Minister Warns: ‘Kafue Flats Wildlife Faces Extinction’

© John Schinker.  Can the Department of National Parks & Wildlife protect the last wildebeest on the Kafue Flats from poachers?

© John Schinker.
Can the Department of National Parks & Wildlife protect the last wildebeest on the Kafue Flats from poachers?

Minister for Southern Province, the Honourable Edify Hamukale, M.P. has warned that unless poaching is brought under control many species on the Kafue Flats face extinction (Zambia Daily Mail, 22 June 2017). The Kafue River Trust shares this concern.

Despite being a Game Management Area, with two National Parks, many large mammals have already disappeared from the area, including the big cats, wild dog, eland, roan, sable, waterbuck, hartebeeste and puku. By the time you read this, another may have joined them: only one wildebeest now remains on the Flats, within Lochinvar National Park.

However, the fate of the endemic Kafue lechwe gives cause for even greater concern. This is the ‘keystone species’ on the Flats whose abundance is fundamental for the development of tourism and for the ecological diversity and productivity of the floodplain.  A census in 2015 (see, What Future for the Kafue Lechwe?) estimated only 28,000 lechwe remained, down from about 47,000 between 1981 and 2005, and 250,000 in the 1930s.  In May this year some members of the Trust visited the Flats. We flew along the floodline over Lochinvar and the Bwengwa dambo on the South bank and over Blue Lagoon and the Nangoma dambo on the North bank, areas traditionally used at this time of year by almost all the lechwe when the floods are high. Disturbingly, we saw no large herds and in total, no more than a few hundred very wary animals in each area.  Similarly, when we visited Lochinvar on the ground we found only 50 very frightened animals beside the Nampongwe stream, an area where hundreds could invariably be found at this time of year under high flood conditions.  Although our visit was brief, the ‘calling cards’ of poachers were evident: two dead White-backed Vultures found close together may have been poisoned, while a loud explosion far to the West may have signalled a hunt in progress in the Bwengwa dambo, with dynamite being used to frighten the lechwe towards the waiting hunters.

The Minister’s intervention could not be more timely.