Rufunsa Conservancy Biodiversity Update: Active Lions

On Monday September 16th, Rufunsa Conservancy Wildlife Scouts reported seeing lion tracks at the road junction to the Headquarters, just 1km from the new tourism campsite that we have built. They saw the tracks of four adult lions heading north east and then on Tuesday, they found tracks in the same area heading south, back towards Lower Zambezi National Park. This is now the second time we have picked up active lion spoor in the area but it is not surprising bearing in mind that the Mwambeshi River is the only source of water in this whole section of the escarpment right now.

 

We do not have any information on these lions and there are no historical records to work with that may indicate whether lions are normally active here at this time of year. We are encouraged to think that all the wildlife is benefitting from our full time presence in the area but it is still early in the project’s life and there is no real baseline data to draw from. So, when our scouts on a patrol picked up lion spoor again on September 21st and reported that they had found the site of a lion kill, we got very interested.

 

The lions had killed a sable within the last few days and the carcass was just off the road along the Mwambeshi River right on the boundary of Rufunsa Conservancy and Lower Zambezi National Park. The sable was an old adult bull with huge sweeping horns and a very black coat. It is unfortunate that such a magnificent specimen was the meal that they chose but it is possible that he was very old and starting to lose condition and that is why he fell prey.

 

The tracks of at least three lions were sighted around the kill, one of which was a youngster, perhaps only a year or so old. The other two lion tracks were from mature animals, possibly one male and one female. The sable was killed next to the road and disembowelled and then dragged into a nearby thicket where they would have finished the meal in relative comfort. This is encouraging for us on a couple of different levels. Firstly that lions are active in the area and making kills which hopefully will anchor them here for a while longer and secondly to know that there are still some very old magnificent male sable around in this Conservancy. The site of the kill was about 800 metres from our new tourism campsite so hopefully there will be a real live lion sighting by real live tourists on Rufunsa Conservancy before the year is out.

— By Dorian Tilbury, Rufunsa Conservancy, Project Manager

Lion Kill

Wildlife Scout Elias Phiri with the sable carcass.

BCP Trust receives VIGOR Grant from USAID

BCP Trust is thrilled to announce that we have received a grant through USAID/Zambia’s Various Incentive-based Grant Opportunities and Rewards (VIGOR) program. The grant will support BCP’s “Conservation, Poverty and Greener Rural Economies” Program, which includes a variety of community-based deforestation mitigation activities to be implemented by the Trust within the project zone for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.

 

Specific project activities supported by VIGOR will include:

 

1) The expansion of BCP’s Sustainable Eco-Charcoal Project, which creates incentives for rural producers to adopt sustainable charcoal production techniques in place of current unsustainable practices.

2) The intensification of BCP’s Village Chicken Project (VCP), which is designed to improve local food security and provide an alternative source of income.

3) The expansion of BCP’s Conservation Farming Training Program (CFTP), which is designed to improve local food security, promote agricultural income as an alternative livelihood strategy, and reduce deforestation caused by inefficient farming practices that require farmers to continuously expand and clear new areas to farm.

4) The launch of the Community Livestock Worker (CLW) Program, which is designed to improve local livestock health and promote access to livestock care and support services.

5) The launch of an intensive Environmental Education Program, as part of BCP’s School Support Program, which is designed to improve local access to quality education, educational facilities, and environmental education opportunities.

6) The launch of forest-compatible alternative Income Generating Activities, including a Mushroom Production Project 
(pilot), Dried Fruit Project (pilot), and Honey Production Project (pilot). These projects are designed to improve local food security and provide participants with alternative sources of income, as well as create incentives for participants to protect local areas of forest that support them.

7) The launch of a pilot Biodiversity Banking Scheme, which is designed to create incentives and channel direct benefits from forest protection activities to local communities, as well as to build local capacity to engage in Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) activities and benefit-sharing structures—important pre-cursors to any REDD+ project taking place on community forest.

All of these activities, supported through VIGOR, are designed to improve local livelihoods, to develop and promote alternative income-generating activities that can replace rural incomes from deforestation, to promote forest protection and to reduce deforestation taking place in Lusaka Province, Zambia.

The grant implementation period for VIGOR is expected to run until July 2014. During this time, the BCP Trust will use funds received through VIGOR to support community projects that involve over 450 individuals in forest-compatible alternatives, promote the adoption of new technologies, and result in improved forest protection practices taking place on at least 2,000 hectares of community forest. These activities will all support BCP’s overall aim of reducing emissions caused by deforestation, by addressing (and reducing) local drivers of deforestation, such as poverty and lack of access to alternatives.

The activities supported through VIGOR have been identified by local stakeholders as the sorts of project activities that would benefit from local support, cooperation and legitimacy, which could be reasonably expected to address local drivers of deforestation. All of the project activities supported through BCP Trust’s VIGOR grant will be directly and indirectly linked to forest protection, specifically through the use of BCP’s innovative “Community Covenants,” which document that project participants agree to cooperate in BCP’s forest protection efforts connected to the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.

BCP Trust is extremely excited about this opportunity to expand and intensify our existing project activities, and to launch new activities, as a result of this grant “from the American people.” We are also excited to be among the first local organizations in Zambia to receive a direct grant from USAID/Zambia, as part of recent efforts through “USAID Forward” to promote sustainable development through increased direct investment to local partner organizations. We very much hope to be a part of this “new model,” and to demonstrate that direct partnerships and investments can effectively and sustainably promote local development.

Please continue to check our blog and facebook for more information and updates about BCP Trust project activities supported by VIGOR.

Horizontal_RGB_600THIS POSTING IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE GENEROUS SUPPORT OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THROUGH THE UNITED STATES AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (USAID). THE CONTENTS ARE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE BIOCARBON PARTNERS (BCP) TRUST AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF USAID OR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.

School Support: Chilimba School Updates

On September 2nd, BCP’s technical team from the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project went to Chilimba Community School to assist with repairs and maintenance. In conjunction with school staff and some community members, they repaired 17 school desks and fixed two classroom doors. A new door was hung on one of the classrooms and the headmaster took the opportunity to clean out his storeroom and get his office in order for the start of the new school year.

Chilimba is a community zone adjacent to Rufunsa Conservancy, the project area for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.  Chilimba Community School is one of two community schools located within the project zone, adjacent to Rufunsa Conservancy—both of these schools receive on-going assistance through the BCP Trust School Support Program, which is designed to improve access to higher quality education and to promote awareness about environmental issues among youths living within the project zone for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.

In contrast to “government” schools, “community” schools, such as the Chilimba School, receive very limited government support, and the school continues to exist and run through irregular, and often limited, contributions from local community members. As a result, teacher salaries are often low, and erratic.  This has an effect on teacher performance, school care and ‘ownership’, and these problems consequentially negatively affect student attendance rates.  Additionally, although the school structure itself was constructed as a “donation” from a mining company that was formerly active within the area, in the years since the classrooms were constructed, the buildings have become damaged due to lack of care and maintenance, and vandalism. School equipment, such as desks, windows, doors and blackboards, have been vandalized, as the school has increasingly been used as a local beer hall. Unfortunately, not even the local Headmaster and teacher have been able to protect the school, as they were formerly rumoured to be part of the local drinking community that would use the classrooms at night.

As part of its community engagement strategy, BCP Trust is now co-funding teacher salaries, with the aim of encouraging community investment in schools, raising teaching standards and improving teacher morale, and thereby addressing problems of irregular attendance and poor motivation. BCP Trust Teacher Salary Support payments are conditional on performance and co-funding from local communities; BCP Trust support includes explicit requirements that teachers regularly teach classes during school days, and specify that funding will be withheld in the event that any teachers are found or reported to skipping classes or drinking during school hours (which is an unfortunately common problem we have encountered). Institutionally, through the School Support Program, BCP Trust is engaging more regularly and more meaningfully with the members of the local Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), with the intention of promoting self-help and organization. It is our aim to work closely with the PTA to ensure that the School Support Program continues to run effectively and in the best interests of local students.

As such, the infrastructure investments and improvements that were undertaken by members of BCP’s technical team earlier this month were designed to demonstrate BCP’s seriousness in supporting and improving local schools, to promote PTA awareness and engagement in the School Support Program, and to protect students’ access to quality educational facilities. In particular, by providing improved locks to classroom doors, BCP hopes to reduce future acts of vandalism, and to ensure that investments such as repaired desks are maintained to the benefit of local students.

Since the inception of the Teacher Salary Support Program in May 2013, BCP staff members have already remarked notable differences in teacher support and behaviour during the school day: although it was formerly a common occurrence to encounter school staff drunk (or absent) during school days, recent visits and reports have shown drastic improvements in teacher morale and behaviour. In Chilimba, two additional teachers have been hired—and paid for—by the local community, to support the two very overworked teachers who used to run the school. BCP has received no further reports of drunkenness during school hours, and we have not witnessed such behaviour during our (sometimes unannounced) site-visits. The local Headmaster dedicated himself to revamping and caring for the School Fruit Orchard, which was planted in February 2013, through a partnership between the local Forestry Department Officer, the local community of Chilimba, and BCP Trust. BCP is now looking forward to launching an improved environmental education program in both community schools, beginning January 2014, and to supporting local football teams as a way of linking environmental education outreach to popular sporting events.

BCP Trust’s School Support Program is connected to BCP’s overall community sensitization efforts, which are designed to link community “improvement” projects such as these to local cooperation in forest protection, reducing poaching and avoiding encroachment of the REDD+ project area, Rufunsa Conservancy.

Next Steps: Chilimba School needs further assistance with repairing a broken borehole pump, replacing two classroom doors, and repairing an additional 20 desks. Please contact BCP Trust if you are interested in supporting the Chilimba Community School as part of the Trust’s School Support Program.

Chilimba 4

Representatives from the local community and BCP’s technical team pose after completing important desk and door repairs, in early September, at the Chilimba School.

CHI SCHOOL 1

Prior to the launch of the School Support Program, BCP representatives frequently found school officials drinking, smoking and listening to the radio in or near to the classrooms, even during school hours. (See below)

Chilimba 2

CHI SCHOOL 2

Since the beginning of 2013, BCP has worked closely with PTA members, teachers, and local community members in Chilimba to improve students’ access to quality education and educational facilities. Following the launch of the School Support Program, BCP has seen many positive changes in the school staff and community. Here, the local Headmaster (pictured above, drinking during school hours, at school) poses with local students he enlisted to help revamp, replant and care for the School Fruit Orchard that was planted in early 2013, as part of a partnership between the local community, Forestry Department, and BCP Trust. BCP representatives have not seen the Headmaster behave inappropriately since the beginning of 2013, when the program began.

BCP partners with BetterWorld Energy (BWE) to launch community-based bioenergy project

BCP and BetterWorld Energy (BWE), a start-up bioenergy company in Zambia, have partnered to launch a community-based bioenergy project on areas of degraded community forest within the Project Zone for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project. The project will involve rural communities in the planting of drought-resistant, high-yielding Millettia Pinnata plants (VayuSapTM) provided by EEP project partners Vayugrid on areas of degraded community forest, with the aim to producing bioenergy sources.

The project is designed to benefit rural producers firstly through the creation of jobs and also by providing them access to affordable energy supplies and organic fertilizers to boost local agricultural productivity on existing farmland. These are key interventions that are anticipated to address the major drivers of deforestation in the area, which include poverty and lack of access to energy. By planting Nitrogen-fixing trees on degraded and deforested land, the project is also intended to protect and rehabilitate soils.

Long-term objectives of the project include: increased production of renewable energy, creation of rural jobs and increased incomes from agriculture, empowerment of women, development of alternatives to charcoal, rehabilitation of degraded and deforested community land, and development of climate resilient income sources.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Energy and Environment Program (EEP)— which is financed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Austrian Development Cooperation and the UK Department for International Development (DFID)—the project is now set to begin a 12-month feasibility study, which will assess the location and availability of appropriate areas of degraded community forest, as well as to assess which types of possible technology supplies best match production supplies and energy services for participating communities within the Project Zone. The project is capable of generating energy feedstock capable of providing liquid fuels, solid fuels and producer gas, as well as organic fertilizers, and in the future other high-value derivatives.

The purpose of this feasibility study is to explore the potential that this project has to benefit rural producers and to generate viable alternative energy sources in Zambia. Similar projects have been successfully launched in India through Vayugrid Marketplace Services Pvt. Ltd, a social enterprise committed to building community-based bioenergy and biofuel supply chains within rural communities, government and industry. Vayugrid have committed to bring their knowledge and experiences to this partnership in Zambia.

For more information about Better World Energy, please visit: http://betterworldenergy.org/, or find them on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Betterworld-Energy/461212197265413

EEPProject financed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Austrian Development Cooperation and the UK Department for International Development (DFID)

Biodiversity Returning to Rufunsa Conservancy: Update

Miombo is an ambiguous term. Any woodland type that has a representation of Brachystegia, Julbernadia or Isoberlinia can be termed miombo. The combined number of species within these genera is more than twenty but if just one is present then the whole woodland type is typified by them. Even if there are a hundred other species, just one of these determines the classification of the whole system.

 

I have worked in many forms of miombo woodland and the most striking feature of the miombo in Rufunsa for me is Brachystegia Spiciformis. It is not uncommon for Spiciformis to dominate, but here there are specimens that are grand and towering, over thirty metres tall with trunks as solid as concrete pillars. The variation in soil type also means that within a cluster of Spiciformis all of the same height, some are thin and spindly whilst others are robust and heavy set. The bark on the trunks varies as well, a feature of their age and to the untrained eye, the variation can make them look like completely distinct species. In the Luangwa valley Mopane dominates part of the landscape and is referred to as Cathedral. Here in Rufunsa, there are places where the Spiciformis should have the same regal delineation of ‘Cathedral miombo’.

 

At first, all that stands out in Rufunsa are the trees. Endless rolling hills covered in vegetation that is vibrant and green after the rainy season. No one can doubt the importance of the trees but sometimes the featureless landscape and the limited vision becomes claustrophobic and you find yourself longing for a view of something different. But then you get on top of a hill and above the tree line and it all seems to make perfect sense. As far as the eye can see trees stretch on and on – into the near, middle and far distance.

 

As time goes by though the other characters of this landscape come out on display. The flowers of Monotes and Cassia in their brilliant reds and yellows, various shrubs and suffrutices that blossom after the first burns go through, Syzigiums along drainage lines burst with white scented blooms and then from July onwards, the miombo flush that is 2 months of shifting reds, yellows, orange and green. Fires sweep through, some as controlled burns, others that creep in from outside and turn everything black. But within a couple of weeks, fresh shoots sprout up and there is deep green, purple, red and yellow shooting out of the ash.

 

The bird life is constant as well. A new one for me is the spotted creeper which has been darting amongst the trees through our camp. Schallow’s turacos with their rasping calls, half collared kingfisher sweeping up the river, familiar chats that are just that – familiar and everywhere. Wood owls hooting at night, scopps owl, barn owl, fiery necked nightjar all contributing to the evening calls. Raptors are not so easy to see but gymnogene is sometimes present in the forest and lizard buzzards call throughout the day. And the dawn chorus of the Heuglin’s robin just reminds you that you are in miombo in Zambia.

 

We have had unusual mammal sightings as well. A pair of Cape Clawless otters chasing each other across the lawn in front of camp, baboons around, in and through the camp constantly (my guess is that they are Chacma but some do look yellow) and a pair of grey duiker that were so calm I could watch them for 5 minutes before driving on. Bushbuck are very vocal but hard to see and whilst we have captured roan and sable on the camera trap I had not yet seen any, until I saw 19 this morning by the Conservancy campsite. There is always fresh spoor of leopard, civet and genet and occasionally hyena tracks on the road. Then one morning in August, two lions called about two kilometres from camp. First they called at 05:45am and then again at 06:00. That is when we all knew – things could start to get very interesting around here!  National Geographic’s edition of August 2013 contains a riveting yet haunting article on African lions given their population declines.  The Lower Zambezi ecosystem is ranked 10th as a landscape where lions have a long terms chance of survival.  Rufunsa Conservancy aims to build up prey species through forest management, law enforcement and enhanced community engagement.  This effort will hopefully contribute to this area becoming more of a sanctuary for endangered species like lion.

 

— Written by Dorian Tilbury, Project Manager for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project

P1070515

BCP Tourism Campsite Opens

**Please note that the campsite is currently closed until 2017 while BCP works to upgrade the campsites.**

BioCarbon Partners is proud to announce the opening of a tourism campsite in Rufunsa Conservancy. The campsite is on the banks of the Mwambashi River overlooking Lower Zambezi National Park. The junction to the campsite is approximately 40kms off the Great East Road at the Sinjela turn off towards Lower Zambezi National Park (approximately 100kms from Lusaka) on an all-weather, mostly graded road. The site itself is only one kilometer off the main road into the National Park.

The campsite has a flush toilet and hot shower fed by a 200 litre water drum. There are cleared bays for 4 tents in the thicket vegetation and a central dining / lapa / fireplace area that is terraced with a concrete floor. There is ample shade and a cleared termite mound in the middle of the site which creates an elevated platform from which to watch the sunset.

There is a natural salt lick about half a kilometer from the campsite that attracts roan, sable, warthog, baboon, bushbuck, duiker and porcupine. The spoor of leopard and hyena have also been seen regularly in the area and there are nightly visits to the camp by civet, genet and thick tailed bushbaby. Side striped jackal have been heard yipping in the early hours of the morning and in August, two male lions were heard calling at sunrise very close to the campsite.

Tourists are free to hike from the site and guides can be hired from the Conservancy Camp 2kms away. Prior bookings for these activities are preferred. There are a number of interesting walks and hill climbs in close proximity and the absence of large game like elephant make this an ideal location for hiking or mountain biking. For those less inclined to physical exercise, the dambo across the river attracts small game and the birding around camp includes Schallow’s turaco, half collared kingfisher, African finfoot and a host of miombo species to keep interested birders satisfied.

FOR BOOKINGS, PLEASE CONTACT OUR PARTNERS WWW.CAMPZAMBIA.COM.

 

— Written by Dorian Tilbury, Project Manager, Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project

Ablutions

Facilities at the LZRP campsite, located at the Rufunsa Conservancy.

Communal Area

The view from the campsite, overlooking the Lower Zambezi National Park.