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14 Travel Zambia May 2009 Zambezi River N TZ 075150 miles 070140210 km Sioma Ngwezi NP Kazungula Habitat Habitat Nkani Nkani Wild West back in business Sioma Ngwezi has long been a ' sleeping' national park. Decades of unrest and neglect have taken their toll on the wildlife, and today this wild western corner of Zambia seldom features on any tourist itinerary. But all that may be about to change, reports Stephen Cunliffe. Recent history has not been kind to Sioma Ngwezi. First came SWAPO from Namibia, setting up their headquarters in the heart of the national park and living off the land. Next came the UNITA rebels from Angola who, desperate for food and ivory to fund their civil war, plundered its resources. Finally, when drought struck the region, the local Lozi people also turned to this beleaguered sanctuary to sustain themselves, and a thriving bushmeat trade developed. While wildlife populations may have plummeted, the habitat remains healthy and the park's potential is vast. Sioma Ngwezi is Zambia's third largest national park, measuring some 5000km2. Together with the surrounding 35,000km2 West Zambezi Game Management Area, it forms one continuous conservation area that stretches as far north as Liuwa Plain. Moreover the region remains a crucial corridor in the migratory route of elephants from nearby Botswana, Namibia and Angola. This massive migrant elephant population has attracted the interest of the Peace Parks Foundation ( PPF), which promotes cross- border initiatives that restore large contiguous habitats. One of its planned ' mega parks' is the enormous 280,000km2 Kavango- Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area ( KAZA TFCA). This will span fi ve countries when completed, including southwestern Zambia, making it the largest single conservation area on earth. Over US$ 100 million has already been allocated to this ambitious scheme. Meanwhile, two passionate individuals are dedicated to bringing back the tourists to Sioma Ngwezi. Gavin Johnson, an ex- Springbok fullback, has lived in the area for 14 years. Now fl uent in the local Lozi language, he is an avid birder who waxes lyrical about the beauty of this wilderness. Gavin currently owns two camps on the upper Zambezi, but plans to acquire three more inside the national park as soon as the Peace Parks' plans take off. By sponsoring a neighbouring school and clinic, he is already contributing to the area's development. STEPHEN CUNLIFFE STEPHEN CUNLIFFE The upper Zambezi seen from Sioma River Camp, just west of the national park. STEPHEN CUNLIFFE Pied kingfi sher Hans Aaskov has recently joined Gavin. After retiring from the Danish embassy, Hans sold his house and poured everything he had into his lifelong dream of building Sioma Camp. He has already demonstrated some novel ways of fostering a local conservation ethic, including offering cash rewards to locals for wildlife sightings, which helps to cultivate a perception of wildlife as more valuable alive than dead. Hans believes local people must be offered a realistic alternative to poaching and willingly employs reformed poachers. Both these far- sighted individuals are acutely aware of the area's potential and foresee a great future for Sioma Ngwezi. With the park's imminent inclusion in the KAZA TFCA, it seems their dreams may soon become reality. A range of accommodation is available at Mutemwa Lodge ( www. mutemwa. com) and Sioma Camp ( www. siomacamp. com). Both camps offer drives into the national park, plus bush walks, tiger fi shing and outings to Ngonye Falls. African fi nfoot

May 2009 Travel Zambia 15 Habitat Nkani Nkani SAFARI CLEAN- UP Watch out jumbos! The South Luangwa Conservation Society has teamed up with the Zambian Wildlife authority to support a new means of scaring away crop- raiding elephants. Poachers and local farmers have long been using homemade muzzle- loading guns. However, one far- sighted farmer recently came up with the novel idea of using these weapons to fi re chilli ' bullets' at the offending elephants. Old shotgun shells are packed with a pungent concoction of crushed dried chilli and salt or sand. The gun is then loaded with gunpowder and the shells are fi red towards the elephants. The puzzled pachyderms, which have extremely sensitive nasal passages, beat a hasty retreat. So far the scheme is working well, and all monitoring scouts have been equipped with muzzle- loading guns and a good stock of chilli. This new scheme provides important backup to the ongoing chilli- fence project, which also keeps hungry elephants out of farmer's fi elds, and thus plays a vital role in reducing human- animal confl ict around South Luangwa. Hot shots On 1 January 2009 South Luangwa Conservation Society launched an Eco Awards scheme for tour operators in the South Luangwa area. Anna Tolan, coordinator of the scheme, reports on this innovative development for Zambia's tourist industry. Today's tourists are increasingly concerned about the welfare of the environment and local communities. The Eco Awards scheme encourages lodges and camps to operate in a more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way. In doing so, they aim to raise the standard of conservation in the region, and also encourage the local community to become more involved. The way it works is simple. Tour operators are invited to complete a comprehensive questionnaire on lodges and camps they have used. This is marked by an evaluation team. An inspection team then makes a site inspection to verify what has been written. The lodges that meet the required standards will receive a bronze, silver or gold certifi cate, which they are then entitled to use as a marketing tool. An international advisory board has been set up to help with any diffi cult issues that may arise. The Awards are non- profi t making ( although an application fee of $ 100 is charged to cover basic expenses) and are specifi cally tailored to the unique conditions of the area. Stringent evaluation and inspection procedures ensure that standards are maintained at the highest possible level. The focus of the scheme is on operators committed to embracing ' best practice'. This embraces the following measures: protecting, conserving and investing in the environment minimising and reducing waste preventing pollution encouraging involvement with and support for local communities responsible use of natural resources, such as land, water, energy and timber providing direct fi nancial benefi ts for conservation projects educating tourists, staff and the local community. This is good news for the environment, the community and the concerned tourist. By choosing to stay at an establishment accredited with a South Luangwa Eco Award, visitors can rest assured that their safari is both environmentally responsible and benefi cial to the local community. For further information please contact Anna Tolan at anna@ chipembele. org or visit www. slcs- zambia. org Unguarded rubbish dumps can be hazardous for animals, such as these baboons. MIKE UNWIN CHIPEMBELE SLCS