BANGWEULU, WHICH MEANS “WHERE WATER MEETS THE SKY,” IS LOCATED IN NORTH-EASTERN ZAMBIA AND IS ONE OF AFRICA’S MOST SPECTACULAR AND IMPORTANT WETLAND SYSTEMS.
From vast swamps to open floodplains, this wetland is home to numerous threatened species like black lechwe and sitatunga, as well as a staggering array of birdlife, with 689 species identified including the prehistoric-looking shoebill.
Since African Parks took over management of the park in 2008, there has been a strong recovery of some of the wetlands’ most iconic wildlife, including the magnificent and prehistoric looking shoebill stork, and two species of antelope - the sitatunga and black lechwe. Black lechwe are listed as Endangered and are only found in Bangweulu, but our most recent aerial survey results indicate that this charismatic antelope is on the rise. The population is now estimated to be around 50,000, up from 35,000 in 2013, which is an astounding 40% increase.
Bangweulu serves as an essential resource for local communities who depend on its rich supply of fish and meat for their survival. With these communities, African Parks is working to restore and conserve this delicate ecosystem so that future generations can continue to rely on its resources long into the future.
The Bangweulu Wetlands project is managed through a partnership between African Parks, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and the six Community Resource Boards (CRBs) who have jurisdiction over the area in which the project is located. The Bangweulu Wetlands Management Board was established in 2008 after the communities, through their Chiefs, CRBs and advisors, invited African Parks to be their private sector management partner for the Bangweulu Wetlands Project.
The board comprises representatives of the six local communities, African Parks and the Zambia Wildlife Authority. This ensures that the stakeholders at the heart of the project, the people who live and work in the community, have a meaningful role to play in managing the area.
AS ONE OF AFRICA’S GREATEST WETLAND SYSTEMS, BANGWEULU IS HOME TO A SIGNIFICANT POPULATION OF ENDEMIC BLACK LECHWE AND AN IMPORTANT BREEDING AREA FOR SHOEBILL.
It is also a unique model for African Parks in that it is not a national park, but rather a game management area, where the land belongs to the local communities who live within it and have rights to fish and harvest resources from it. It is an environment where wildlife and communities are inextricably dependent on one another for survival, and a good example of how biodiversity can deliver socio-economic benefits to rural communities.
Bangweulu is a local word meaning “where the water meets the sky” and represents the vast stretches of seasonally flooded grasslands and permanent swamps with huge virgin miombo woodlands. The swamp areas are dominated by extensive stands of papyrus and Phragmites reeds which create a vast and lush wetland landscape.
Since African Parks took over management of the park in 2008, there has been a strong recovery in some of the wetlands’ most iconic species, including sitatunga, black lechwe and shoebill.
The area is home to spotted hyaena and side-striped jackal, as well as serval.
Mammal censuses have revealed healthy populations of black lechwe, sitatunga, southern reedbuck, tsessebe and oribi. Hippopotamus are also found in the area. Large mammal populations have otherwise been much reduced but there are remnant populations of buffalo, elephant, roan and hartebeest. Populations of puku, waterbuck, zebra and impala have been established in the Nkondo area.
A population of 689 bird species.
With staggering avian diversity, Bangweulu is a globally important habitat for waterbirds, evidenced by its classification as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International, while part of it has been proclaimed a RAMSAR site.
Its most famous resident is the elusive shoebill, but it also holds over 10% of the world’s population of wattled crane.
Of the smaller species, the highly specialised papyrus yellow warbler is considered vulnerable, and collared pratincoles, blue-throated bee-eaters and several species of flufftails also find refuge in the wetlands.
Bangweulu is home to 83 species of fish, representing 13 taxonomic families. Studies into the fish species that occur in the swamps resulted in a researcher logging a new distribution record for the endangered killifish.
A pilot fishing ban during the spawning season in one of the community areas has been very successful and has yielded dividends in the form of increasing fish stocks. In addition, the black lechwe population is not only stable but growing, and data indicates that the sitatunga population is healthy and growing too. Several species including serval, puku, impala, zebra and waterbuck were released into Bangweulu in an effort to repopulate a section which had previously been depleted of wildlife.
Threatened and Extinct Species
Heavy poaching pressure before African Parks took over the management of Bangweulu had a significant impact on the populations of most large mammal species and only small remnant populations were still in place. Unfortunately, several species such as lion, cheetah and black rhino were wiped out completely. In the future, if conditions become sufficiently favourable, African Parks will look to restore the full suite of large mammal species that previously occurred in the area.
Conserving the shoebill
Bangweulu is famous for its shoebill population and a number of programmes have been implemented to conserve this enigmatic species. A Shoebill Guard Programme employs local fisherman to ensure the safety of shoebill nests, while a research programme makes use of camera traps to monitor the progress of eggs, chicks and fledglings. Improved community cooperation and awareness has resulted in a marked improvement in the number of nests producing fledglings over the years.
|Spotted hyaena||Crocuta crocuta|
|Side-striped jackal||Canis adustus|
|Black lechwe||Kobus leche smithemani|
|Southern reedbuck||Redunca arundinum|
|Lichtenstein’s hartebeest||Alcelaphus buselaphus lichtensteinii|
|Nile crocodile||Crocodylus niloticus|
Bangweulu is one of the largest employers in the region. The team has grown considerably over the years, especially with the employment of the village scouts who now enjoy reliable remuneration and the benefit of all the necessary equipment in order to be effective in their roles.
Every year, Bangweulu aims to reach at least 10 schools and educate the children on the importance of the environment and the conservation of threatened species such as the shoebill.
A Community Development Fund has provided the necessary financial resources for several important infrastructure projects, including the renovation of health facilities, teacher’s housing and a market building. A strong livelihood programme has allowed for the diversification of income through bee-keeping projects and the training of farmers on conservation practices.
With fishing being one of the main sources of revenue and protein for Banwgeulu’s communities, it is essential that this resource is protected in a way that allows people to harvest without depleting supplies. Community sensitisation programmes to promote fishery regulations have heralded excellent results in terms of compliance with a seasonal fishing ban, and the shift away from the illegal use of mosquito nets to catch fish.
Relationships with partner organisations have broadened the support for communities. The Dutch Postcode Lottery and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) provided funding for the distribution of solar light units to community members, so that schools and clinics could be accessible in the evenings, and delivery of Zedupad tablet computers to local schools.
A community campsite is managed in collaboration with the local community and it is anticipated that as the project progresses and further tourism opportunities are explored, the communities will benefit even further in terms of employment. Communities receive a 15% share of all commercial income generated in Bangweulu.
In collaboration with WWF Zambia, a local bee-keeping programme has provided training on successful bee-keeping practices and assistance with packaging and selling honey products in the marketplace under the brand name Wild Miombo Honey. This has resulted in the community being able to generate substantial volumes of honey.
AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE PROJECT IN 2008, THE ZAWA SCOUTS AND VILLAGE SCOUTS EMPLOYED BY THE CRB’S WERE ILL-EQUIPPED AND PAID WELL BELOW THE MINIMUM WAGE. BOATS AND VEHICLES WERE LARGELY UNAVAILABLE.
As a result of the poor infrastructure and equipment, only a very limited number of effective anti-poaching activities were carried out in the area.
In addition, many difficult areas of the wetlands were never patrolled. Since the inception of the project, law enforcement operations have focused on recruiting, equipping and training personnel in an effort to optimise their deployment and efficacy.
Through the recruitment of law enforcement staff and village scouts, the heavy poaching of the past has been brought under control and there has been a consistent decline in the number of animals recorded as poached, particularly black lechwe. Training is ongoing, such as making scouts aware of the force continuum and the need to de-escalate the use of force wherever possible.
Also, every effort is being made to support the scouts in the field through aerial patrols, establishment of an equestrian unit, GIS and SMART software and ongoing improvements to equipment, transport and infrastructure.
A fishing ban has been implemented during the seasonal spawning season in order to allow fish stocks time to recover.
Close collaboration with the community leadership, along with monitoring by law enforcement officials and village scouts, has resulted in strict adherence to the annual ban and the communities are already reporting improved yields as a result.
As a result of engaging with communities and educating them on ways in which they can change their behaviour to benefit both the environment and their livelihoods, there has been a major reduction in the levels of unsustainable fishing, poaching and illegal tree-cutting for charcoal. Staff are motivated through an incentive scheme based on results, and have received additional equipment to make them more effective in the field. Staff who show leadership potential are promoted from within the ranks, which motivates them further.
Horses were introduced to Bangweulu as a way of better monitoring wildlife and assisting with anti-poaching patrols. Most members of the local community had never seen a horse before, so while they were initially wary, they soon realised what a valuable addition they were to the area. Horses cover four times as much distance as rangers on foot patrols, and their height advantage makes spotting poachers and wildlife easier.