In Lower Zambezi National Park, Sue Watt discovers how one organisation is helping to protect elephants from poachers while protecting villagers from elephants
Sometimes the simplest things are the most effective. A felumbu, for instance, is an elephant-proof grain store. It’s shaped like a giant upturned mug made of bricks and cement, and holds up to a ton of maize. Unable to smell the contents inside, elephants just wander past them. For people familiar with elephants devouring their entire food supply in a single night, felumbus are a godsend.
They’ve been introduced to villages around Lower Zambezi NP by an amazing NGO called Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ), and I was lucky enough to spend time with them in May. Assisting the Zambian Wildlife Authority, they deploy anti-poaching patrols, analysing each patrol on their GPS tracking system to plan further routes, and train and equip scouts and rangers.
I was staggered at the breadth of CLZ’s work. At their Base on the Park’s western edge I visited their education centre where children from over 50 local schools learn about conservation. I flew in a tiny Cessna over the Lower Zambezi checking for poachers, and watched them forensically examine an elephant skeleton discovered in thick shrub. Thankfully, she’d died of natural causes, not at the hands, guns and knives of brutal poachers.
We visited communities where CLZ help alleviate human elephant conflict, providing village scouts as rapid response units to scare away crop-raiding elephants, a dangerous task particularly at night. We attended schools where children were studying CLZ’s conservation curriculum and met farmers trained by CLZ in techniques to deter elephants. These include new chilli-fences surrounding their crops, made of string and rags drenched in chilli-infused oil which elephants apparently can’t stand.
Set up 20 years ago by local safari operators concerned about increasing elephant poaching, CLZ has gone from strength to strength. Today, supporters include twelve lodges in the area that between them provide 25% of their funding.
One of those is Anabezi, the Park’s newest lodge, where I stayed. Its location is remote but superb, near the Zambezi and Mushika rivers, with 11 huge and luxurious “tents” looking out over floodplains full of wildlife. It’s about as far as you can get from CLZ’s operational base, however, so Anabezi is building a second base nearby.
Everything CLZ does serves to protect the wildlife we all come to see, but crucially, they protect communities too. If you’d like to help, a donation of US$70 pays for a felumbu, securing the food supply for a family while giving something back in a simple, tangible way. www.conservationlowerzambezi.org www.anabezi.com