What is the background and mandate of your organization?
Zambia Wildlife Authority was created in 1999 and was operational in 2000. It is a government agency mandated by an act of parliament to manage the wildlife of the country. Currently Zambia has over 20 national parks and 36 game management areas and there are certain areas where new national parks could be open after negotiations with the communities. The total area that has been set aside for wildlife conservation is about 30 % of the total landmass of Zambia, which is about 750,000 square kilometers. Zambia Wildlife Authority is mandated to manage wildlife in all these areas: national parks, game management areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and bird sanctuaries.
What do you think have been the major challenges for Zambia to promote the country to the rest of the continent and the rest of the world?
The whole issue falls down to marketing. Winning the Africa cup earlier this year brought pride to all Zambians and the world shifted its attention to our country. It has been an opportunity and it is time now for us to identify certain resources that we have in the country so that this attention stays on Zambia. We should let the world see beyond soccer, let them know about our hidden wildlife secrets, and ZAWA is striving very hard to make it possible and ensure that the wildlife resources that we have in this country contribute to the economic growth of Zambia, through tourism. Our mission is to conserve Zambia's wildlife resources for bio-diversity and social economical enhancement. We would like to use our wildlife sustainably and make it the pride of this country. Over 80% of tourists visit Zambia for nature based and wildlife related activities, so we would like to take advantage of this and use this opportunity to market Zambia to the outside world. Our resources are very rich, we have twenty national parks, but only a few are exploited: South Luangwa national park, Mosi-o-tunia national park, where Victoria falls are, Kafue national park, the largest park we have in Zambia and the lower Zambezi national park. Therefore, we would like to attract investment into the other national parks, for example Nsumbu national park in the north, by Lake Tanganyka.
Do you think the lack of infrastructure is also a barrier for investment, and what is the role you are playing in promoting this region?
Infrastructure is not a barrier as such because it can also be turned into an opportunity for investment. Infrastructure is what we are asking the investors to come for, because it refers to hotels and lodges in these unique areas. We do not even need to make tarred roads we just make gravel roads so that the tourists could utilise those roads as they drive around to view game. In certain places we do not grade the roads, we just make tracks that still make the area look nice and appealing so that the people who are there feel like they are a part of nature. The one thing that has been lacking for a long time is exposure and opportunity to market these areas and that is why I have been looking forward to this kind of interview. There is so much that we can do to attract investment in these national parks. South Luangwa National Park is a prime tourism destination and we still have sights in that park that have never been taken up. They have their own earth moving equipment so they can make roads and air strips but all they are waiting for is an investor.
What makes Zambia's wildlife different from what you can find in other African Countries?
Zambia's wildlife experience is very unique from what you would find in other countries. In South Luangwa you can take walking safaris and this is like being on an expedition, like the way explorers used to move for years across Africa. As you are walking in a national park it is like no one has ever been there. Zambia has the largest hippo population in the world and in south Luangwa you can see thousands of them. We still have the wilderness experience and we try to get people close to that.
What are the main challenges faced by Zambia Wildlife Authority in accomplishing its mandate of environmental conservation?
The challenges are many but the bottom line is financial constraints. Zambia Wildlife Authority is expected to generate its own income but out of the twenty national parks only four have activity in tourism, so we do not have a very broad revenue base and this is because of lack of marketing. This is the reason why we are calling for investment, so that we can open up these other areas because this will broaden our revenue base. If that happens then we know the sky will be the limit because there is so much potential from the other sixteen national parks and if we develop these parks we will be close to self sustainability. The current government has seen this potential and has moved in to assist the Zambia Wildlife Authority, the government has given us about three million dollars to re-capitalise. We are about to buy some equipment and vehicles to patrol these areas because without that we could easily lose the resource. Right now we are actually procuring uniforms and camping equipment and even our head quarters requires renovations.
To what extent do you see the tourism sector as a whole open to partnerships?
Our arms are very open because for Zambia Wildlife Authority, it is out of such partnerships that South Luangwa has become a prime tourism destination. We partnered with the Royal Norwegian government and for the past 35years they have been giving us support and today South Luangwa National Park is able to attract quite a sizeable number of tourists because of that investment. They have invested there because they are very sure that they will reap back their investment. We have a lot of tour operators in South Luangwa, we are receiving a sizeable number of tourists and the revenue generation is the highest amongst the national parks.
What kind of message would you like to convey to a would be investor looking for business and what would they find in terms of the people they are going to deal with?
First and foremost, Zambia is very stable politically and I think that is what investors would be looking for. We just changed governments and we are all walking around and working normally like there was not a different government a few months ago. We are the same people, we love one another, we are peaceful and we are also very accommodating. It is a Zambian philosophy that when you receive a visitor you need to go an extra mile to accommodate that visitor. However, our economy is growing and a lot of industries are coming up, we have a great improvement in communication as well because most of the place where investors would go have good telephone network, people are able to communicate using cell phones and are able to hook up their computers to connect to the internet. These are some of the attributes that are existing in our country at the moment. If you go to different parts of the country you will find that roads are being repaired and people can reach the national parks by air. I would also like to mention that the wildlife management in Zambia has incorporated the local communities. We have a Community Resource Board which is legally recognised by the government of Zambia. When a safari hunt is carried out in the Game Management Areas, which are areas surrounding national parks, the money generated from this kind of activity is shared 50-50 by Zambia Wildlife Authority for wildlife management, and the community for community development.