WHERE ARE THE LECHWES?
As a concerned citizen and environmental conservationist working in the Northern Region of Zambia where the Bangweulu Wetlands are situated, I’m kindly appealing to the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and the Department of National Parks to help us find closure by availing us with information on the where about and well being of the 80 Black Lechwe that were captured from Chikuni Game management area in Chief Chiunda Pondes area.
We are aware that when the people of Southern and Eastern provinces protested over the live captures of wildlife from the National Parks in the area, the Ministry spokes person Sakabilo Kalebwe explained that the capture of wildlife was meant to facilitate restocking of depleted or understocked National Parks or wildlife areas in line with the Seventh National Development Plan, but we are extremely worried about the survival of the Lechwes because these species are endemic to the Bangweulu Basin and it is the only place in Zambia they have ever existed just like the red lechwe is endemic to the Kafue Basin.
According to research conducted on the species, Black Lechwes are susceptible to any change in the hydrological regime meaning they can easily be harmed by change of habitat. And going by the term “restocking” which means replacing a specie where it once existed but has declined or depleted makes us wonder where else in Zambia apart from the Bangweulu wetlands have the Black Lechwes ever existed? From 1930s when their population was over 250 000 to the 60s when they drastically reduced to less than 16 000 through to the 80s and 90s when conservation efforts saw them increase to 35 000, there has never been a recommendation made to restock the species from regions like Congo which share the same wetland ecosystem because we are talking about a very rare breed of antelope. This is why it has been listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a vulnerable specie that requires special attention and conservation.
We are also aware that the Minister of tourism suspended the movement of wildlife from National Parks into private ranches on 2nd October and same time ordered the Permanent secretary Mr Amos Malupenga to investigate allegations that a director in the ministry signed a wildlife movement certificate when only the minister is permitted to do so, therefore we appealing that as the PS conducts investigations they also investigate for us where the Black Lechwes have been taken and how they are adapting to the new habitat.
As people living in the area surrounding the Bangweulu Wetlands we have the right to know where our souvenirs have been relocated. It is very important for Zambians to know that the Black Lechwe is listed under the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable specie existing in a unique biodiversity hot spot also listed under the Ramsar Convention as a Wetland of International Importance. We therefore expect that moving such a specie should be done in agreement with both international and national requirements of producing a certified and approved ecological assessment report to ensure that the specie will adapt in the new environment. It is a violation of animal rights to move them from their indigenous home without approval from relevant authorities including community members who are the real custodians of wildlife species that are found within their communities.
God had a reason to place the Black Lechwe in one area of Zambia only therefore we are appealing to all concerned authorities to urgently avail us with information on the where about and status of the 80 Black Lechewe.
Nsama Musonda Kearns