Rift Valley undertakes a preliminary wildlife survey within one of LAGRI's wilderness zones
As the LAGRI project begins to develop, Rift Valley felt it necessary to gain a better understanding of human encroachment and remnant wildlife populations within its own (Florestas de Niassa) concession area, which includes the Namasago Wilderness Zone of LAGRI. A preliminary study was therefore undertaken by James Egremont-Lee (Head of Corporate Affairs) and Darren Lapp (Head of Forestry). Having served as part of the Niassa Reserve management team in the 1990's, James' experience of wildlife dynamics within miombo woodland systems of the region was put to use to gauge the health of current large mammal populations in the area. The exercise proved a fascinating insight into the current challenges facing conservation of the area.
Without road access to the area, the survey took place on foot, as a traverse of the concession area from west to east over some 40km. Accompanied by two local men, one a renowned ex-hunter and the other a gamescout from the local wildlife department, the team of four efficiently covered the undulating, thickly forested terrain, typical of the region, interpreting signs of human activity and wildlife movement as they went.
Passing a number of characteristic granite 'inselbergs', which rise above the forest canopy, the team eventually met the Lotcheze river, which flows from the north and was known to once have been a focal point for wildlife in the area. Although sign of remnant populations of some of Africa's iconic big game species, such as elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, hyena and sable, were found, their numbers have sadly been so drastically reduced over the last few years, to be but a few very scattered populations.
The survey therefore confirmed two stark facts. Firstly, that deforestation, as a result of shifting agriculture, is pushing deep within forest areas previously thought to be intact and secondly, that uncontrolled poaching, for both commercial ivory and meat, as well as subsistence purposes, has been rampant in recent times. The extent of wire snares found during the expedition, was a clear testament to the need to control the killing, which has denuded the area of the majority of its wildlife value already.
Clearly, the challenges to conservation lie squarely in the need to improve livelihoods in the area and deliver education alongside clear economic alternatives to shifting agriculture or trade and consumption of wildlife. The survey therefore reinforced a sense of urgency to deliver the objective interventions of the LAGRI project as soon
as possible, in order to bring about a method of protection for an area that is now so vulnerable to destruction.