29 March 2017
Wildlife returns to Simalaha
Wildlife restocking started in 2014 with seven species now living happily back on the sweeping Simalaha plains. First came impala – a total of 240 from Zambia, then 155 wildebeest and 78 zebra from Namibia, 25 red lechwe, 32 puku and 25 waterbuck from Zambia, and eight giraffe also from Namibia. Still to come are more zebra, along with roan, sable and buffalo.
Driving across the long grassed plains, we see a herd of zebra in the distance, grazing characteristically with wildebeest. We follow Nyambe’s lead and as we draw closer, the scene is even stranger. Grazing harmoniously with the zebra and wildebeest, all with young ones, is a herd of cattle. We stop and get out of the vehicle to appreciate the scene. Nyambe walks over to us smiling broadly: 'So what do you think?' he asks. 'Isn’t this just amazing?'
'This is the first project of its kind in Zambia where two districts and two chiefs of different tribes have come together and are working together – it is unique to this project and it’s a great success. It’s also the first time that a conservation area was fenced without moving people, and wildlife was brought to them. Three years later there have been no problems and no poaching. People and wildlife are living in harmony and they take care of the wildlife because they are empowered and have a sense of ownership of the wildlife. So it is possible and it’s incredible. What a change in people’s lives.'
From smuggler to scout
Everything changed for Matthew in 2012, with the development of Simalaha Community Conservancy. Matthew qualified as a game scout, one of 11 chosen from each of the two chiefdoms involved in the project. He trained for three months in Zambia and South Africa, learnt anti-poaching skills and did semi-military training to be adept with firearms. Now he is a senior scout in charge of 10 men and says he is happiest when out on patrol – up to 15 days at a time - protecting the wildlife of Simalaha.
'There has been no poaching of any wildlife,' confirms Matthew with a bright smile. 'We explained to the people the importance of the animals and future benefits from them, so they also help us to protect the wildlife and inform us of any new people in the area.'
Small in stature but tenacious in nature, Matthew says: 'The job has given me light in my life, and I thank Chief Sekute and Peace Parks Foundation for this. My kids are going to school now and have DSTV so they can see what’s happening in the world. I can now provide well for my family. None of this would have been possible as a smuggler.'
Story by Keri Harvey
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