My first few days in Zambia were focused on studies on the local tourism industry as well as learning about locals, their culture and lifestyles. We spent the days visiting local organizations, trusts and lodges and following up on what we learned with afternoon discussions. The focus on the class was on the importance of the tourism industry to local economies and the conservation of environment and wildlife which attracts visitors. We spent a lot of our time with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) which serves in the same manner as the National Park Service in the U.S.
The largest issue with conservation in Zambia and its surrounding countries is poaching. It’s done in such a large scale that it’s nearly eliminated lion and rhino populations and heavily affected water buffalo, elephants and other species. The issue is so severe that there are only nine white rhinos in the country which are guarded 24/7 by armed guards from poachers. Most illegal hunting however is done with the use of snares. Snares are simply tangles of barbed wire and are so widely used that ZAWA has a difficult time keeping up. To put it into perspective, the lodge we stayed at after our first week would sweep its roughly 100-acre property each week for snares. Wildlife organizations we visited in the area would also display snares they’d picked on large stacks by the hundreds. It is difficult to catch the culprits since there is so much land they cover and they are able to set up traps under the radar. Those who are caught are usually found when checking on their snares. They face a prison sentence when they do. Much of the issue is due to a lucrative market for such animals in a heavily impoverished area. This makes it a challenge to keep people from resorting to poaching for a living.
One of the more attainable methods to combat poaching is through education. In Zambia, education is not easily attainable, but it is possible. Public schools are often underfunded and sometimes hard to reach. Even so I was impressed to see how many kids attend school, which was visible when we drove by as classes were dismissed. Toward the end of our stay we were able to visit a public school that was well funded by the African Wildlife Foundation. They renovated their facilities and also the style of education, focusing on conservation of the environment and wildlife. I wonder what the long-term impact could be if all schools were that way.
ZAWA has only limited funding, so is its ability to operate is limited. This leads to a lack of confidence in the organization by locals and businesses. The owners of our lodge indicated they would be willing to work with ZAWA, but there is little interaction between them and other tourist lodges. Perhaps the private sector could help the organization’s operations in the future.