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Conservation South Luangwa: Protecting elephants

In the eastern region of the country of Zambia, in southern Africa, lies the Luangwa Valley. This vast wilderness is home to iconic wildlife, including lions, leopards, zebras, giraffes, and large herds of elephants. To preserve and protect this natural paradise, the South Luangwa National Park was established. South Luangwa National Park was established to ensure this objective. One species at the forefront of these challenges is one of Africa’s most iconic animals: the African bush elephant. 

Historically, the African bush elephant was classified with its smaller cousin, the African forest elephant, as a single species listed as Vulnerable. But recent data on wild populations has led to a separation of the two species. In March of 2021, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the African bush elephant as Endangered and the African forest elephant as Critically Endangered. This separation will allow wildlife scientists to tailor conservation efforts more specifically to the unique needs of each species. 

The biggest danger to all African elephants is from poaching for their ivory tusks. Other threats include snares to trap animals for the bushmeat trade, as well as wildlife trafficking of animals and their parts in illegal markets. But poaching and wildlife trafficking are not the only issues facing the elephants of the Luangwa Valley. Habitat loss and decreased food availability have driven elephants closer to local communities who depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods. Known for their huge appetites, elephants will see crops as an easy food source and will often raid fields, resulting in a loss of income for the communities. 

To address these issues, Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) was established in 2003 in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife of Zambia. This non-profit organization uses methods such as anti-poaching patrols, snare removal, aerial surveillance, and trained detection dogs to locate wildlife contraband. They also take measures to reduce human-wildlife conflict, such as planting chili peppers to deter elephants from crops, building elephant-safe grain stores, and a new “smelly fence” deterrent which has shown promising results. By reducing human-wildlife conflict through these methods, CSL has created a conservation network where local populations become wildlife advocates and find new livelihoods, all while giving wildlife in the Luangwa Valley a better chance at survival. 

In the summer of 2018, Zoo Atlanta announced a partnership with CSL to support their work to protect elephants and other African wildlife. It continues to be one of Zoo Atlanta’s signature conservation partnerships and has allowed us to make progress toward becoming a leader in African elephant conservation. The partnership is also a direct application of the Zoo’s Conservation Strategic Action Plan, which guides and enhances Zoo Atlanta’s conservation efforts by committing professional and financial resources to partnerships which demonstrate a multifaceted approach to conservation with long-term results. These multifaceted approaches give animals such as elephants, and many other species, a chance at surviving in an ever-changing world. 

With our support, CSL has made great progress toward protecting African elephants. There are simple steps we can take as individuals to play a part in their conservation, too. One of the biggest things we can do to help elephants is to avoid purchasing items made from elephant ivory and to research what we purchase so that we do not inadvertently buy any products which support the illegal wildlife trade. Another action we can all take is to support policies which protect elephants and other wildlife and to be aware of any changes in policies that may reduce the efficacy of laws that were created to protect species and their habitats. We must also engage in responsible eco-tourism that helps to sustain local communities when traveling to Africa and other parts of the world. 

The future of Africa’s elephants and other wildlife is up to us. We have the tools, the resources, and the organizations like CSL to create a future where humans and wildlife can thrive and coexist peacefully. Zoo Atlanta has taken steps to be a zoological leader in elephant conservation through our partnership with CSL. And with support from our community, by taking the simple steps described earlier, elephants and other wildlife will have a place in their wild home for generations to come. We can all make a difference that will inspire the younger generations to continue the work and hopefully one day we will proudly declare the African elephant as a species that made it back from the brink of extinction. 


Brit Reed
Exhibit Interpreter

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