Memory Shakoi has an engaging smile. Dressed in a colorful chitenge—the simple cloth wrap that women wear for a skirt in Zambia—she seems like any other young woman in the village.
But Shakoi is in fact a village scout employed by WWF Zambia. Living in the Imosho district of Zambia, she is on the lookout for poachers, in particular elephant poachers. The area is sparsely populated—there are only a few sandy tracks connecting the settlements within the district—and one of these tracks leads to the Namibian border.
No river separates Zambia and Namibia, just a line on the map. On both sides of the border are trees, elephants—and poachers. Elephants roam this area without borders, so anti-poaching teams in both countries must work together. Through WWF’s community conservation projects, Shakoi is supporting these cross-border anti-poaching efforts.
This is also a place where rumors often travel faster than vehicles. There are radio masts above the trees and twice a week, sometimes more, the contacts in Imosho and in the neighboring Kwandu conservancy in Namibia are in contact to discuss wildlife movements and possible threats. It was using this system Shakoi was able to follow through on an elephant poaching tip she received.
With the information she gathered, Shakoi and another woman from the village set up a road block to stop a car in which three men were trying to smuggle a haul of elephant tusks from Zambia into Namibia. The two women successfully detained the men and turned them over to the Zambian Wildlife Authority.
Opportunities to protect species and employ women like Shakoi abound within the newly declared KAZA conservation area. Encompassing 109 million acres and crossing five southern Africa countries—Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe—KAZA is the largest transboundary conservation area in the world. It is home to 44 percent of Africa’s total elephant population as well as hippos, rhinos, lions, cheetahs and leopards.
Local people are getting involved in community conservation projects across KAZA because the benefits are so positive. Some of the benefits include:
WWF is working with governments and partners in the area to increase the participation of local communities in natural resource management and contribute to species conservation and cross-border land-use planning.
Photo © Sandra Mbanefo Obiago / WWF-Canon