More than 100,000 people live within five kilometres of Nkhotakota’s boundaries, making it imperative that Nkhotakota plays a meaningful role for them, and the region, that they can access the Reserve, and receive benefits from the Reserve’s existence.
Given the need to secure the area and prevent human-wildlife conflict, fencing was a top priority when African Parks assumed management in 2015. In order to prevent conflict with local communities over the fence line, stakeholder meetings were held with local Chiefs, to provide them with information on the fence route, why it was being implemented, how it would be used and the benefits of having the fence in place. As the fence continued to provide protection for communities, they began to welcome the fence boundary. This, combined with improvements to local resources such as boreholes, created a relatively positive community environment, and it is hoped that this will continue.
The reserve’s firearms amnesty programme has seen encouraging results, with firearms being handed over by local people to Nkhotakota’s Community Extension and Law Enforcement Teams in exchange for a small monetary incentive. Communities, from the western and northern sections of the reserve also collaborated with our rangers to help collect snares and bury pitfall traps.
Educational opportunities around Nkhotakota are critical in terms of helping communities realise value of the reserve. Shortly after African Parks assumed management of the reserve in 2015, a scholarship programme was initiated to pay the school fees for orphaned and vulnerable students to support them in continuing their secondary school education. In 2019, we expanded our scholarship programme to fund the educational fees and upkeep costs of an additional 57 students; the programme overall funds a total of 213 students and helps to see many through to graduation.
In an effort to connect local children to nature and wildlife our Environmental Education programme teaches students about the value of conservation, conducting 26 school outreach missions and reaching 1,328 students in 2019. We also organised 23 community visits to the reserve, where 564 students and community members visited Nkhotakota free of charge.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve introduced a community radio programme on the Nkhotakota District Community Radio to engage local communities about the reserve, wildlife, wildlife crime, human-wildlife conflict, the boundary, and other topics. This provided an important platform to communicate messages about the value of conserving wildlife and the related benefits for communities.
Our resource use programme ensures that the community members living on the reserve’s boundary benefit from its existence by granting them rights to harvest certain plant species within the protected area. In 2019 alone, 2,003 community members were granted rights to harvest thatch grass, bamboo, reeds, mushrooms, edible termites, and palm fronds from within Nkhotakota. We also organised meetings with 12 Chiefs to refine and agree on bylaws that will govern the management of natural resources in areas bordering the Reserve.
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