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Wildlife Protection in the Lower Zambezi

Current initiative


Hippos in the water.

Hippos in the water (Photo "Happy Hippo" by comedy_nose is licensed under CC PDM 1.0)

In 1994, concerned local safari operators and other stakeholders recognised the need for organised support to the national wildlife protection authority (now the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, DNPW) to combat the poaching that was decimating the wildlife populations in the Lower Zambezi. In addition to supporting the DNPW, Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ) now also runs an Environmental Education Programme, a Community Scout Unit, a Community Engagement Programme, a Detection and Tracking Dog Unit and a Rapid Response Unit. CLZ also hosts the annual Safari Guides Training courses and exams for the Lower Zambezi.



Lower Zambezi National Park is a transboundary National Park located in southern Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Lower Zambezi National Park is 4092 km2, but with the adjacent community owned Game Management Areas (GMA) bordering to the west (Chiawa), north (Luano) and east (Rufunsa), is part of a much larger entity: the Lower Zambezi Area Management Unit comprising around 20,000 km2. In the south, the Zambezi River valley is known for abundant wildlife, including buffalo, fish eagles, and herds of elephants. The wildlife attracts poachers and with more than 30,000 people living in the area bordering the National Park, human-wildlife conflict is inevitable.

In places like Zambia, where humans and wildlife coexist and fend for space and natural resources on a daily basis, providing support to the community forms a key component of wildlife protection. The Chiawa Game Management Area is home to a growing human population that relies almost entirely on subsistence crops. The area is also home to a healthy elephant and hippo population – both frequently pass through villages and fields where they either trample or ‘raid’ crops and granary stores – resulting in conflict and resentment from the local community.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected African Elephant Loxodonta africana , Hippos Hippopotamus amphibious , Leopard Panthera pardus , Lion Panthera leo , Temminck's Ground Pangolin Smutsia temminckii

Products in trade

Ivory, pelts (leopard and lion skins), bush meat, pangolin scales/live pangolins, hippo teeth

Overview of the problem

High-level poaching syndicates, including international poachers from bordering countries, including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi plague the area's wildlife.

In the past poaching was often to do with bushmeat and subsistence hunting. Today, the motivation to poach is much more commercial, driven by demand and high prices. High levels of poverty is a huge driver. Family dynamics in the communities are very strong and some people will protect those who have been involved. Lack of community benefit from wildlife also means people are reluctant to protect wildlife. There is also a lot of human-wildlife conflicts that result in retaliatory killings of animals.

The anti-IWT initiative

The initiative addresses the community motivation for poaching and IWT. CLZ’s community support programme is multi-faceted, from Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) patrols to a chilli-growing programme to elephant-behaviour workshops, building elephant-safe granary stores and a establishing a hippo fence.


Living with Elephants Workshops: In 2019 three community members were killed by elephants in the space of two weeks, causing major tensions between local people and the DNPW. To assist DNPW, CLZ held four Living with Elephants workshops with over 300 people in Luangwa where people were taught safer ways to live alongside elephants.

HWC Patrols: HWC patrols began in January 2014. During the peak HWC season when the community is harvesting their crops, community scouts are deployed (under the leadership of a DNPW Wildlife Police Officer) into the community full time to be present to respond to any HWC incidents. Providing a trained and armed response unit to community reports of HWC incidents, assisting in property and personal protection and training in elephant behaviour, the scout teams promote more positive attitudes towards living safely with elephants and hippos without the need for fatal measures.

Chilli Farming: CLZ has been assisting and educating farmers on the use of chilli-fences as a mitigation method to deter elephants from their fields. Farmers are also encouraged to grow chilli as a ‘cash’ crop that elephants don't want to eat and which CLZ sells on behalf of the farmer to a local condiments producer. Alternatively, farmers can grow the chilies around their fields and then use the chillies for elephant conflict mitigation. The chilli programme is supported through an annual workshop that CLZ conducts with selected farmers where they learn through theory and practice on the use of chillies to protect their fields.

Felumbus: Elephant safe granary stores (felumbus) are being constructed in the Chiawa GMA. The felumbus are very popular in the Chiawa GMA and provide safe storage of maize for community members.

Hippo Fence: An anti-hippo fence was trialled in 2016 for its effectiveness in keeping hippos out of vegetable gardens along the river’s edge. The fence came into fruition in response to calls from the community highlighting the damage that hippos do by trampling and raiding the gardens. The fence, set up by CLZ staff and community members, runs along a stretch of approximately 600 m of river frontage and so far has been successful at keeping out hippos and elephants.

Inclusion of gender, age and ethnic groups

CLZ have set up the Mbeli women’s group in the Chiawa GMA in order to develop their skills, support income earning opportunities, manage their businesses and find markets for their products. CLZ strongly believes that women can be the most influential members of their community and at the forefront of change and the group’s overall purpose is to empower women to engage with conservation whilst supporting them financially.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in money community scouts
Performance-based payments/incentives for patrolling or guarding
Paid in-kind community scouts
Monetary incentives for community intelligence
Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Further detail

1. Community Scout Unit (started in 2013): men and women jointly employed by CLZ and the local Community Resource Boards. Village scouts are also employed in the Detection and Tracking Dog Unit and the Rapid Response Unit. In 2019 CLZ trained a further 10 community scouts (8 men and 2 women) to patrol the Rufunsa GMA.

2. Provide technical and material support (e.g. food rations, medical aid kits, field patrol equipment, uniforms, transport for deployments, data collection devices), training (e.g. workshop on SMART) and capacity building to anti-poaching patrols and village scout unit.

3. CLZ hosts workshops in the community regarding law enforcement and the penalties and sanctions surrounding wildlife crime, e.g. Anti-Snare Campaign.

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Further detail

Tourism is a huge generator of income in the Lower Zambezi, those involved in conservation often have links with tourism. Safari guides from the local community benefit from conservation.

Decreasing the costs of living with wildlife

Preventive measures to deter wildlife
Reactive measures to deal with problem animals
Further detail

1. To address resentment / HWC with elephants and hippo (communities rely almost exclusively on subsistence crops): - Building of felumbus (i.e. elephant-safe granary stores to protect maize harvests) in the Chiawa GMA → 33 felubus built.

- Trial of electric tape anti-hippo and elephant fence in the Chiawa GMA in 2016

- Chilli farming and growing: Organized workshops on chilli growing, nursery upkeep, transplantation, crop protection and the use of chilli in wildlife mitigation & moderating elephant behaviour.

Monitoring all HWC incidents in the community to track trends.

2. Since 2014, HWC patrols have been deployed during the rainy season: scouts patrol the communities to ward off any wildlife that could harm their crops + report conflict (property damage, crop raiding, livestock predation, and injuries or deaths related to animals).

Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

(Non-wildlife-based) enterprise development/support
Provision of community-level benefits
Further detail

1. Support alternative livelihood:

- Group of 12 women group called Mbeli (meaning ‘to move forward’) (based in Mugarameno), who create curios for camps and uniforms for the local school. We have provided a sewing machine and support.

- Chilli farming = cash crop

2. Installation of boreholes in villages to provide clean water: improve human capital (health, hygiene).

Scholarship provision → in 2016 supported 6 secondary school students (from Chiawa): chosen on merit and through their participation in the conservation clubs.

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

1. Environmental Education Programme started in 2004 (which has since grown substantially and has included a review of the curriculum)

- Outreach for children: includes lessons on wildlife trafficking and animal behaviour.

- Tablets provided to schools with environmental and HIV/AIDS curriculums

- Six school visits per year to CLZ’s Education Centre: lessons, conservation poems.

- Provision of computers

- Teacher Training Workshops.

- Scholarships for university places and for secondary school

2. Annual community sport's day 'Rubatano' for both children and adults (since 2013): aims to promote relationships between the local community members, DNPW, lodges and other stakeholders outside of the law enforcement realm with which CLZ is often associated.

3. Anti-Snare Campaigns.

Has the initiative made a difference?

The holistic strategy of CLZ has had some incredible results, including:

Poaching and patrolling

90% reduction in poaching of elephants since 2016

In 2020 247 suspects were apprehended and 26 firearms recovered, plus 23 live pangolins and 40 pieces of ivory have been seized.

37 community scouts employed


Community engagement and HWC mitigation

Satisfaction from workshops & action: new farmers started growing chilli following workshops, and by the end of 2016 there were three new chilli farms with successful nurseries.

33 felumbus have been established - protecting farmers crops.

The hippo fence protects the crops of 20 farmers from hippos and elephants.



→ Over 1,700 children engaged in education activities each year, with nearly 13,000 involved since activities began in 2010

Rubatano Day attracts more than 1,000 people each year.

What works and why

Strong partnerships with the local governing body have been essential.

Trying to make sure stakeholders are all 'on side' has also been very important.

Factors for success

Long-term donor support that is flexible, adaptive and/or based on realistic time goals

Further detail

Long term support from our members allows CLZ to run base camp sustainably with unrestricted funding. Most projects are therefore fully funded by grants.

Factors that limited or hindered success

Ineffective and/or untrustworthy community leaders

Lack of transparent and accountable distribution of benefits to local communities

Unclear and intangible benefits to local communities from wildlife (These may be financial and/or non-financial)

Further detail

1. Currently weak leaders without much trust.

2. Currently no clear benefit to local people.

Organisers, donors and partners


Department of National Parks and Wildlife in their mandate to protect the Lower Zambezi - provides support

A full list of supporters can be found here.

Support from tourism operators as members

Community Resource Boards

For further information contact People Not Poaching (