THE IMPORTANCE OF WETLANDS
Across the continent, lush wetlands function like oversized oases in the African landscape. With ample water and grazing, they are havens for biodiversity and account for some of the most productive habitats on the planet. Many times, they are home not only to an abundance of wildlife, but an unusually high diversity of species. Rare and endangered species, particularly birds, find refuge in the tapestry of islands, waterways and lagoons, making these regions key areas for conservation.
Wetlands also hold vast importance for the human populations that live alongside them. A healthy wetland provides humans with ecosystem services at a much higher rate compared to other types of ecosystem. These include water filtration, buffering the impacts of storms and floods, carbon storage, preventing erosion, sediment transport (important for distributing soil nutrients that support agriculture), water security and food production. They also provide communities with recreation and cultural and historical value. Conserving wetlands protects these benefits for generations to come.
MANAGING A MODERN WETLAND
Liuwa Plain National Park is a fascinating example of how humans and wildlife can co-exist for the mutual benefit of a wetland habitat. As the only national park in Africa where indigenous communities still reside within the boundaries of the park, it represents a unique continuation of the natural and cultural landscapes that co-evolved over millennia. One of the first protected regions in Africa, the Lozi people were originally placed in the Liuwa Plain area by King Lubosi Lewanika to act as custodians for his favourite royal hunting grounds. Since then, they have made their home in and around the wetlands that flood seasonally with the arrival of the summer rains and the rising levels of the Zambezi River.
No longer a royal hunting ground, Liuwa Plain National Park has been under the conservation management of African Parks Network (APN) since 2003. Partnering with the Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the Barotse Royal Establishment, they have created a long-term management plan that aims to support not only the wildlife populations, but also the communities. Beginning in 2008, land use and fishing management schemes were implemented in an effort to strike a sustainable balance between the needs of the communities and preserving the natural areas of the park.
As the traditional guardians of the region, APN ensures that the Bartose Royal Establishment are consulted in all major management decisions and receive benefits from the park’s ecotourism. The community is regularly consulted to ensure the management plan is not only effective from a conservation perspective but is meeting their needs. For example, last year, nineteen Village Action Group meetings were held to address concerns and develop solutions for human wildlife conflict that was occurring. This both protects the livestock farmers depend on and reduces the likelihood that one of the predators APN has worked so hard to conserve will be killed.
The Lozi people still proudly embrace their role as custodians of the Liuwa Plain. When a Basic Field Ranger training course was opened up, there were over 200 applicants, of which 21 were shortlisted and 12 completed the training. Establishing an anti-poaching presence within the park, especially one enforced by fellow community members, has led to a drastic reduction in illegal poaching and fishing.
The youth population has also been getting involved enthusiastically. After the Zambian Forestry Department hosted 18 environmental education and agricultural training sessions with 460 students, three different schools established their own gardens and orchards. Providing such educational opportunities is a key part of maintaining a positive and vested relationship with the community.
Thanks to a consistently deployed conservation scheme and the community anti-poaching patrols, the wildlife populations in Liuwa Plain have been steadily rising after decades without management. Most famously, Lady Liuwa – once the last lion in the entire park – regained her pride after a series of successful translocations. With the new cubs that resulted, the pride is up to ten. The cheetah population is also growing, with at least seven new cubs joining over the last few years and more on the near horizon. Hyenas are also thriving as the apex predator with an impressive 500+ individuals. A robust population of predators is at the core of a healthy ecosystem. They keep herbivore populations in check, which prevents overgrazing and ecosystem degradation. Another well-known example of this ecological phenomena was the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park (USA) that led to the ecosystem revitalising at an astonishing rate.
The Liuwa wetlands are a vitally important refuge for birdlife, providing them with a safe and food-rich habitat to breed and raise chicks. A recent survey indicated that the area is home to Africa’s densest concentration of the rare wattled crane, as well as robust populations of endangered crowned cranes. When the floods arrive in November and turn vast swathes of the park into wetlands, flocks of cranes and other birds appear in the thousands. The skies and waterways burst to life with a cacophony of wing beats and mating calls from the 334 different species.
Using Traditional Knowledge
Since APN stepped in after the park’s wildlife had already undergone losses, they are working with the local ndunas (tribal leaders) to establish which species have gone extinct. This is a prime example of how traditional knowledge can drive better conservation. Without the historical perspective of what once was, there would be no way for APN to drive an authentic restoration plan for this wetland habitat. Several species, such as eland and buffalo, have been reintroduced after succumbing to local extinction and are now doing well. There have even been signs of elephant bulls passing through from a park more than 300 km away – a sign not only of a recovering ecosystem, but also that Liuwa was once an important wildlife corridor for migratory and far-ranging species.
BE A PART OF THE DREAM
One of the surest ways to provide a source of long-term funding to support these conservation and community enterprises is ecotourism. Through a partnership between Time + Tide and APN, a new luxury lodge was opened up in 2017 to share the beauty of the Liuwa Plain with intrepid explorers who are seeking the road less travelled. The lodge was named for the king who long ago foresaw the importance of finding harmony between man and wildlife: Time + Tide King Lewanika Lodge.
Every stay at the lodge helps support the dream of restoring and continually protecting this extraordinary wetland. It follows the high-end, low-volume ecotourism model that has found success in many parts of Africa’s wild lands. By visiting an emerging destination, you can see and experience the ecotourism model in action. You can visit the local school to meet the children learning about conservation and watch as the researchers of the Zambian Carnivore Programme play a game of radio collar hide-and-seek with a cheetah and her cubs. It is a real-world expression of a vision to protect this land and its people coming to life with every game drive and every sundowner.
We invite you to be a part of this dream with us. To experience the wetlands in their full glory, it is best to visit from November to April.
Plan your stay...
• 4 nights at Time + Tide King Lewanika
• $5200 per person for land arrangements
• $480 per person park fees
• $880 per person for round trip flights Livingstone - Kalabo - Livingstone
• Land arrangements include: all accommodation, meals, drinks, standard bar drinks, 2 safari activities per day, laundry + airport transfers
Photos by Will Burrard Lucas, Rich I'anson, Heinrich van den Berg + Noeline Tredoux