Following the end of the black lechwe breeding season, the animals aggregated into big herds on the plains. The combined operation by Bangweulu rangers, fisheries officials and police officers to clampdown on the illegal use of mosquito nets in fishing was highly successful, resulting in the confiscation of a stash of nets.
The project to build four additional houses for scouts and their families advanced, an undertaking that will be completed by the end of July. Extensive repairs were carried out at the Makanga and Nsobe Campsites in preparation for the start of the hunting season that runs from 1 June to 30 November, also at Nkondo Camp and to the Kamba Bridge connecting Nkondo and Chiundaponde that was damaged during the heavy rains in February. In addition, there was a major focus on servicing and maintenance to vehicles and equipment.
Wildlife and Biodiversity
The annual fish ban that concluded at the end of February continued to yield positive results, a direct result of the protection of the spawning runs. Catch numbers peaked during May but are expected to decline during the winter months with cooler temperatures affecting fish movement.
The shoebill known as Russik, originally rescued during a ZAWA investigation, and returned to its natural habitat in Bangweulu, continued to make progress. For the first time, the bird managed to catch a fish on its own and even caught and ate a snake. Russik is also helping to create awareness on the importance of protecting shoebills among local communities, officials and visitors to the Wetlands.
An aerial survey on black lechwe was undertaken, the results of which are expected in July. The rutting season for black lechwe males ended in April, after which they became less territorial and aggregated into larger herds. Staff and visitors to the project were also rewarded with sightings of flocks of African Skimmers, the first sighting of the species in several years.
A total of 42 long patrols (10 to 14 days each) were conducted during which there were 19 arrests for the poaching of 20 black lechwe and for fishing transgressions. A range of homemade firearms was confiscated as were more than 70 mosquito nets used to catch fish illegally.
Interviews were held in the three chiefdoms to select and recruit candidates to become village scouts who play an important role in supporting law enforcement efforts in community areas. The training of the five successful candidates will take place over three months at a ZAWA Training Centre in Kafue National Park.
Almost the entire fishing community from Chikuni attended a sensitisation meeting on the illegal use of mosquito nets in fishing organised by traditional authorities and representatives from Bangweulu gathered. The high participation was attributed to their acknowledgement of the benefits of the annual fish band that has resulted in a noticeable increase in fish. This is because spawning adults are no longer speared in shallow waters during their migration.
The annual Musabilwa Mpemba Swamp Ceremony was held on Nsamba Island in July, attended by government officials, chiefs, senior headmen and community members as well as Dr Martin Malama, the Chairman of the Bangweulu Wetlands Management Board and members of the Bangweulu park team. The ceremony marks the conquering of the area in the 18th century by the Unga Tribe from the Congo and takes the form of speeches by dignitaries, dancing and singing.
A total of 99 tourists visited the Wetlands, a combination of day visitors and guests who were accommodated at Bangweulu's campsites. Tourism revenue for the quarter ended on US$7,204. This includes US$4,380 derived from a day hunting party, June being the first month of the hunting season. The park team continued to market hunting packages to Makanga Camp through professional hunters.
In May, the park team hosted a UK journalist whose comprehensive feature on the Wetlands is to appear in Travel Africa magazine in early 2016. The magazine is published and sold in the United Kingdom and also sold at newsstands in the USA and in South Africa.