WHILE LIUWA ONLY ACHIEVED NATIONAL PARK STATUS IN 1972, IT HAS ONE OF THE OLDEST CONSERVATION HISTORIES IN AFRICA.
Liuwa Plain is situated on the upper Zambezi floodplains of western Zambia. It is home to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa and seasonal floods transform the flat grasslands into a wetland paradise. Hisotrically used as a royal hunting ground, thousands of people today live inside the park, a legacy that dates back to the late 19th century when the Barotse King, Lubosi Lewanika, proclaimed it a protected area and appointed his people as the custodians of the reserve and its wildlife – including the famous Liuwa lions, hyenas and cheetahs.
The result is a unique ecosystem where people and wildlife live together, and where the priority is to sustainably manage these natural resources, to make this coexistence mutually beneficial for all.
When African Parks started work in Liuwa in 2003 the park’s natural resources were being exploited unsustainably. Both subsistence hunting and commercial poaching posed considerable problems. Species which had been present in large numbers prior to the 1970s, including lechwe, eland, roan antelope, buffalo and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, were either extinct or very low in number.
In 2003, African Parks entered into a partnership with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and the Barotse Royal Establishment (the traditional stewards of the Lozi people), to manage the park.
All the park’s reintroduced species are showing healthy growth, as well as those that were already present in the park.
The lion population, once reduced to just one lioness, is growing as a result of reintroductions and the birth of cubs.
A combination of community engagement, educational programmes and effective law enforcement has resulted in a widespread understanding that a decrease in poaching results in benefits for local communities.
Working with communities, and the effective use of an informer system, has led to a number of arrests, weapon seizures and convictions.
Monthly payments are made into a Community Development Fund, with the amount directly linked to the degree of poaching in the park. Proceeds go towards projects chosen by the communities.
The park’s influence is radiating into the surrounding areas with a decrease in the number of crime incidents reaching the town of Kalabo.
A traditional fisheries permit system has been introduced to curb the use of illegal nets and practices.
Liuwa employs local people in a range of roles including village scouts and park administration.
Liuwa’s Environmental Education Programme has seen the introduction of conservation clubs at several schools in and around the park, increasing environmental awareness amongst local children.
Tourism arrivals continue to grow at the park’s community-owned campsites, as well as Matamanene Camp.
LIUWA HOSTS THE SECONDS LARGEST WILDEBEEST MIGRATION IN AFRICAN AND ALSO SUPPORTS GLOBALLY IMPORTANT BIRD POPULATIONS.
Bounded by the Luambimba and Luanginga Rivers, Liuwa is characterised by its spectacular flat landscape with wide open spaces. Its seasonally flooded Zambezi floodplain is dotted with slightly elevated wooded islands.
The park’s stable and growing wildebeest population of between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals migrate within the broader Liuwa system, moving between the numerous pans and following seasonal burns, most of which are anthropogenic in origin. They are joined by herds of zebra, tsessebe and lechwe, and predators such as wild dog, hyaena, cheetah and lion.
LIUWA HAS A LARGE POPULATION OF HYENA, WITH AN ESTIMATED 200 IN THE PARK AND A POPULATION OF BETWEEN 400 AND 500 IN THE BROADER LANDSCAPE.
The park has a large population of hyaena, with an estimated 200 in the park and a population of between 400 and 500 in the broader landscape. In the absence of a significant lion population, the hyaena rapidly ascended to the position of apex predator in the park. Other predator species include cheetah, wild dog and the recently reintroduced lion. Interestingly, there is no confirmed record of leopard occurring in the park even though they are generally the most adaptable and versatile of all predators. We hope one day to catch and record a glimpse of the elusive dappled coat in one of the park’s many woodlands.
Many species of antelope are flourishing in the park, including wildebeest, zebra, red lechwe and tsessebe.
A total of 334 bird species
The park’s extraordinarily diverse birdlife includes many rare and migratory species, including globally important populations of storks, cranes and other water birds. The arrival of the annual floods marks the arrival of a wealth of water birds, and the vulnerable crowned crane and wattled crane are abundant, sometimes forming flocks numbering several hundred.
Grassland species include eastern clapper lark and pink billed lark, with both these subspecies considered to be endemic to Liuwa.
Some species thought to be extinct in the park started to make an appearance in 2008, including a breeding pack of wild dog, a herd of roan antelope and several elephant bulls from a park more than 300 km away – a sign of a recovering ecosystem.
The lion population of Liuwa, once reduced to one lioness, is slowly growing as a result of reintroductions and the birth of cubs.
Threatened water birds include the vulnerable slaty egret and the whiskered tern, for which Liuwa provides the only breeding area in Zambia.
In 2007, with financial backing from the Dutch Government (DGIS), African Parks relocated 49 eland to Liuwa and within one year the herd was strengthened through the birth of five calves. During 2008, 16 buffalo were introduced back to the park, and a further 12 in 2011, which have since had several very successful calving seasons.
The park’s wildebeest population has grown at an incredible rate thanks to effective law enforcement measures – increasing from 15,000 to about 47,000 individuals, and all other wildlife species have also shown healthy growth.
Several animals, including wild dog, cheetah and buffalo have been fitted with collars, enabling staff and researchers to track their movements and gather important research data. The park also conducts regular aerial censuses to track wildlife population growth.
Lady Liuwa was the park’s last remaining lion when African Parks took over the management of the park in 2003. Her story was captured in an award-winning documentary, The Last Lioness, highlighting the demise of Liuwa’s once thriving lion population and documenting the introduction of two male lions. Unfortunately, she failed to produce any cubs, despite mating, so in mid-2011, African Parks made the decision to introduce two new young lionesses from Kafue National Park as part of a plan to create a breeding population of the species in Liuwa. While one of these lionesses was killed by a poacher, the other eventually went on to have three cubs – the first born in the park in over a decade.
|Wild dog||Lycaon pictus|
|Red lechwe||Kobus leche|
|Roan antelope||Hippotragus equinus|
THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE AND VILLAGES INSIDE AND SURROUNDING THE PARK HAS GROWN CONSIDERABLY IN CERTAIN PLACES OVER THE LAST CENTURY, WITH STRONG ADHERENCE TO TRADITIONAL PRACTISES AND RIGHTS.
It is therefore not unusual to see local people walking their cattle or fishing in the park.
Liuwa employs local people in a range of roles, including village scouts and park administration. Two members of the Barotse Royal Establishment are present on the African Parks Zambia board to provide a voice for the people in terms of governance and decision making.
Through Liuwa’s Environmental Education Programme (LEEP) conservation clubs have been established in several schools in and around the park, with the objective of increasing environmental awareness and highlighting opportunities to improve livelihoods through tourism and conservation. The park also has a school sponsorship programme that provides bursaries and covers the costs of schooling and boarding fees, along with textbooks, extra learning material and uniforms.
African Parks makes monthly payments to a Community Development Fund established by Liuwa Plain National Park. The amount is directly linked to the degree of poaching occurring in the park, with larger sums being awarded in acknowledgement of effective anti-poaching efforts by a community. Proceeds from the fund are used for projects chosen by the communities themselves, and have included canoes for transport, building materials for school buildings, teachers’ houses and rural health clinics, and equipment for clearing canals. African Parks also supports the Barotse Royal Establishment’s (BRE) cultural fund, which is used for a variety of activities including building rehabilitation and funding traditional rituals and ceremonies.
Stimulating sustainable businesses for local communities is one of the goals of Liuwa Plain National Park and to achieve this, communities have been assisted with the establishment and management of their own campsites within the park, with all proceeds accruing to them.
A new fisheries plan led to the introduction of regulations and a traditional fisheries permit system aimed at curbing the use of illegal nets and practices. A series of meetings with local fishermen, traditional parliaments and the local chiefs were held to clarify penalties for breaches and address the implementation of the new fishing permits for the hundreds of traditional fishing pools inside the park.
The creation of more productive learning environments for local children is a priority to ensure that future generations have more choice in terms of the range of careers available to them as they grow up. A number of projects have focused on bringing better technology into the schools, including the construction of computer laboratories at two schools, equipped with the latest technology. The park has also built new classroom blocks and teachers’ housing.
LIUWA IS AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE OF HOW PARKS CAN WORK TOGETHER WITH COMMUNITIES IN ORDER TO ERADICATE CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.
Not only in terms of wildlife poaching and illegal fishing, but also in terms of creating general law and order within the villages and towns in and around the park.
When African Parks took over the management of the park, poaching was rife and zebra and wildebeest populations were declining. This was completely turned around through building up an effective law enforcement team and close collaboration with community leadership.
That being said, agricultural and rural sprawl inside the park remains a challenge. In particular the expansion of rice fields and the deforestation of woodlands to create space for farming. With few economic opportunities for communities outside of farming due to availability and access issues, there is likely to be a gradual expansion of the human and agricultural footprint in the park. African Parks is presently investigating mechanisms to mitigate this threat through improved agricultural yields and a revised land use plan.
In addition, the communities inside the park are completely dependent on the park’s fish stock to support their families, but unfortunately, climactic perturbations can cause these supplies to dwindle significantly, potentially forcing them to get protein elsewhere, including the park’s wildebeest and zebra populations. African Parks is again investigating mechanisms to augment protein supply to reduce the absolute dependency on naturally occurring fish stocks.
An emerging threat, but also an opportunity for local enterprise development, is the construction of a tarred road from Mongu to Kalabo which in all likelihood will become a trading route between Zambia and Angola. Kalabo is the first big town on the Zambian side of the route, which means there is a potential threat for the unchecked commercial extraction of resources. This will need to be closely monitored, and where possible, alternatives provided to the communities and traders passing through the area.
African Parks’ standard approach is to take on existing law enforcement personnel when taking over the management of a park, but then follow this with a thorough selection process to retain those with potential and transfer the others elsewhere. At Liuwa, this involved working in collaboration with ZAWA, but also with village scouts who form the backbone of the law enforcement team in this park.
Because people live inside the park, it is important for the team to be able to differentiate between those who have the rights to live and fish there, from those who do not and this is achieved through civilian law enforcement operations and the implementation of a permit system.
Working with communities to keep both people and wildlife safe has led to a number of arrests, weapon seizures and convictions. The effective use of an informer system has heralded particularly good results. The result is prosperous wildlife populations within the park, with wildebeest numbers trebling in the space of just a few a years. This demonstrates the extent to which Liuwa and its surroundings have become a safe haven for wildlife due to the active and effective law enforcement efforts of staff.
An informer tip-off led to the rescue of a pangolin who was otherwise destined to become yet another crime statistics in the murky world of illegal wildlife trafficking. The Liuwa law enforcement team caught a poacher with the pangolin, who had been carried around in a sack for five days with the intention of selling its body parts. All eight species of pangolin currently feature on the IUCN Red List of animals threatened with extinction and are considered the world’s most trafficked animal.