Kafue National Park – A Place with Potential!

After the inspiring meetings with the people from VisionZambia and their projects (read about it here), we went on our way to Kafue National Park. This national park is the largest park in the country and one of the biggest in the world. And with the size of 22,500 sq km, it is almost as big as Belgium! Lonely planet mentioned that the northern plains resembled the Serengeti; showing a vast number of grazing animals and that it is a great place to spot leopards. You can imagine our excitement to get there. We stayed at a place called Roy’s campsite, a camp just outside the entrance of the park, right next to the Kafue river. Hippo’s floated around in the water at about 20 meters from our tent and we learnt that these animals are actually quite noisy! When one starts grunting (which happens regularly), the whole group grunts in response. Really funny!

Elephants crossing the Kafue River right next to our camp!

We had planned to stay in this area for several days, partly for tourist reasons, but also because we thought it might be a good place to start a project. And boy, were we right! Coincidently, we happened to camp at exactly the right place to start our research of the area. Roy turned out to be one of the most important figures in the area concerning conservation. He is in a governmental council that decides about encroachers in the park, plus he was one of only two people sent from Zambia to a southern Africa ivory trade convention in Namibia. Besides having Roy there to answer a lot of our questions, there was also another camp placed a few meters from our campsite. This was a Panthera research camp, home for over two years to Kim (cheetah project director), her husband Jake and their kids. Jake wasn’t there at the time, as he was on an anti-poaching patrol in Angola. However, we got to meet Kim (New Zealand), Rico (New Zealand/Dutch) and Anna (United States) with whom we spent a brilliant night around the campfire. Kim showed us her amazing guitar skills and tried to convince Lars to play. He had to promise her that he wouldn’t come back before he could play at least one song! That’s one thing he’ll need to be doing back home!

Sunset over the Kafue river, the view from our campsite!

Anyway, Kim also provided us with a lot of information about the area and the research they do. Plus, she gave us the contact details of other people in the area. Firstly, we went to meet Lyndon and Ruth. A couple from the UK who had been in Malawi for several years working for an anti-poaching NGO. They decided to leave and start their own business, because the money in that NGO went to the wrong people. They lived in Nalusanga (the entrance village of Kafue) for half a year, while setting up a lodge. This is 18 months ago, and the lodge they have built looks great. As soon as they start making profits, they will spend it on anti-poaching measures.

Secondly, we received the contact details of Jeni from Game Rangers International, who we will have to meet some other time unfortunately. But one of the things she has set up is a Women Empowerment Group, where the women use garbage and make it into beautiful ornaments to sell.

Then finally we spent a day with Mulyo, a very enthusiastic and opportunistic man with a vast amount of knowledge which he loves to share (read, he talks a lot!). He offered to come all the way from Lusaka (about a 4 hour drive) to answer all the questions about the region of Kafue NP we could think of. Very kind of him! Before he arrived we sent him a long list of questions and the following day we addressed them all. I didn’t know a person can talk that much without taking a break or taking a sip of water. Must have had a lot of practice. On the receiving end we listened and wrote down as much as we could. At the end of the day we not only acquired a lot of information, but also a deep respect for this man. Apparently he worked himself all the way up from a child in a poor rural family to the head of a resource management department for a whole province and more. As you can imagine we will cherish our relationship.

Roy's campsite was a beautiful place in the wilderness with only basic facilities, but the most amazing view right next to Kafue River!

Let me tell you what we have learned from all of these people combined. First of all, Kafue National Park is surrounded by Game Management Areas which supposed to function like a buffer zone. Here, the main activities are game hunting, fishing, lodges, and some photographic safari opportunities. For all these activities permits are necessary and there is no farming allowed. The main difference with the actual park is that there is no hunting allowed in Kafue NP. After these so-called GMA’s there are the Open Areas. This is where villagers live and are allowed to do farming etc. Now, one of the first problems we heard about are encroachers. People from outside sneaking into the GMA’s and setting up major farms, thereby slashing and burning a lot of woodland, and scaring animals away. This encroachment is illegal, but because it is in the GMA and not in the park, the responsibility of law enforcements is unclear. They need approval from the highest director in the government to evict these people and a lot of time passes before this actually happens. In the meantime, the original inhabitants of the GMA’s, the ones that were removed and placed on the edges, they are angry. “If the government doesn’t punish these people, why shouldn’t we just move back in?” One of the originally nine GMA’s has already disappeared because of this problem. And the GMA we visited is quickly moving to this point as well.

This is one of the problems. Then another problem is, as usual, money. There were several money stories to be heard, all connected to the role of the government. We heard about the game fee the hunting concessioners need to pay, which is high. But it has become so high, that the hunting operators cannot afford to hunt sustainably, where, for example only old/sick animals are shot. Now they will hunt everything, thereby depleting the resources. Secondly, this game fee money is not distributed properly. Let’s say a hundred people work in a hunting GMA of which 25% is government employed and the rest is from the local community. The game fee is distributed the other way around; 75% goes to the government and only 25% to the community people... So that’s one part of it.

Then inside the national park, a lot of things are needed to manage such a giant park, e.g. fire management, animal count, anti-poaching units, research etc. But first and foremost a management plan and as far as we heard (from several sources) this is lacking, for the plain reason that there is no knowledgeable management team and they don’t have the resources to change this. Their vehicles are broken, or they simply don’t have the money to buy fuel. The rangers wear backpacks and clothes that are falling apart. It is so sad and the solution needs to come from a corrupt government. Consequently, a positive feedback loop has arisen. Surrounding villagers have become poachers for the simple reason that they need money to provide in their basic needs (food, education). This money, once provided by the hunting concessions, now must come from poaching. The people that are supposed to protect the park, the rangers, have the same needs and are likely to be amongst the poachers themselves.

On our way back to camp, all the trees were filled with pelicans! We had noooo idea where they were coming from!

All these elements combined have resulted in a depleted park. But there is so much potential here, you can really feel it! It is just smothered by incompetence from mainly governmental management failure. We realized this before we even talked to anyone as we went into the park on our second day there. To get to Busanga plains (those Serengeti imitators), we had to drive over 130 km’s inside the park. And the nearest campsite was three hours away… Isn’t that insane!? There is not even a place for budget-travellers to stay near the main attraction of the park. There were lodges of course, but these were for those people that are flown into the park. So anyway, that is one major missed opportunity and a very frustrating one for us. Now besides this fact, normally driving 130 km’s through a game reserve takes me and Lars, well.. two days? Because we stop for every single animal we come across, including birds! In this park however, it ‘only’ took us about six hours. Because, there basically weren’t any animals besides a few puku’s and impala. And that while driving past a river, and thus a constant water source, the whole way through a lot of different habitat types. It just seemed wrong! How is that possible? When we finally got to the plains, which I should mention, were majestic just for its expanse, there was one small herd of wildebeest and one small herd of puku’s. Now afterwards we heard we were a bit unlucky, because normally you can find buffalo herds as well, but it was definitely not what we were promised. Luckily, we saw a lioness with a cub on our way down there, and on our way back she was joined by two other lionesses. So that made our day. Plus, I should mention, the drive back only took about three hours as we knew we didn’t have to drive slow in search for animals; there wouldn’t be any.

The lioness who made our day!! Here she was on the lookout for her dinner!

The people, this place and its potential inspired us to start drafting a conceptual plan. What do we propose to do in and around Kafue NP if we end up starting a project in this area? We want to act as a catalyst to a situation where local people will benefit from the park. We believe that if they benefit, they do not have to use the resources of the park unsustainably (poaching and farming). And even more, they will be the first ones that want to protect its resources. Probably, our main task will be to provide the communities with as many creative and sustainable economic incentives as possible. Our ambitions though extend a lot further of course. If you really want more detail about this, just contact us :).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet! We still have two months of travelling left through Zambia, Botswana and Namibia to gain more inspiration, other perspectives, learn or even find a better location to start a project! Maybe this blog has inspired some ideas in you as well? Some ideas or suggestions you would like to share? For example, how will we give these people a better live?? Or maybe you would just like to comment on the good work we do :D? Let us know in the comment section below.

What else can you expect, this cute little cub made our day at Kafue NP!

Posted by bylifeconnected


jeetje, ik geloof dat ik jaloers aan het worden ben!
ziet veelbelovend uit.!
dikke hug XXxxx

Dear Lars and Kellie,
Wat een geweldig nieuws! Ik bewonder jullie vanwege het enorme enthousiasme, doorzettingsvermogen en een vleugje idealisme, waarmee ‘de wereld’ een beetje mooier wordt.
Ik zou zeggen: Ga zo door…..en laat vooral af en toe wat horen.
Warme hug van Willie

Greetings Lars and Kellie,
It was nice reading this article based on your baseline assessments. It was also nice seeing the beautiful photos you captured, it just shows our passionate you guys are with nature.You are indeed doing a great job by identifying gaps that are affecting effective operation of our National Parks. You have brought to light some of the key issues that require immediate attention in order to avoid extinction of certain species in these National Parks. Based on my conclusion from your findings, its clear that all these issues affecting National Parks are as a result of the following:
1.High poverty levels among the local communities which has contributed to poaching and unsustainable harvest of resources.
2. Lack of information education on the wise use of resources to benefit both the present and the future generation.
3.Lack of continuous monitoring of National Parks management plans by the relevant authorities such as Zambia Wildlife Authorities (ZAWA) which has contributed to poor fire control system.
4.High levels of corruption and misappropriation of funds meant to benefit the locals.
1.Initiating an empowerment scheme for the local communities were they can venture in other projects so as to alleviate poverty.
2. Conduct awareness campaigns on the importance of nature conservation and the long-term effects of illegal hunting.
3.Enhance performance monitoring of National Park Management Plans by relevant authorities.
4.Introduce financial audits for all funds raised from all hunting escapades and ensuring that all those involved in any form of corruption are reported to the regulating authorities.

Geweldig ! Leuk om te zien en te lezen, al moeten we wel op engelse les!!
veel plezier en succes, groetjes van ons

[…] voor professionele jacht. Echter, in tegenstelling tot hoe ze het doen rondom Kafue NP (lees het in dit blog), jagen ze hier op een duurzame manier. Jagers mogen niet zonder gids en ze krijgen alleen […]

[…] is used for professional hunting. However, oppositely to how they do it around Kafue NP (read it in this blog), here they hunt sustainably. Hunters are not allowed to go without a guide and they can only kill […]

Geef een reactie