Bangweulu, meaning ‘where water meets the sky’ is a perfect description for these globally important and stunning wetlands in Zambia. Bangweulu is unique in that it is a community-owned protected wetland, home to 50,000 people who retain the right  to sustainably harvest its natural resources and who depend entirely on the richness the park provides. But due to human needs and lack of alternatives, Bangweulu has suffered for decades from rampant poaching of wildlife and fish stocks. But this began to change when African Parks signed a long-term agreement in 2008 with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) to work with the communities to sustainably manage the wetlands for the benefit of wildlife and people.

Ten years later, Bangweulu is delicately balancing the needs of the people with the preservation of wildlife. Fish stocks have significantly increased due to a well-supported three-month fishing ban that resulted in improved catch rates and  sales which economically benefits the communities. Poaching has been contained and black lechwe increased from 35,000 to over 50,000 in the past five years. The globally significant shoebill stork population continues to grow , with 10 nests protected by community guards and at least six chicks successfully fledged in 2017. A significant wildlife translocation occurred in 2017, with 250 animals including zebra and impala brought in to bolster remnant populations. Healthcare is being delivered across all six Chiefdoms and the park supports 60 schools. Bangweulu Wetlands is the largest employer in the region and is positioned to become a leading example of community-driven conservation on the continent.

Highlights

  • Due to effective park-management Black lechwe, which are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and are only found in Bangweulu, have increased from 35,000 in 2010 to over 50,000 today.
  • Bagweulu is home to over 433 bird species, including 10% of the global wattled crane population and the globally important population of the endangered shoebill stork.
  • Bangweulu is the largest employer in the region and provides healthcare and education to all six Chiefdoms.
  • Bangweulu’s community programmes and enterprise development projects, such as a bee-keeping and fisheries management are impacting more than 50,000 people who live within the protected area.
  • A fishing ban in the spawning season has yielded dividends in the form of increasing fish stocks.
  • A Shoebill Nest Protection Plan was developed in 2017 with the support and the participation of communities. Ten local fishermen are employed as guards to protect the shoebill nesting sites, preventing eggs and chicks being stolen for the illegal wildlife trade.
  • The heavy poaching of the past has been brought under control through the recruitment and training of law enforcement staff and village scouts. This includes an anti-poaching team on horseback which has enabled law enforcement to cover greater distances and protect more wildlife during patrols.
  • Forty ZeduPads (an educational tablet tailored to Zambia) were purchased, and are delivering educational material to more than 1,000 students.
  • A Reproductive Health Facilitator has been employed, the first of its kind, who works in all of the Chiefdoms and conducts awareness programmes on family planning.

Partners

The Bangweulu Wetlands project is managed through a partnership between African Parks, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) 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 DNPW. 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.

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