With tourism all but gone, the pandemic could provide the momentum necessary to activate much-needed changes in how we approach conservation.
Kafue National Park in the heart of Zambia is one of the largest protected areas in Africa, encompassing a wilderness the size of New Jersey. Rivers meander through woodlands, teak forests, and open plains that are home to at least 500 bird species and 158 mammals, including lions, cheetahs, ground pangolins, leopards, and endangered African wild dogs.
Though it has a bounty of biodiversity, like many protected areas in Africa, Kafue is far from realizing its full potential. The park is large enough to support three to four times the number of animals now present, but poaching, habitat fragmentation, and the loss of connectivity to other nearby ecosystems have long acted to suppress wildlife populations.
Yet by late last year, things were improving. Tourism had lessened people’s need to poach wildlife for money or food and encouraged them to see animals as an asset rather than a threat. Grants from the U.S. and Europe have provided funding to protect three increasingly large core zones in Kafue from poachers. “After 18 months of intense patrolling, we felt like we were just turning a corner in terms of getting on top of poaching and wildlife beginning to recover,” says Kim Young-Overton, director of Panthera’s Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which includes Kafue.
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