Engaging Zimbabwe Communities in Anti-Poaching and Conservation Efforts
Zambezi River: a critical wildlife habitat, under threat
During the dry season from April to October, massive numbers of wildlife are drawn to the Zambezi River, which is the fourth-longest river in Africa and forms the border between Zimbabwe and its northern neighbor, Zambia. Over 10,000 elephants migrate seasonally to the river, joining herds of buffalo, zebra and waterbuck, among other species, making the Lower Zambezi transboundary conservation area home to some of the most threatened wildlife and ecosystems in Africa.
In addition to sustaining wildlife, the river serves as a major resource for the fishing-heavy communities in the area, leading to competition between humans and animals for space around the river and in its surrounding forests. This tension, combined with the extreme poverty levels of communities, has made the Lower Zambezi area a hotspot for poachers. The river also serves as a conduit for poachers, giving them a relatively easy way to transport illegal wildlife products and cross the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Expanding and implementing anti-poaching projects
With new funding from the European Union, AWF plans to expand work in the landscape, focusing on engaging communities and supporting them in anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts.
AWF is working to understand how fishermen in the landscape fit into the poaching industry. We plan to provide support for fisheries in exchange for critical information about the illegal poaching trade. Any fishers who are poachers should be incentivized to turn away from poaching; those who aren’t involved in the illegal wildlife trade can still play a vital role by providing information such as the whereabouts of poachers or timing of poaching activities.
We’ll also strengthen the capacity of community scouts, already in place, who lack the equipment and skills needed to apprehend poachers. AWF will provide equipment, and the scouts will participate in joint training and patrols with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Addressing agriculture to incentivize conservation
Between expanding agriculture and charcoal production, poverty-stricken communities are consuming the Zambezi valley’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate. The landscape has suffered drastic deforestation, especially at the hands of the tobacco industry. To mitigate the effects of that destruction, AWF and a local partner plan to engage tobacco farmers, introducing sustainable technology that burns less wood in the tobacco-curing process.
AWF is also working to address human-wildlife conflicts that occur within the landscape. Although there are protected areas, elephants occasionally wander outside of the borders, trampling properties and gardens that local people depend on for their livelihoods. AWF has trained farmers in growing chili peppers, a natural elephant deterrent and a boon to the farmers; in a similar AWF project in Uganda, over 200 households that participated in the chili-growing project increased their total average income by 25 percent.