Supporting Africa Series
Musekese Conservation was founded in late 2017 and operational by January 2018 as a not for profit organisation aimed at protecting large parts of Zambia’s northern Kafue. It was started by the owners of J&M Safaris, Phil Jeffery and Tyrone McKeith, two young and passionate safari enthusiasts who had a dream to create a sustainable and ethical safari company that will benefit both the wildlife and the people of the country in the heart of one of Africa’s prime wilderness areas.
To give you an idea of the great work that Musekese Conservation is undertaking and the things that they are achieving the below is an outline of some things that are difficult to think about and to write about but are unfortunately an every-day situation in much of Africa. But there are positives and teams like this working toward a sustainable model of conservation and tourism working hand in hand need our support.
Today Musekese Conservation is an integral part of the safari experience and by coming to the Kafue you are directly benefitting conservation; a portion of every bednight is allocated to projects in the Kafue.
One of the biggest challenges facing Africa is poaching, this is a broad term that is often over simplified. There are two main types of poaching which can be broken down further but we will keep it brief for now;
Firstly there is commercial or structured poaching, this is what comes to mind when most people think of the term, it is highly organised and funded through various channels, often criminal, in order to illegally poach species such as Rhino and Elephant for their highly valuable body parts.
Secondly, and the type of poaching that Musekese finds itself fighting, is subsistence poaching, this is where local people will look to take primarily small game in order to provide food for their family, in most cases the meat will be passed up a supply chain and sold to buy cheaper food such as Nshima (Zambia’s maize staple).
This latter form of poaching is market driven by larger urban areas and the upper middle classes who can afford the meat. While to some this may seem to be a form of hunter gathering it has an impact of the entire food chain and the success of all species, with fewer antelope numbers there can be fewer predators and with methods such as snaring frequently employed the target species is non-specific leading to many large mammals being maimed or facing a drawn out and unpleasant end.
Covid-19 is having a huge impact on conservation in Africa, this is not as straight forward as an increase in poaching or a lack of being able to support staff employed in tourism, it is a web of each of these two vital industries being inextricably linked together.
Tourism helps to fund conservation with somewhere between 70-90% of resources coming directly from tourism revenue (depending on location and organisation). With the wiping out of the 2020 season conservation organisation funded by both government and NGO are having to reduce activity in order to make reserves last longer, this is resulting in a reduced presence in the parks and wildlife buffer zones.
In turn tourism activities employ large numbers of local communities who are then the primary bread winner for their extended families, without an income it is understandable that people turn to anything they can to save their family from suffering, this leads to an increase in subsistence poaching.
Tourism itself is in many locations a deterrent and with fewer vehicles traversing these areas on game viewing activities and for supply runs, transfers and staff movements there is greater exposure to opportunistic poaching activities.
There are a number of fronts on which poaching must be fought; through education, providing a sustainable future income for communities, reduction of domestic and international demand, detection and interception of trafficking but the most pressing at this time is to maintain a “boots on the ground” presence in order to deter and apprehend offenders and protect our wild areas.
J&M Safaris saw an urgent need to increase the conservation work in their corner of Africa when they noticed a sharp increase in predator loss in 2017 with a reported 10 large carnivores being killed by snares (8 Lions, 1 Wild Dog and 1 Hyena), there were no reported losses in in 2018.
Musekese Conservation has been set up for just this purpose, the new Anti-Poaching Unit Base (APU) was completed in 2019 and with the support of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) two teams of six new wildlife police officers to protect the area. While they were offered 12 officers from existing units Musekese were insistent that these were new officers in addition to existing personnel rather than reducing resources elsewhere in the Kafue. The APU can support an additional three such units and this is a target to have this operating at full strength in order to better protect this vast area of incredible wilderness. The full scale of the Musekese-Lumbeya area is 2,400km2 but the area the current two teams are able to secure is 1,200km2, a vast amount of land in itself but with increased man power comes increased protection.
The DNPW covers the cost of the unit’s wages as the police officers are government employees but all other costs are covered by Musekese this includes; rations, clothing, equipment and bonuses to increase wages.
With the inception of J&M Safaris and latterly Musekese Conservation the recovery of wildlife in this pristine area has been incredible, without noting the increase in plains game the most notable increase has been in the Lion numbers, going from only a handful to now a strong pride of 21!
Through these tough times it is important to remember the incredible work that these organisations are doing to protect the wilderness areas that we love. From postponing your travel, donating any amount you can or by planning a future trip you will be helping to support and encourage the continued efforts to protect our amazing continent.
Musekese have plans to increase and develop, alongside growing the number of teams and obtaining advanced training to increase their knowledge of first aid and combat skills to better equip them for their tasks they are hoping to acquire enough funding to provide air patrols and supply partner organisations with animal tracking data to get a better understanding of the ecosystem and the best way to protect it.