Empowering people helps protect wildlife

Empowering people helps protect wildlife

Poaching for ivory has reached epidemic proportions in Southern Africa. Wildlife-human conflicts and accidents have caused an additional number of tragic deaths, both among elephants and people. Tanguy Dumortier, host of RTBF’s nature and environment program Le Jardin Extraordinaire, joined IFAW for two weeks in Zambia and Malawi to learn more about how we protect animals and the places they call home, and how people can be active participants in conservation.  

Njanji, Kakaro and Kasewe are three young orphaned elephants that are staying in the Lilayi Elephant Nursery in Lusaka. The nursery is part of the Elephant Orphanage Project in Zambia and the first rehabilitation center of its kind in the Southern African region. These rescued baby elephants undergo intensive care, with a team of locally employed, highly trained keepers watching them around the clock in an effort to provide stability and help with recovery from the emotional damage the elephants have suffered. “Many of the elephants that we treat here saw their mother killed by poachers for their ivory”, explains nursery manager Rab Naidoo. “They are very young and arrive here in a very poor physical and psychological state. Similar to humans, they can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.” Without the essential natal care and nutrient rich milk from their mothers, orphaned baby elephants are left to perish. Even if they survive, they have difficulty foraging for food and socializing with others of their kind due to lack of parental modeling.

The facilities of the orphanage include several acres of open land, where the elephants roam during the day with their primary caregivers. A sleeping area has been created with assigned spots for the animals and the caregivers. There is also a small fenced in area with a water hole and a viewing platform, which is accessible to local families and schoolchildren. They can visit and watch the young elephants during the day, which serves both as an opportunity to increase animal welfare education and to strengthen bonds with communities. Once the calves can be weaned from milk, they are moved to the Kafue National Park to join other, older orphaned elephants at the project’s Kafue Release Facility, where they are more independent of human support and spend most of their time browsing freely in the park.

Support from local communities is essential to the success of elephant conservation efforts. After decades of habitat loss and the encroachment of food crops, the risk of conflict between elephants and people has greatly increased. We therefore work with communities to establish measures to reduce or eliminate this risk, such as special fences, elephant-safe ditches, beehives to keep the elephants out of the fields, and growing crops the elephants are less likely to eat.

Chikolongo Fish Farm

People from Chikolongo village in Liwonde National Park, Malawi used to have to walk across the park to fetch water. In one year alone, this led to 17 villagers being killed by crocodiles, hippos and elephants on their way to and from the river. To address this issue, IFAW built a pipeline that draws water from the river and brings it closer to the villages. Precious Charles Kamange, project manager at the Chikolongo Farm, is proud of the results achieved so far: “Thanks to the safe access to water, the Chikolongo Farm has developed a whole series of activities, including vegetable gardens in which fruits and vegetables grow all year long, a community fish farm that provides an alternative livelihood opportunity, and a chicken swap program: community members swap their small local chickens for a much bigger and hardier Black Australorp, thus improving their flocks." IFAW also built a fence of several tens of kilometers, which has allowed villagers to cultivate their crops without the fear of their food being destroyed or of being attacked. 

Le Jardin Extraordinaire airs on RTBF/LaUne on Sunday 14 January at 20.15 and Saturday 20 January at 07.50. You can also watch it online: www.rtbf.be/AUVIO. Later this year, the program will also air on TV5MONDE.  

The Elephant Orphanage Project in Zambia was established by Game Rangers International and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, in close collaboration with the Zambia Wildlife Authority and IFAW.

The Liwonde National Park Conservation Programme is a partnership between IFAW and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) of the Government of Malawi.

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