Thursday, July 1, 2010

African Odyssee: The KAZA Park

Jeffrey Barbee
Livingston Zambia

In 1858, as artist Thomas Baines and the rest of Livingston's Expedition approached the roar of Victoria Falls through dense vegetation they could hardly have imagined that they were about to discover one of the seven natural wonders of the world. As he sat down with his paints to sketch the falls, Baines could not have known that these images would launch a worldwide plan of conservation making Victoria Falls the centerpiece of the world's biggest wildlife park. The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, Shortened to KAZA, is the most ambitious conservation plan of it's kind ever attempted.

On the 18th of June, 2010, the German government allotted twenty million Euros to the Peace Parks Foundation to support KAZA, the latest in a series of g payments that are slowly helping to establish the biggest conservation area in the world. The area embraces the countries of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, making up 29 million hectares, roughly the size of Italy. More than thirty national parks and conservation areas already exist within the boundaries of KAZA, and the project is bridging the gaps in the protected areas and creating jobs, employment and more opportunity to the local communities.

Some of the popular places the park covers are Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, The Okavango Delta, and the Chobe River system. But less known, and less explored are the Eastern Parks of Angola, closed to travelers for thirty years by conflict and land-mines. The mines are being taken out, and the Angolan authorities say that as the mines are removed, the elephants are quickly taking back areas of bush where they were never found before.

Elephant Lands
And this is elephant territory. Actual numbers are hard to pin down, but it is estimated that the area holds as much as a third of Africa's remaining elephant populations. Chobe National Park is expected to be one of the "seed" parks for the area. It is well managed, with good buffer zones that allow the free movement of animals in and out of the park. And authorities is Botswana acknowledge that the sooner they get some of their elephants out of the park, the better. Chobe has been terraformed by the beasts. Former woodland is now grassland, the trees have been eaten, but other habitat has also been created that harbors other animals that prefer grass rather than trees. Nevertheless the park is without a doubt beyond it's elephant capacity, and as more safe areas around it are established, as it becomes part of the greater KAZA Park, elephants are moving into these new areas.

Although KAZA was one of the first Transfronteir Parks ever imaged, it has been one of the longest in the making. Not until Angola's Bush war ended eight years ago was it possible for the country to even discuss the possibility of inclusion in the park. Zimbabwe's shaky political situation also prevented the process from moving forward, and historical antagonism between Namibia and Botswana has not helped. However, the park seems to be bringing the countries closer together and now there is real movement forward, with the money from the Germans showing how much the international community believes in the project.

As this massive park moves from conception into implementation, communities will be incorporated into the park. It is from these communities that workers, guides, scouts and mechanics will be hired, providing people with an alternative to subsistence agriculture. Vivian Nchope lives outside of Livingston, and he has worked for local hotels as a tree planter. He makes wood crafts in his spare time to sell to tourists who come to see Victoria Falls. "This park is so important to us, we need to benefit from our wildlife, and stop cutting down so many trees for firewood, if you ask me, making a park like this will be great for the area, and maybe it will bring more tourists."

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, This is wonderful to hear. I can't wait to visit KAZA with you. It's heartening to hear there are smart people out there funding conservation on such a massive scale. We never hear about these things in the US (too busy chasing celebrities around, for the moment, I guess), but thanks to you - we are! love ya, J