American Zoologists Mark and Delia Owens tell the tale of their efforts in conserving the North Luangwa Park of Zambia and saving the elephants through helping the local people of the area.
By Laura Tate / Editor
Although North Luangwa National Park in Zambia is not open to the public at large (access is by booking a walking safari with one of a few operators allowed into the park since 1984 when the first people in 30 years other than Game Department rangers were allowed to conduct such tours), poaching of elephants and rhinoceroses has always been a major problem at the park. Mark and Delia Owens, who set up a research facility at the park in 1986, found that more 1,000 elephants per year were being poached at the park, and all the black rhinoceroses had been wiped out by Zambians who live nearby. Taking action to protect the animals and the park, they established the North Luangwa Conservation Project to rehabilitate and conserve the 2,400-square-mile North Luangwa National Park of Zambia. Through the NLCP, they began a community development program, establishing small sustainable businesses that provided basic goods and services to the local people and alternative legal jobs to poachers. Start-up loans helped the villagers to set up free enterprises to make a living in a legal, sustainable way. Also, the Owens decided that educational outreach-to the very children of the poachers themselves would be the way to help stem the tide of slaughter of the elephants in the future.
The ultimate goal of the NLCP was to establish a low-impact tourism industry, so the local people of Luangwa Valley could have legal alternative means of employment and income.
The Owens report on their Web site, www.owens-foundation.org, that from September of 1994 to May of 1997, not one elephant was killed in the project area, and, for the first time in 20 years, there was a slight increase in the elephant population.
The Owens’ protégé, Zambian Hammer Simwinga, continues their work today at the park.
The two tell the story of their efforts in conserving the park and saving the elephants in the book, “Secrets of the Savanna.” They will appear at Diesel, A Bookstore June 14 at 7 p.m. to discuss and sign copies of their book.