the animals are plentiful and the hunting income has been very good. Certainly one of the local chiefs has a very nice brick-built palace with satellite TV with an impressive new twin-cab land cruiser parked in front.
However, further from the park the hunting isn't so good, and the fees have certainly been less. Locals comment that the influx of people into the Mfuwe Bridge area over the last decade has been very noticeable. Even I can see that there are now far more people around that when I first visited in 1995.
Much of the cause of this may be simply the employment prospects generated directly (and indirectly), by the lodges. However, this influx means that the GMA's revenues are being effectively divided among more people. It also puts more strain on the area's agriculture, to increase cultivated land in the area. The danger is that with more people and more cultivation, there will inevitably be a reduction in the GMA's game densities.
This is another Gordian knot for those working on conservation and development in the area to tackle.