Gator in a Land of Crocs

Patricia Mupeta-Muyamwa discusses the challenges and benefits of community-based conservation.

“Our biggest challenge is to develop innovative ways for communities to sustainably manage and benefit from their own natural resources.” —Patricia Mupeta

Patricia Mupeta-Muyamwa recently received her Ph.D. in interdisciplinary ecology from the University of Florida, home of the Gators. Patricia now serves as the Conservancy’s community conservation program officer based in Lusaka, Zambia.

Patricia spoke with about her background and her work with communities surrounding Kafue National Park. How did you first become interested in conservation?

Patricia Mupeta-Muyamwa: My interest in conservation started in sixth grade with my first trip to Treetops school camp in Kafue National Park. Having grown up in urban Zambia, I was excited to camp in a real national park. It was also the first time I remember seeing rhinos before they were poached almost to extinction in Zambia. What are your goals in Zambia?

Patricia: Our goals are twofold. We are supporting the Zambia Wildlife Authority in Kafue National Park. Our goal is to ensure that the Kafue Ecosystem will be a resilient global model of wise management and sustainable use of lands and waters that generates benefits for people and nature.

We also work in the game management areas surrounding the park. These are communal lands with human settlements. Our overall goal there is to reduce the threats to the natural environment by increasing benefits to people from conservation. What makes Kafue special?

Patricia: It is Zambia’s oldest and largest park, it has a diverse and intact ecosystem that is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, and it’s centrally located and spreads across seven provincial boundaries. It also has the largest human population living around its boundaries. How interested are these communities in conservation?

Patricia: My 10 years of experience in southern Africa have shown that communities generally have positive perceptions of the importance of national parks and wildlife to their livelihoods. Their interest, however, has eroded since the “fences and fines” management models were implemented. What are your biggest challenges ?

Patricia: We work in areas with rich natural resources, but they are home to the poorest rural communities in Zambia. Poverty is increasing the threats to natural resources. So our biggest challenge is to develop innovative ways for communities to sustainably manage and benefit from their own natural resources. Why are you hopeful that TNC can make a difference?

Patricia: We are trying out innovative models of community conservation that focus on strengthening local institutions and governance, promoting sustainable resource management, and ensuring financial and other incentives for rural people to engage in conservation. Our strategy is to scale up as we succeed on the ground.

Will you support our critical community-conservation work in Africa?