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Wildlife’s return symbolizes peace

Among all the National Parks in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), Luengue-Luiana National Park has been one of the most depleted in wildlife due to the Angolan civil war that occurred between 1975 to 2002.

 “The animals are returning to the park because there is peace, no one is being protected as it was during the civil war.” – Helena, 45, President of Makumushe and Wungwe Farmers Association, Luengue-Luiana National Park, Angola.

During this time, wildlife species common to the area fell victim to mass poaching, military target practice, meat and ivory poaching, causing most of the larger remaining wildlife species to seek safer areas in the southern KAZA countries. Ongoing war prevented the growing southern populations from re-inhabitation the wildlife depleted Angolan landscape. The growing wildlife populations, especially elephants are hailed as a conservation success. Unfortunately, this has come at a cost with increasing human wildlife conflict for the limited natural resources.

In recent years, the Luengue-Luiana National Park in Angola has received numerous wildlife population. Pedro, a 46-year-old farmer has lived in the area since 2004 and recalls his first days living in the Park as well as his experience during the war. One of his recollections are captured at age 13 when he experienced no peace and unstable social, economic and political conditions in the country. “I remind you that during that time there was no housing or welfare for animals and livestock. In the times of war there was no peace most of the elephants and others [wildlife] were fleeing to other countries, life was difficult”, said Pedro

Since the slow return of wildlife to the park there is a new sense of hope, place and pride among communities living in and around the Park. People are much more confident at the possibilities and opportunities wildlife will bring to them. It is better for the animals to return to the park because this is where tourism will be developed and where there will be benefits for us [and] our children. I am not afraid [of the wildlife] but I am happy that they are back in their habitat…we will have jobs and money from tourism,” said Pedro.

WWF works with its partners in ensuring a connected, resilient, economically viable conservation landscape for people and nature. To accomplish this WWF works in mitigating wildlife crime and clearing of wildlife corridors across KAZA countries, Angola included.

As far as a new sense of place is concerned, the return of wildlife is a significant symbol of peace and belonging among the community, especially the older generation. Helena, a 45-year-old farmer and President of the Makumushe and Wungwe farmers Association said, “The animals are returning in the park because there is peace, no one is being protected as it was during the civil war.

With a history that the country has on wildlife and increasing pressure of food insecurity and wildlife crime globally, it is inevitable to not ask questions on poaching and/or whether there are ways of preventing it. As President of the farmers’ association, Helena said the association plays a vital role in sensitization on the importance of wildlife and against poaching of wildlife in the community.

Through active participation in trainings sessions by ACADIR, a local Angolan community focused NGO part supported by WWF, the farmer association mobilizes communities and creates awareness on the need to protect wildlife. “No poaching because it’s prohibited by the Ministry and now forms part of wildlife conservation education in schools. People are up in arms as they have suffered enough. We want the animals.” She said. “We will benefit from the animals in future when tourists come,” Pedro added.

One of the side effects of poaching and wildlife displacement was that the rural communities were denied the opportunities that wildlife offers as well as the experiences that come with it. “[Since the return of wildlife] We now have elephant, zebra, impala, buffalo and giraffe in our park. Some we don’t know their names because it is our first time seeing them,” said Helena and Pedro. WWF supports the participation of local community game counts in the area through its partner ACADIR. The game count in 2020 recorded 19 wildlife species, among them buffalo, zebra, elephant, lion to name a few.

“The return means this is their territory; this is their home. There is peace and they feel at home,” said Helena

By Chisala Lupele

WWF in KAZA Communication Manager