At approximately 520,000 square kilometers, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) is the world’s largest terrestrial transfrontier conservation area. It occupies parts of the Okavango and Zambezi River basins across the five Partner States – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
KAZA comprises a mosaic of land uses, notably 20 National Parks, 85 Forest Reserves, conservancies, wildlife management areas, communal lands, sanctuaries, tourism concession areas and significant tracts of land for agriculture and settlement.
The landscape is also home to more than half of the remaining African savannah elephants, 25% of Africa’s wild dogs, almost 20% of the continent’s lions and various other wildlife species found in its expansive forest, dryland, wetland, and other ecosystems.
Recognizing the immense conservation values and opportunities for sustainable development in the landscape, the Dutch Postcode Lottery funded a tripartite consortium of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), African Parks and Peace Parks Foundation to implement the €16.9 million Dreamfund project over five years. The project’s inception coincided with the global lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in an unavoidably slow start-up.
Notwithstanding the effects of the lockdown, significant progress has been recorded in Zambia’s Kafue National Park. The park which was formally established in the 1950s and covering an estimated 22,400 square kilometres is a beneficiary of the Dreamfund project. This followed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of Zambia and African Parks in February 2021, for the implementation of a Priority Support Plan (PSP) worth US$3,6 million. The PSP aims to ensure effective and sustainable management of the park and is anchored on the collective recognition that strengthening of the park’s management system will in the long run contribute to ecological sustainability and tourism development for the country and region.
Priority areas under the PSP include improving critical park infrastructure, tourism development and conducting of conservation baseline studies. The interventions seek to unlock the full potential of Kafue National Park, an African iconic park, through optimizing long-term social, economic, and ecological benefits.
Some of the progress recorded so far includes large-scale infrastructure developments like grading of 2020km roads around the national park, rehabilitation of offices at Chunga camp, construction of a helipad and the ongoing rehabilitation of the Chunga Law Enforcement Center. Grading of game drive routes and airstrips as well as the revamping of selected park entrance gates is almost complete. The rehabilitated roads network is envisaged to improve the park’s accessibility, which alongside other policy and applicable strategic measures outlined in Zambia’s 2018-2030 Tourism Master Plan, will contribute to improving the park’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.
According to the tourism stakeholders, the PSP is a lifeline to the park and is anticipated to increase wildlife populations, reduce poaching and enhance coexistence with humans in the eight Game Management Areas surrounding the park. Thriving wildlife populations are key to improved tourism in the park and the adjacent Game Management Areas.
Mrs. Libby Wilson, the spokesperson for Kafue Park Operators Association (KPOA) is elated with progress made so far: “The amount of funding already invested by African Parks since February 2021 combined with its budgeted, committed and readily available investment over the next 20 years is the only answer for Kafue and it can’t be allowed to fail at this crucial turning point in its long history.” She added, “The 20-year mandate that we all believe will follow soon will provide the much-needed confidence to existing operators invested in the park and encourage further external financial investment and commercial interest that has been lacking for decades.”
African Parks-DNPW conservation partnership is also expected to tackle wildlife crime by strengthening law enforcement in the Greater Kafue Ecosystem (GKE) which comprises the national park and the surrounding game management areas. To date, critical law enforcement equipment for both on-the-ground and aerial surveillance has been secured.
Five operational vehicles were purchased and a helicopter was hired to bolster aerial surveillance capacity. Part of the equipment procured include a fixed wing aircraft, also to support law enforcement efforts. A full aerial wildlife survey of the entire ecosystem was also completed. Coupled with equipment provided to law enforcement teams the radio communication system is undergoing refurbishment and staff training undertaken. Strengthened law enforcement capacity has led to increased arrests and recoveries of firearms and ammunitions from poachers.
The commendable strides made in the implementation of the Kafue National Park Priority Support Plan, as evidenced by the immense ecological and socio-economic benefits being accrued by the intended beneficiaries among them the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, is a perfect demonstration of what the Dreamfund Programme implementing partners seek to achieve under the five-year programme.
Progress achieved so far in transforming Kafue National Park under the PSP has raised hopes for the much-anticipated finalization and signing of a long-term management mandate which will help unlock furthermore support towards effective management of the park.
Interventions under the PSP are expected to contribute to the securing of the highly biodiverse landscape and unlocking KAZA’s economic potential for the benefit of the five Partner States in general as well as the local communities living side by side with wildlife in particular.