In 2011 The Bushcamp Company managed to source funds to buy a Cessna 180 light aircraft to be jointly used by South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS) and The Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) (in conjunction with ZAWA) to help them with law-enforcement, anti-poaching, surveillance, wildlife research and monitoring flights over the park. Owing to the park’s size (9,050km2), seasonal inaccessibility, and limited road network, the area is extremely difficult to conduct wildlife research and conservation efforts in on the ground. The plane will revolutionize the way SLCS, ZCP, and ZAWA conduct their activities.
As with most things in the Zambian bush, finding and acquiring a plane was no easy task, for a number of factors came into consideration, beyond just its suitability for wildlife conservation work. Not only do planes differ in their performance, but also in their ease of import, registration, and the availability of spares, maintenance and repairs; so we had to do our homework to ensure we had the most effective aircraft for the job. After months of researching, seeking advice, and looking for planes we settled on the Cessna 180, a plane highly recommended by pilots and colleagues alike, but unfortunately very hard to come by.
Luck was with us though as one happened to be in country, and for sale, and in December 2011 we welcomed the owner and the new plane up to Mfuwe to finalize the sale. On its first flight SLCS & ZCP staff went up into the northern sector of the park, responding to gunshot reports. In an hour and a half of flying they managed to cover the Luangwa River and its major western tributaries, as well as the Nsefu sector and large portions of the GMA. Collectively this was over 5,000 km2 and would have taken weeks, or simply not been possible from the ground.
Now, almost a year on, the old Kakumbi airstrip inside the park (a few kms from Mfuwe Lodge), which has been closed for over 12 years, has been rehabilitated, to allow the plane to live and operate from there. With support from WWF Netherlands, the Tusk Trust and the South Luangwa Area Management Unit (SLAMU) of ZAWA, the airstrip is now almost ready for use. Progress was made very quickly with the use of SLAMU roads and infrastructure equipment. The Area Warden Charles Simwawa and Tourism Ranger Moses Mukumbi went out of their way to ensure works are completed in the shortest time possible. The aircraft hangar should also soon be complete and lots of excitement is building as the pilot, Jerome Hugenot, is safely in Zambia too!
Air support, is one of the most effective conservation tools in Africa, and it has finally arrived in the South Luangwa! The fact that large carnivores and poachers can range over hundreds, if not thousands, of square kilometres and that ground-based work is extremely challenging and inefficient, in the words of Matt Becker, CEO of ZCP, the plane “completely changes the game for wildlife conservation in the Luangwa.”
You can read more here: ZCP Newsletter & SLCS Newsletter