Bangweulu means ‘where water meets the sky’, which is a perfect description for these globally important and stunning wetlands in Zambia. This extraordinarily rich and diverse ecosystem is home to 400 bird species including the shoebill stork, a host of ungulates like the endemic black lechwe, carnivores like jackals and hyenas, crocodiles and at least 80 fish species. Uniquely, Bangweulu is a community-owned protected wetland made up of Game Management Areas (GMAs) and is legally home to 50,000 people who retain the right to sustainably harvest its natural resources. However, years of unsustainable human pressure depleted Bangweulu’s wildlife and fish stocks. In 2008, the wetland’s trajectory shifted when the six Community Resource Boards (CRBs) who own the land entered into a long-term agreement with African Parks and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) with the vision to sustainably manage and protect their natural assets long into the future.

Since then, many advances have taken place: poaching has been largely contained, and the black lechwe population, a critical source of protein for Bangweulu’s vulnerable communities, has increased from 35,000 to over 50,000. Schools have been built and supported, and children are getting an education using solar-powered ZeduPads, pre-loaded tablets with multiple curriculums in over 13 languages. Bangweulu’s healthcare programme targeted towards women to assist with family planning is in its fourth year and in large demand; and for the sixth year in a row, fish bans are being strictly adhered to and fish stocks have been able to recover, producing substantial quotas year on year and providing communities with needed food security and additional revenue. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that Bangweulu continues to provide for the next generations, but through effective management and strong community engagement, people are now taking part in and planning for their future, recognizing their livelihoods are linked to a thriving wetland.

Bangweulu Highlights

  • Due to effective park-management black lechwe, which are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and are only found in Bangweulu, have increased from 35,000 in 2010 to over 50,000 today.
  • Bangweulu is home to over 400 bird species, including 10% of the world’s wattled crane population and the globally important population of the endangered shoebill stork, both also listed as vulnerable.
  • Its unique avifauna and ecosystem have led to multiple international designations: Bangweulu is an “Important Bird Area” (BirdLife International) and a “Wetlands of International Importance” under the RAMSAR Convention.
  • Translocations are bolstering Bangweulu’s wildlife. A 2017 translocation saw 250 animals including impala and zebra released into the park; in 2019, another introduced 95 buffalo with the aim of increasing genetic diversity.
  • Bangweulu’s community programmes and enterprise development projects range from bee-keeping to fisheries management and impact more than 50,000 people living within the protected area. In 2018, our beekeeping programme distributed more than 300 beehives to communities, with two tonnes of honey harvested. The project garnered strong local support and is currently being rolled out across other chiefdoms.  
  • In 2012, a Shoebill Nest Protection Plan was developed with support from local communities. Approximately eight local fishermen are employed as guards to protect shoebill nesting sites, preventing poachers from stealing eggs and chicks to feed the illegal wildlife trade. To date, these guards have helped protect over 30 fledglings.  
  • In 2019, Bangweulu supported four schools, impacting more than 800 students. Forty ZeduPads (a solar-powered pre-loaded tablet with multiple curriculums with over 13 languages) have been distributed amongst the schools and are delivering educational material to students.
  • The reproductive health education programme, implemented in 2016, has garnered enormous support from local communities. During 2018, the programme conducted 26 family planning sessions in local chiefdoms that reached 1,007 women and more than 1,800 adolescent school children.

Partners

The Bangweulu Wetlands Project is managed via a partnership between African Parks, the Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), and six Community Resource Boards (CRBs) that have jurisdiction over the project area. The Bangweulu Wetlands Management Board was established in 2008 after local communities—through their Chiefs, CRBs, and advisors—invited African Parks to become the private sector management partner for the Bangweulu Wetlands Project. The Board is comprised of representatives from the six local communities, African Parks, and the DNPW. This combination ensures that stakeholders at the heart of the project—the people who live and work in and around Bangweulu—play a meaningful role in managing their homelands.

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