Since the creation of KAZA, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation area, which straddles five countries in southern Africa, tourists and others unfamiliar with the region have asked what exactly KAZA is, often imagining some sort of international wildlife park.
KAZA is Africa’s largest conservation landscape, encompassing national parks, game management areas, communal conservancies on farm land – and a great deal of wildlife, including 75% of Africa’s elephants and 18% of its lions, in an area of 520,000 square kilometres – as large as France.
Five years since Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe signed a treaty bringing KAZA into existence, a symposium was held in Victoria Falls at the beginning of November under the motto “Where have we come from, where are we now, and where are we going?” Two hundred and forty delegates from governments and NGOs involved in KAZA, many of them scientists, met to evaluate the progress of the conservation area.
Dr Russell Taylor, representing WWF in Namibia, who assisted the KAZA Secretariat to organize the Symposium, stated in a presentation that despite their large number, elephants in the area are under threat due to habitat loss: encroachment from farming and urban development. Once human population density exceeds 15 persons per square kilometre, he explained, human-elephant conflict increases and elephants begin to disappear.
At the heart of the five country KAZA vision is nature-based tourism. Dave Glynn from Africa Albida Tourism in Zimbabwe pointed out that with Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta and an abundance of wildlife, KAZA is an undervalued, but potentially highly competitive tourism destination – but one which needs stronger branding, argued Felix Chaila from the Zambia Tourism Board.
Tourism should bring increased prosperity to an area which is desperately poor, stated Frederick Dipotso from the KAZA Secretariat. A baseline survey of living conditions in the area carried out in 2014 found low education and skills, and that agriculture – the mainstay of people’s lives – was unproductive due to poor soils, drought, and human-wildlife conflict.
In a joint presentation based on data from Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, Karine Nuulimba argued that rights over land and resources, such as wildlife, should be devolved to local communities, which can benefit from them. Joint venture partnerships between communal conservancies and the private sector are a way to develop tourism and unlock the value of wildlife, she said, while passing on benefits to communities now struggling with the onset of climate change, which makes agriculture increasingly precarious.
Many delegates agreed on the importance of community stewardship over resources, as a first step to protecting wildlife and its habitat. Taylor argued that the poaching crisis in Africa can only be dealt with effectively if people have rights over wildlife and derive benefits from it, for example through employment in tourism enterprises.
The three day symposium, with over 40 presentations and discussions, set out to clarify the major challenges facing the transfrontier conservation area: poverty, the development of tourism, and easier movement of wildlife despite national boundaries and cattle fences. It was an opportunity to exchange views and to gather data and opinions that will be invaluable to the KAZA Secretariat in promoting conservation policies that are accepted, agreed and implemented by five African states acting together.
At the end of the first day, the government of Botswana, through its Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation & Tourism, and the KAZA Secretariat signed a hosting agreement which will allow the Secretariat to operate as a legal entity in Botswana, based in Kasane, which will strengthen its authority.
Creating agreement among governments, NGOs and local communities is the first step to making KAZA work for the benefit of wildlife and the people who live with it. Developing nature-based tourism with world-class standards and marketing is essential if KAZA is to succeed. The symposium dealt with both issues, and to provide details about the harmonization of policies and conservation programmes, the newly empowered Secretariat is planning to produce a ‘State of KAZA’ report.