Notes from the President: Wildlife Poaching in Zambia’s Kafue Flats Threatens Wetlands and Wattled Cranes

A large lechwe herd grazes on the productive Kafue Flats.

The Kafue Flats in Zambia, Southern Africa, is one of the most productive wetlands on Earth for wildlife and people. More than 3,000 Wattled Cranes – a third of the total global population – are found on the Kafue Flats, along with Grey Crowned Cranes and hundreds of thousands of other water birds. The endemic Kafue Lechwe, found only on the flats, along with African buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and other large mammals make their home on the flats. The Kafue Flats also support one of the major fisheries of Zambia, and more than 150,000 cattle graze on the vast floodplain.

Over the past half century, the flats have been degraded by large hydropower dams that are drying parts of the flats and deeply flooding other parts. Invasive shrubs are displacing natural wetlands and grasslands. And, flats are being eroded by increased human encroachment onto the floodplain for new settlements and agriculture. Our Zambia team and local partners, including Government, other non-governmental organizations and local communities, are working hard to remove invasive shrubs (learn more about this project), improve water conditions and promote alternative conservation-friendly livelihoods that are compatible with wildlife, fisheries and grazing.

Our recent aerial surveys undertaken with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, however, reveal that wildlife poaching has increased to an alarming rate, reducing the herd of lechwe to only 23,000 from more than 100,000 in the past, and nearly eliminating zebra, wildebeest and other species. A decline in Wattled Cranes and other wildlife that depend on the wildlife grazing to create the ecological conditions they need for their feeding and breeding could soon follow.

We are working with the Zambia government and partners to declare a national emergency to save the Kafue lechwe and secure the ecological health of this wild and wonderful wetland.

Story submitted by Rich Beilfuss, President and CEO. Click here to learn more about our work in Sub-Saharan Africa.