Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More on Hammer Simwinga...

Hammer and the Mpika Elephant Hunters' graveyard...

In the early 70's while working in the Bangweulu for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, I employed someone to take care of the old elephant hunters' graveyard at Mpika boma, usually the responsibility of the Ranger, Mpika. But this being an old mazungu graveyard, when the former Rangers Poles and Les Allen had long since left, and I as well, it remain uncared for. In 2003, on my return to Zambia, I visited the site and found it completely overgrown, the aircraft propeller and the elephant bones which had lain so long on Charlie Ross's grave, missing, and gravestones lying hither an thither. I immediately hired 20 people with hoes and put them to work. At the end of the day, having finished the job, and admiring how good it all looked, a man came strolling along, quickening his pace suddenly while still some distance off.
"What has happened here? he inquired.
"We've just cleaned the old place up".
"But I wrote over a year ago to the Council, asking for permission to clear it, but they never replied. How did you get permission?"
"I didn't".
This was my first meeting with Hammer. Since then he has cared for the place, working on plans for an information centre, perhaps later a library. An unusual man this, I thought.

Zambian Honored for Grassroots Environmental Work

April 2007

The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1990 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his late wife Rhoda H. Goldman. The US$125,000 prize, now in its 18th year, is awarded annually to six grassroots environmental heroes and is the largest award of its kind in the world.

The Goldman Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. Prize winners participate in a 10-day tour of San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and presentation, news conferences, media briefings, and meetings with political, public policy and environmental leaders.

This year’s prize winner for Africa is Hammerskjoeld Simwinga, a 45 year old Zambian from Mpika in the Northern Province. Here is his story:

“Without a salary, outside funding or transport for almost a year, he kept his programs alive by visiting remote villages on foot, bicycle or catching lifts. He has helped locals realize the precious nature of their wildlife heritage and the fragile balance that can so easily be destroyed. He is a modern day hero.”
- Mark Owens, co-founder and co-president with Dr. Delia Owens, the North Luangwa Conservation Project (1986-1997) and the Owens Foundation for Wildlife Conservation.

Transforming Communities through Sustainable Development

In Zambia’s North Luangwa Valley, where rampant illegal wildlife poaching in the 1980s decimated the wild elephant population and left villagers living in extreme poverty, Hammerskjoeld Simwinga – known as Hammer – is utilizing innovative sustainable community development strategies to restore wildlife and transform this poverty stricken area.

Heading up the North Luangwa Wildlife Conservation and Community Development Programme (NLWCCDP), Simwinga protects the biodiversity of the North Luangwa National Park while simultaneously improving village life in the region through micro-lending, education, rural health programs and women’s empowerment.

Simwinga began working in the region with the US-funded North Luangwa Conservation Project in 1994, when local economies relied heavily on income from poaching. He helped villagers form “wildlife clubs” that used small business loans to provide basic goods, services and legal jobs as alternatives to working for the poachers. Each wildlife club was run as a free enterprise; village entrepreneurs were expected to repay their start-up loans.

Through the wildlife clubs, villagers opened small general stores and grinding mills, offering employment to millers, mechanics and bookkeepers. The program also assisted subsistence farmers with seed loans, transportation and technical assistance to help them grow protein-rich crops with better yields so they did not have to depend on meat from wild animals. Simwinga tied the entire project to protection of the wildlife, thus supplanting an illicit economy based on poaching with a legal one.

Simwinga’s tireless efforts have led to a dramatic transformation of the region. Income has increased one hundred-fold among the villagers and family food stocks have doubled. As a result, illegal elephant poaching is now 98 percent controlled and bush meat poaching is minimal. Wildlife has returned to the area, including elephants, hippos, buffalo and puku. Even critically endangered black rhinos have been reintroduced in the North Luangwa National Park by the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

The program now reaches more than 35,000 people and serves as a model for other sustainable development programs throughout the African continent.

Government Interference and Continuing Need for Support

Simwinga began his community development work with the North Luangwa Conservation Project (NLCP), a US-funded organization founded in 1986 by Dr. Delia and Mark Owens that trained local game scouts and worked with villages to rehabilitate and conserve the 6,200 square-kilometre North Luangwa National Park. In the 1980s the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) set regulations on, but did not ban, trade in ivory, resulting in years of massive elephant poaching in Africa; half of Africa’s 1.2 million wild elephants were killed between 1979 and 1989 and North Luangwa’s elephant population dropped from 17,000 to 1,300.

As the successes of NLCP’s work became apparent in the mid 1990s, powerful government officials and others capitalizing on poaching saw their profits dwindle with the slowdown in the illicit ivory and meat trade. In 1996, Zambian government officials arrived in Mpika and seized the NLCP offices; the entire project came to a halt. Within weeks the project was reopened but after a year of uncertainty, NLCP was turned over to a new management organization. They were unable to fund all of NLCP’s initiatives and quickly dropped support for all village development programs.

But Simwinga was undeterred. He worked tirelessly to keep the community development program moving forward, funding the project partially through loan repayments from villagers. For almost a year he worked alone with the communities, regularly walking 30 kilometres between villages. Slowly he pulled together a substantial Zambian non-government organization, NLWCCDP, and attracted small funding to keep the work alive. His challenge now is to manage the ever-growing demand for the project in neighboring regions and bolster financial support from the international community.

“Conservation of wildlife communities is not possible in the long term without simultaneously meeting the basic needs of the local human communities.”
- Hammer Simwinga

Compiled by Linda Shenton

Monday, April 23, 2007

OBITUARY: Rice Time c.1920 – 2006 (September).

Rice Time, gone now from our midst, was a hunter’s hunter: honest, good humoured, courageous, imbued with a keen intelligence and unshakable tenacity and fortitude; a man of integrity. He hunted, not for ivory or trophies – legal or illegal, but rather to protect farmers and villagers from wildlife depredations, following on in our Game Department the tradition set by the Provincial Administration of 1935 with the establishment of a Game Control Department (later known as the Game Department) - responsible for protecting people rather than wild animals, expanding in 1942 into the Department of Wildlife and Tsetse Control, and later when Rice and I worked together in 1966/67, the Department of Game and Fisheries, and later still in 1988/89, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Rice, a Tonga from the south bank of the Zambezi, had his start with Operation Noah during the flooding of the Zambezi at Kariba, a programme which rescued island-stranded wildlife on his ancestral lands and then released them on the mainland. Later, he moved to the Mazabuka farming block where he earned his spurs hunting down lion and leopard cattle killers, bushpig and baboons under the Vermin Control Officers, Johnny Uys and T.G. Murphy, earning the admiration of the Provincial Game Officer, Frank Ansell, and the gratitude of many farmers and villagers. Like most of the great fundis and game guards, he was without formal education.

In 1966, he was recruited by the Warden of Luangwa Command, Johnny Uys, to the Luangwa Game Cropping Unit at Kakumbi and assigned to me as my fundi. He spoke no English, and I no Chinyanja, so we prattled on in Chilapalapa – spoken then from Cape Town to Tanganyika. And like my great friend, Derek Macleod’s fundi, Nelson Chilangwa – well known for his assistance to Norman Carr in the rearing of a few lion and a trip to London to publicize Norman’s book ‘Return to the Wild, he proved to be a goldmine of bush lore and utterly fearless and dependable. Only the best fundis sufficed, for the work was arduous and highly dangerous as it involved killing complete elephant herds by day with dart guns, and to begin with, hippo on foot at night. In the first rainy season, we all went briefly our separate ways, deployed by the Warden, Johnny Uys, on game control work of one sort or another, although it was the Senior Ranger, Les Allen, who sent Rice off to deal with garden raiders with 29 rounds of ammunition. He returned at the end of the rains with 29 elephant tails.

As the cropping work involved a great deal of running – not always forward, through the bush after elephant with ten 20 cc syringes clutched in the hand, and the Game Department being loth to revert to the use of firearms, fearing the disturbance factor, I suggested to the then Chief Game Officer, Bill Bainbridge, that when MacLeod and I left, that Rice and Nelson should take over the cropping. This was agreed to. I then trained them in the use of the dart guns, in the handling of the drug – a rather unforgiving neuro-muscular blocking agent for which no antidote existed, but for some reason replacements were brought in, one being the highly experienced Rob Backus, but other candidates were uninspiring. Rice and Nelson merely carried on as before. When I saw Rice a year later, he recounted some of his experiences, laughing and shaking his head at the scrapes he had been lead into.

The cropping scheme closed in 1972, the thousand or so elephant shot a paltry dent in the
100, 000 whom it was feared would severely alter the floristic diversity of the Luangwa. The following year began the killing fields, in the case of the elephant, a repeat of the depredations a hundred years before by the hunters in the employ of the Tete based ivory traders.

In 1970, Rice assisted Johnny Uys – then Chief Game Warden, in conducting the Crown Prince Birendra of Nepal and his wife, Princess Aiswarya, on a hunt at Luwawata in the Luangwa, the Prince’s father, King Mahendra, hunting with Peter Hankin. This Eton and Harvard educated Prince was without luck for the safari was a disaster of massive proportions, and seven years after his coronation in 1974, his son killed both him and his wife and a number of family members.

In 1988/89, Rice - now retired, and I were re-united in the doomed task of saving the last few black rhino left in Zambia: the plan being to fence off a large patch of land on the Mushilashi river in the South Luangwa National Park, and there to translocate the last pockets of rhino left in the country since the onset of the killing fields in 1973. Rice soon set to work and after a few weeks in the bush alone, found fourteen rhino in and around the Chendeni Hills, not far from the headquarters of the Luangwa Integrated Rural Development Project. Other surviving rhino were noted for future rescue work. But those in power refused to allow the Chendeni rhino either to be moved or to be placed in a sanctuary; they were safe we were told. Inevitably, within a few years they were all dead.

I found other work for Rice: training guards in the Kasanka National Park and ending his career with Kapani lodge, becoming a great favourite on walking trails with the great, the good and the balmy. Rice, in a long and adventurous life, had two wives, 16 children, 30 grandchildren and 10 great-grand children, a remarkable achievement in itself. I hope they will carry the memory of his integrity with them.

Chief Nyawa is dead...

I am told that the present Chief Nyawa is hale and hearty, the newspaper article referring to the previous incumbent, who died in 1996

Friday, April 06, 2007

OBITUARY: J.B. Shenton of the Kafue National Park (1929 - 2007)

John Barry Shenton was born on the 30th April 1929 in Eshowe Zululand. His father “Shen” had moved to South Africa from Leicester, UK as a baby with his grandparents in search of a new life in the gold reefs of Johannesburg in 1894 and Shen followed his father as a mining engineer up to the Great War. Captain John Lindsay Shenton “Shen” came back from Europe to a cattle/cotton farm. Barry’s mother Pat was a strong-willed Scot of third generation in South Africa. By 1936 the cotton had done well but the cattle had been decimated by Nagana, the deadly tsetse disease and when Shen joined the Parks Board, the family moved to Hluhluwe game reserve that year until the time they trekked north to Zambia in 1948. The conflict between the three small game reserves in Zululand and the livestock escalated because of Nagana and at one time the game department were given orders to shoot all the wild animals to prevent further spread. Barry and his younger brother Bob became good hunters until Shen organized six Martins bombers to spray DDT up to the boundaries of the reserves and this stopped the tsetse conflict. Barry served for a couple of years in the Natal Parks Board before accompanying his parents to Northern Rhodesia where Pat farmed chickens for eggs while the two men opened up a virgin piece of land in Mazabuka. It is remarkable that the eggs were sent by train to the Copperbelt with the train guard, and the money and the boxes returned on the next train.

Times were tough with the first crop yielding 35 bags of maize, so Barry joined Bert Schultz as a professional hunter in the newly formed Northern Rhodesia Game Department in 1950 on the Government Controlled Hunting scheme in Luangwa Valley. Wealthy overseas clients would pay to hunt wildlife on Chief Nsefu’s reserve and the profits were given to the chief to develop his area – a system not unlike today’s Community Resource Boards. These early rangers became testers for Mr. Bata who would come out every year with shoes modified for the tough environment in Luangwa. Barry ended up with a cupboard full of shoes like Imelda Marcos- rope soles, tall mosquito boots, and many versions of the “veld skons” that most bush people preferred in the end. These shoes were nick-named “brothel creepers”. The first camp they built, Nsefu, survived the floods this year, for the 57th time while many other newer structures have been washed away over the years, a testimony to the quality of service offered by those early government workers.

Barry spent an exciting four years hunting in the dry season and controlling elephant in the wet season by shooting crop raiding bulls in the villages around eastern province. He had grown up fluent in Zulu and now learnt ChiNyanja. Over the next five years Barry was a full time ranger opening up the west bank of the Luangwa game reserve to tourism and also postings to Kabompo, Kasempa and Lundazi where he built the Nyika Lodge on the 8000ft plateau.

In late 1958, the council gave the game department just eleven months to open up Kafue National Park to tourism, failing which the area would lose its status and be re-settled. Norman Carr selected Barry and Johnny Uys to help him and over a very hectic year, they managed to open up 900km of road and build Ngoma Lodge and two bush camps under very challenging conditions. Roads were surveyed on foot and cleared behind by hand to then be smoothed with a railway line triangle pulled behind a Landrover. Bridges were built with rock and concrete around 44-gallon drum forms, all carted by an old three ton Morris truck via Namwala. The Morris chassis eventually broke, and it was repaired with a mopane pole wrapped with wet buffalo hide - good enough to finish the job. By the end of 1959, the game department had won its challenge, and Zambia’s biggest National Park was open to visitors. Barry was a painfully shy man in those days but dedicated to duty, efficiency and discipline and was promoted to Warden of KNP in 1964, while his parents ran Ngoma Lodge.

One of the visitors in the dry season of 1961 was a pretty Swedish nurse who had settled at a mission hospital in eastern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and escorted her visiting parents to KNP in an old Morris they had bought for the journey. The car developed a problem and Barry took four days to fix it, by which time he had proposed her for marriage and in 1963, their first son Rolf was born. Marianne loved the bush and moved to KNP to become his lifelong partner, bearing three sons and a favourite daughter, Allison who lives in Livingstone. Marianne, always a socialist, a nurse and a great traveller, mellowed Barry’s colonial past and shyness and he adapted positively to the new Zambia when droves of Europeans left.

By 1970, Zambians were ready to take over the Game Department, and Barry retired to manage brother Bob’s farm in Mazabuka. He attacked this job with the same vigour and determination as always and within two years produced the first crop of tomatoes on top of seed maize and cotton. The first half of the crop was given away in the Mazabuka market as no-one had the taste for this new fruit. Suddenly the taste caught on and Barry couldn’t produce enough for the next few years. He also introduced potatoes to Mazabuka’s growing list of produce and used to sell them off the back of the truck in Lusaka’s city market. Barry was always up- to-date with new ideas and bought a new diesel Mercedes from Germany in 1969 forseeeing the fuel crisis. This car is still driving around Lusaka.

In 1982, Barry finally managed to buy his own farm in Mkushi and again adjusted quickly to the new environment. He proved, at 53, that one is never too old to start a new life and became one of Zambia’s biggest seed growers, both in soya and maize. Barry diversified whenever opportunities arose, and ran a borehole drilling rig, contract harvested maize, and built Kaingo Safari Lodge in South Luangwa National Park in 1992 with his son, Derek. In 1994, when the Great North Road was almost impassable, he began his last major project: The Forest Inn. Friends and family advised him that it was a bad time to build with all the uncertainty, but as usual he responded by saying he might not have the energy to start later and that the road would be fixed sooner or later, and so he did it anyway! The well-appointed, peaceful Forest Inn has become the place to stay for almost all visitors to Mkushi with all creeds and colours welcome for business or leisure.

Barry slipped quietly away on the 21st of March in his bed surrounded by his wife and children, surely a satisfied man, having beaten all his life’s challenges, including a first cancer fifteen years ago. Youngest son, Clive will continue managing the farm and the Forest Inn. His children and grandchildren have continued his sense of nation building, social conscience and sustainable resource management.

Rolf Shenton