African elephant now critically endangered

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SUN REPORTER

ZAMBIA joined the rest of the world in marking the Earth Hour commemorated on March 28 at a time when the African elephant has been declared as critically endangered.

Earth Hour, which marks 60 miniutes of activism, is a climate change global movement that aims to unite people all over the world to take action to protect the earth. It encourages individuals, businesses and governments around the world to join hands and raise awareness of the nature crisis facing the planet.

WWF Zambia in collaboration with Mongu Aerobics Team commemorated EarthHour through a 5-kilometre run on the Barotse Floodplain.

This is in line with recognising and committing to speaking up for nature, protecting the health of the planet and human well-being by reducing deforestation and using clean energy.

The run started from Barotse Shopping Mall and stretched for 2.5km onto the Flood Plain and then back. The run was preceded with talks from the Mongu District Commissioner Honys Mangwato and Barotse Landscape Manager Dr. Machaya Chomba. Runners were also awarded with certificates for participating in the activity.

There is need to raise more awareness on the impact human activity is having on the environment and ecology and it was encouraging to see celebrities such as Zuba star Mwaka Mugalala, social media celebrities Simon Mwewa and Tisa the Trendsetter speak out on conservation.

The Minister of Energy Mathew Nkhuwa, WWF Zambia, Zambia Environmental Management Authority and several other agencies also held several public events to mark Earth Hour.

WWF Zambia is working with various stakeholders such as the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) in identifying and declaring the head water of the Zambezi River as a Water Resource Protected Area (WRPA). This measure aims not only to secure the biodiversity of the floodplain but also ensure water security of local communities and downstream countries of the Zambezi River.

The Barotse system hosts over 225,000 (this number would have increased drastically over the last ten years) who live and depend on the natural resources. The main livelihoods include fishing, livestock and agriculture.

According to WWF Zambia Country Director Nachilala Nkombo; “WWF Zambia’s work in the Upper Zambezi Catchment highlights the critical link between culture, conservation, community development and stewardship. In the spirit of partnership, this vehicle that we are handing over to NHCC aims to strengthen the capacity of the National Heritage Conservation Commission in executing its mandate for the mutual benefit of People, Culture and Nature”.

The Upper Zambezi Catchment is a complex landscape covering critical habitats such as West Lunga and Liuwa Plains National Parks and the Barotse Floodplain. The Catchment encompasses Mwinilunga District in North-Western Province and extends south to Senanga District in Western Province (north of the Ngoye Falls).

The Barotse Floodplain is a culturally evolved landscape based on the construction of homesteads, royal graves, and canals for transportation, land drainage, flood control and agricultural activity, all achieved through traditional management systems that have stood the test of time.

The Barotse Floodplain is one of the most productivity ecosystem in Zambia in terms of fisheries diversity and yield – probably due to the natural flooding and receding that replenishes fish stock. However, over the last couple of years, the occurrence of unsustainable fishing practices such as use of Mosquitos nets (known as Sefa Sefa), fish poisoning and drag nets has become very common. This has resulted in increased pressure on the system with reduced size of fish. Recent fish catch assessment surveys on major tributaries such as the Luanginga, Luambimba Rivers and the Barotse floodplain confirm. It is time to consider a holistic management framework and consistency in monitoring of fisheries biodiversity collectively with local communities, Government Departments and the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE).

In terms of tourism and community impact, the African Elephant is a big part of the Africa Tourism proposition to help diversify income generation.

The African savannah elephant and the forest elephant have been classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This comes after a recent decision by the African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) of IUCN that it will now treat forest elephants and savannah elephants, formerly considered the same species (African elephant) as two distinct species. Previously, the African elephant, has been assessed as one species and has until recently, been listed as Vulnerable.

The species and its habitat have come under increasing threat from various factors. Zambia has lost more than 90 percent of her elephants since the 1950s owing to a multiplicity of factors including poaching, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and retaliatory killings. The number of elephants plummeted from an estimated 250,000 in the 1970s to about 18,000 in 1989.

However, due to a number of interventions by government and partners as well as the effect of global conventions such as CITES, populations have started recovering in last two last decades Recent surveys suggest a stabilization and even increase in elephant numbers in the Luangwa valley, Kafue, Lower Zambezi and Sioma Ngwezi ecosystems. Despite some recovery in recent years, high demand for illegal ivory over the past decade still poses pressure on Zambia’s elephants, contributing to a broader, continent-wide decline of 8 percent.

Unfortunately, the overall declining trend of both African elephant species calls for increased support by donors and governments of the elephant range states to ensure that their populations start to stabilise and even begin a route to recovery.

Of the newly-recognized species are moving to a more threatened status, the African forest elephant is now listed as Critically Endangered and the African savanna elephant as Endangered. Following this reclassification, WWF and WCS have both called for continued and renewed vigilance, enforcement, anti-poaching efforts for all elephants in Africa – and particularly for the critically endangered forest elephant.

Since the Red List of 2008, the forest elephant, whose population comprises approximately only a quarter of all African elephants has always been known to be more endangered than the savanna elephants. One characteristic of forest elephant ivory is that it is harder than savannah elephant ivory. It was preferentially chosen by Japanese ivory carvers, as it can be carved into very fine detail.

The low levels of elephant population growth in Zambia over the last decade compared with Zimbabwe and Botswana suggest lower investment in protected areas in Zambia. These low investments have created an enabling environment for the illegal killing of elephants compared to our neighbours.

Compared to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, Zambia is yet to create and believe in its business case for conservation. Nonetheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel on-going strategic partnerships between the country’s Department of Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and conservation organizations such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ), Conservation South Luangwa (CSL), Kasanka Trust have provided support for elephant conservation in Zambia. Due to these concerted conservation efforts, no elephants were poached in 2018 in the North Luangwa National Park while Sioma Ngwezi recorded a 15 month Zero poaching of elephants from January 2018 to April 2019. These results have a positive impact on tourism. Sustaining these results will require stronger management effectiveness of protected areas and tourism operators in each landscape taking collective action towards increasing their investments in wildlife conservation as one way to support building the economic case for greater public investments in wildlife conservation.

According to the WWF Zambia Country Director Nachilala Nkombo, investments in elephants and wildlife have the potential to drive green growth and green jobs post COVID 19. Targeted investments have the potential to generate major financial returns to protected areas, deliver more economic opportunities for communities and contribute to maintaining and extending wild areas in Zambia.

“Zambia has an opportunity to make a shift from seasonal tourism to robust, resilient, and sustainable tourism that delivers uninterrupted experiences, revenues and jobs for more Zambians all year round,” Ms Nkombo said.

“WWF Zambia joins Government of the Republic of Zambia and other conservation organisations in commemorating the World Elephant Day 2020 with a call for Government to consider the following: Provide incentives and institute policy changes that would be required to promote wildlife stewardship, that deliver increased benefits to local communities for protecting elephants and other wildlife species. “

She added: Structural investments in tourism infrastructure to extend accessibility to tourism resorts in National Parks and Game Management Areas (GMAs) from the current 6 months to all year round access.

– Increase funding levels to DNPW, increase staffing levels and explore innovative co-management partnership models for the management of the national parks to secure long term sustainable financing. Support for improved controls over ivory stocks and internal trade in ivory; and

– Provide legal instruments for the long term protection of major elephant corridors; Invest in applied ecological research and the gathering of data on numbers, distribution, conflict, impacts, etc., of elephants – inadequate information remains a major problem; Support the development;  and strengthening implementation of Zambian solutions for addressing human elephant conflict with a high consideration for insurance strategies to cushion people living with elephants in the rural GMAs and Implementation of ambitious CBNRM models that confer ownership of wildlife resources and deliver sustained benefits to local communities (and private sector) as incentives for management of natural resources.

Whilst governments like China have made great strides by closing their domestic ivory markets, banning raw ivory imports and increasing enforcement efforts, more needs to be done to reduce demand for ivory. In some parts of Africa the crash in tourist presence has presented a new threat of increased poaching because of the reduced income to maintain law enforcement efforts.

Besides the threat of international trade in ivory, an emerging threat for forest elephants, is also the change in the fruit production within their forest habitats. A study published in September 2020 found that climate change has resulted in an 81% decline in fruit production over the last thirty years (1986–2018) in Lope National Park – a very long-term research site- in Central Gabon. That has caused the elephants there to experience an 11% decline in body condition since 2008.

A 2016 study found that unlike savannah elephants, forest elephants have a slower reproductive rate, and a longer generation time (31 years) and start to breed at a later age and with longer intervals between calves than other elephant species, putting them under greater pressure from poaching, and making it extremely difficult to replenish declining populations.

Given the overall declining trend of both African elephant species, donors and governments need to increase support to elephant range states to ensure that their populations start to stabilise and even begin a route to recovery, and to support international efforts to stop ivory trafficking all along the chain, from the source in the forests and grasslands of Africa all the way to its destination, sometimes across the globe. With the economic fallout out caused by covid-19 it is critical that we take into consideration the impact of our activities on planet earth and instead find sustainable ways of protecting our natural resources

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