Operation Save Lechwe

IN a quest to stop illegal poaching in the Lochinvar National Park in Monze, which is putting the highly-prized lechwe at risk of extinction, a joint operation of law enforcement agencies has removed hundreds of people who have been illegally living in the park. The lechwe is a rare wildlife species which is only found in the Kafue Flats [Lochinvar National Park] in Monze, world-over.

Early this year, Southern Province Minister Edify Hamukale unearthed a scam of a cartel of senior civil servants, civic leaders, traditional leaders and National Parks and Wildlife officers who are allegedly illegally poaching 15 to 20 lechwe per day in the Lochinvar National Park, leading to a drastic reduction of the species. The people removed from the park were living in makeshift structures with others were conducting illegal fishing activities and poaching. Southern Province Permanent Secretary Mwangala Liomba said in an interview yesterday that the operation, which is aimed at stopping illegalities in the park, started on Friday.

Mr Liomba said the operations team merely asked the people to leave the park and no one was beaten or had their house burnt. “No one’s house was burnt and, besides, there were no houses but makeshift structures for fishermen and those who have just been doing poaching activities,” Mr Liomba said. The permanent secretary said the displaced people had been asked on numerous occasions to vacate the park but to no avail.

“Even last week, they were told to vacate the park because of the problem of poaching which is going-on in Lochinvar National Park, thereby, threatening the lechwe. “But when they saw the helicopter, some of them started running around because they were warned severally to vacate the park,” he said. Mr Liomba said Government wants to protect the remaining species of the lechwe. The lechwe population has been declining for some time now as the country had over 60,000 animals in the Kafue Flats in the 70s but is now below 18,000.

The permanent secretary said some reports suggesting that only people from Muchinga, Luapula and Northern provinces have been evicted from the park are false, as no one was being targeted. And Ministry of Tourism and Arts Permanent Secretary Howard Sikwela has directed the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to establish the number of people who were removed the restricted area. Reverend Sikwela said in a separate interview that the department should furnish the nation with what exactly transpired in the operation.