African Parks is aware of a media publication suggesting human rights abuses in Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia. African Parks has a zero-tolerance policy of human rights abuses and is committed to upholding the rights of local people, as well as national conservation regulations. We would like to make it very clear that, while there have been incidents that we condemn, suggesting that African Parks is responsible for structural misconduct in the area is false. The facts about the incidents and the allegations made in the article were provided to the journalist, who – in many cases – chose to omit or misrepresent these facts and to rely on sources who have ulterior motives regarding the commercial use of natural resources in this area.

Core to all protected areas is an underlying legislation, determined by sovereign governments, that limits the use of the resources in the protected area, in some way or other. This limitation of use is an inherent requirement for ensuring long term sustainability. These limitations vary considerably, based on the classification of the protected area, on national policies, and on local circumstances. and can include limits on who are the intended beneficiaries of any use of the resources, types of permissible use, techniques allowed in the harvesting of resources, quantities of resources that may be used, and any payments for the use of the resources. The intent of such legislation on the use of resources is to ensure their sustainability into the future, and typically also to ensure that local people are the primary beneficiaries of the use of the resources. Core to the management of a protected area is ensuring the adherence by all stakeholders to the national legislation. The core responsibility of African Parks is to ensure that these limits are adhered to in the interests of long-term sustainability of all protected areas under management.  One of the key threats to these landscapes is the illegal commercial exploitation of natural resources. Where commercial use is not regulated, illegal activities thrive.

In 2021 a police operation took place (and therefore not an African Parks operation), in response to civil unrest in Muwele village, with the destruction of the fish market by local community members. The unrest was sparked by the arrest of a poacher, who was detained for trading illegal bushmeat in the market. The operation was led by the National Police supported by Drug Enforcement Officers. Wildlife Police Officers and community scouts from the project were also instructed to provide support under the command of the then DNPW Senior Warden out of Mpika. Two African Parks Project vehicles were used by the Senior Warden and were on the scene. The community members blockaded the road, threw rocks and bricks at the vehicles. The law enforcement personnel, under threat, reacted by firing shotgun warning shots in the air and into the ground in self-defense. The investigation into the incident states that 26 people were struck with pellets, and according to hospital records 15 people were treated for injuries after the incident and released. There were no fatalities or serious injuries other than one female ranger, who is still suffering from injuries sustained during the attack by the mob.

Some additional context on the Bangweulu project area:

  • The Bangweulu Wetlands project is a Game Management Area (GMA) and not a National Park. In Zambia, GMAs are co-managed by Government, through the Department of National Parks and Wildlife under the Ministry of Tourism, and the Chiefs through the Community Resource Boards (CRBs). In the case of Bangweulu, all six Chiefdoms within the Bangweulu GMA are signatories to the management agreement, along with the Government and African Parks (i.e. there are eight signatories to the agreement).
  • We have a statement from the six Chiefs that confirm their support for the Project and that the information provided to the journalist was provided by individuals not mandated to speak on their behalf. 
  • There are between 53,000 and 58,000 people permanently living within the Bangweulu GMA and the predominant livelihood of this population is fishing, which is controlled by the Community Resource Boards and traditional authorities, with nobody ever prevented from fishing during the open season. The only exception is during the annual, Zambia-wide, three-month fish ban, enacted by Government to allow fish to breed. In the past two years, over 150 tons of dried fish was harvested by communities from the Chiundaponde Chiefdom alone, with an estimated total value of USD 1.5 million.
  • There is a legal mechanism for Zambian residents to apply for hunting licenses according to annual quotas. Three types of licenses can be obtained in Zambia:  Safari, Resident and Bonafide for locals. A Bonafide license for lechwe costs K2,700 (approximately $106 inclusive of other associated costs) and a Resident license is K4000 (approximately $157). Both the quotas and the license fees are set at a national level by DNPW, not at a project or park level. As there is typically a low uptake of these permits, the project does most of the annual harvest. The meat is packaged with clear labels, identifying it as being legally harvested, and then distributed through local vendors at a price lower than that of illegal bushmeat (and approximately half the price of locally sourced beef). This mechanism provides an affordable, legal, controlled and sustainable source of meat to the communities, as well as a stimulus for local businesses, and is an alternative for those who cannot afford a Bonafide license for an entire animal.

African Parks and the Bangweulu Wetlands Board rely on and welcome information from the communities regarding any grievances, and there are mechanisms in place to facilitate such information flow.