The Mutulanganga Important Bird Areas Conservation and Community Eco-Tourism Initiatives project is one of the numerous success stories of biodiversity conservation in Zambia. Spearheaded by the Zambian Ornithological Society, a local Zambian NGO, and in collaboration with the Zambia Wildlife Authority as well as other local conservation groups (Site Support Groups), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded this project through the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), which is implemented by UNDP. The project commenced in November 2009 and was completed by May 2011. Of the total project cost of US$ 53,551, GEF SGP provided funding of US$ 39,500, while the remaining balance was raised as co- financing by the implementing organization and the community through their participation. The project was designed to also complement the efforts of Bird Life International, which aims to identify and protect a global network of sites that are critical for the long-term survival of all bird species and their habitats.
The project is situated in the Siavonga District in Southern Zambia, about 120 Kilometers from the capital Lusaka. Prior to project implementation, the Mutulanganga Important Bird Area (IBA) covered approximately 27,000 hectares with a third of this area under partial protection as a local forest reserve, while the remaining area was open forest under the jurisdiction of two Chiefdoms or traditional rulers of communities located on this land. The Mutulanganga Important Bird Area is "probably the largest remaining block of undisturbed lowland deciduous thicket in Zambia" (P. Leonard, Zambian Ornithological Society, 2005) and is the fifth largest IBA in the country.
Of the estimated 753 bird species migrating globally every year, 600 species are predominantly Afro-tropical migrants. Being located in one of the tropical regions in the world, Zambia has a comparatively rich avifauna and numerous indigenous forests. This rich forest provides the necessary sanctuary for both migrating and non-migrating birds.
As a response to bird migrations, the Mutulanganga Important Bird Areas Conservation and Community Eco-Tourism Initiatives were promoted mainly to protect and conserve certain areas prescribed as natural habitats of a large number of bird species from massive logging activities and charcoal burning. For this purpose, the project formulated local laws in collaboration with the community to prohibit access to the protected IBA without permission. In order to sustain the programme, a policy was put in place to encourage community members who cut trees to plant new ones. Compliance with this policy is facilitated through the presence of a community conservancy group, which monitors activities within the area. The Zambian Ornithological Society has continued to offer back stopping support to the Site Support Groups and encourages participatory assessment and planning for conservation of the area. To increase awareness of the negative impacts of unsustainable logging and charcoal burning, advocacy campaigns are carried out with the support of the two local school clubs, traditional leaders (community representatives) and the support groups directly linked to the initiative.
The primary objective of this project was the expansion of protected area for migrating bird species. Due to the importance of the IBA, the project embarked on vigorous lobbying for additional land. The two chiefs gave enormous pieces of land as part of their community contribution to the project. Furthermore, the logging project that was earmarked to take place in the adjacent land was stopped with the support of the Zambian government and other stakeholders. The land was included in the project area for the greater benefit of the community. The project was also tailored to contribute to the improvement of livelihoods of local communities through conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It promoted community ownership by incorporating traditional practices and encouraging self-financing and self-management for community development through increased trade of handicrafts.
Through the successful implementation of this project, the area of the IBA has more than doubled, to 62,000 hectares. This has provided an additional 35,000 hectares of undisturbed natural habitat for migrating birds and other species in the region as well as contributing substantially to biodiversity conservation in the country and hence to global environmental benefits. The project has also increased the area's potential to provide a range of sustainable livelihoods for the local community. The community now has access to a variety of indigenous forest trees from which they can produce crafts while harvesting these forest products in a sustainable manner as promoted through the project. The project promotes the development and marketing of the craft industry led by local women and supports eco-tourism development through the establishment of a community eco-camp, which is also instrumental in raising awareness about the area and its biodiversity. Overall, the project has provided direct socio-economic benefits to 222 women, 158 men and 240 youths in the project area.