Writer: Thandiwe Mweetwa
2020 was a difficult year for most sectors because of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many sectors of the economy were adversely affected and companies and organisations had to close operations or drastically change the way they worked. The government closed schools, universities, bars and some hotels. Restaurants were only allowed to operate on a takeaway/delivery basis and workplaces were encouraged to keep only essential workers.
At Zambia Carnivore Programme (ZCP), we took government-issued guidelines seriously and implemented health and hygiene protocols across all our sites in Luangwa, Liuwa and Kafue. In line with government directives on organized gatherings, we put most of our conservation outreach and education programs on hold because they required regular contact with people. In the Luangwa, we cancelled the much anticipated Carnivore Conservation Cup which attracts over 40 local football teams annually. The tournament usually kicks off in early April every year and allows us to reach nearly 10 000 people in our local community and share information on carnivore conservation. In order to still keep contact, with communities, we used radio to air various conservation/environment-themed programs.
Early on in the pandemic, we anticipated a very difficult year ahead for both people and wildlife near our Luangwa site. Mfuwe depends on a thriving tourism industry but this came to a grinding halt due to international travel cancellations. Prior to that, the 2019/2020 rainy season caused floods that completely damaged many farmers’ crops. Typically, in any year snaring for bush meat starts to increase in the dry season, which is when food stores run low. We expected 2020 to be a heavy snaring year fuelled by food insecurity and economic devastation.
Our presence in the field was critical for monitoring known groups of lions and wild dogs and saving animals likely to be snared as by-catch. In recent years, our collaborative conservation work has borne fruits, leading to record numbers of wild dogs in the Luangwa Valley. All this was at stake with the surrounding communities likely to be facing severe food shortages. Furthermore, we predicted the impacts of Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) on people would be felt more deeply as wildlife targets already meagre food reserves. Therefore, we worked really hard with our partners to maintain on the ground presence and reduce the negative anticipated impacts.
Fortunately, by the end of the season, we did not record any snared lions, which was quite remarkable. However, the impacts of snaring were visible in species such as elephants, buffalo, giraffes and wild dogs. It ended up being a much better year than earlier predicted.
One positive outcome of the pandemic was that it strengthened our partnerships with local NGOs and agencies. We worked much closer together to limit the impact of the bushmeat trade on lions and other wildlife as well as seeking solutions to HWC. We look forward to continuing this level of collaboration in 2021 as we hope for a much better year for both people and wildlife in the Luangwa Valley.