Responsible tourism in Zambia

Zambia has a reputation for being friendly and laid back, and its slightly off-the-beaten-track feel means tourism has developed more slowly here. As a safari destination, it’s hard to beat, but its conservation record is not as impressive as countries such as Botswana. Its remote southwest corner has become an elephant poaching hotspot, and although it’s a relatively expensive destination for travellers, the country remains incredibly poor. Well managed tourism could be one of the key solutions here, helping to both preserve local culture and fund conservation initiatives. Follow our tips below for a happier, more responsible holiday.


Cultural engagement

While a Maasai visit is woven into the fabric of Kenyan safaris, things aren’t quite the same in Zambia. Many lodges in Kenya are on Maasai land, and so the Maasai people are directly involved with management of it. That’s not the case in Zambia, but the good lodges with responsible management are doing a lot for local communities, especially those close to Livingstone. Even lodges that on the face of it don’t seem to offer much will generally be supporting the local community in some way, employing staff from nearby villages or contributing to their schools, for example.
A stay in a Zambian village provided the inspiration for our CEO Justin Francis to found Responsible Travel. He explains: “At the time, I was working for The Body Shop, which was an incredible, very ethical business. I went to Zambia on safari, and the owner of the lodge said ‘lots of the people live in the village nearby and they’ve decided they’re going to set up their own tourism venture and they’ve invited you to go and stay with them.’ So I went to stay in this traditional African village, which was incredible. At the end of the stay, the headman of the village came to see me. He told me that on the back of tourism he’d built a school and a healthcare centre. And he said to me, ‘I want you to go home and I want you to bring more tourists’. He said it with such earnestness, such trust, I couldn’t bear to tell him that other than telling my friends to visit, I had no way to bring more tourists. It might have seemed simple, but it wasn’t that simple! And I went home and I thought I’d like to take all the things I’ve learned at The Body Shop – which is about being a great company, activist, a great brand, profits and principles together, not a choice between the two – and I’d try and do something like that in travel. I would take that headman at his word; I would go back and I would bring more tourists to villages like his, not just in Zambia, but all over the world.”
What you can do
Ask! Ask your lodge about its responsible credentials and how it’s involved in local life. And then ask to visit any of the projects or villages it supports. A visit will no doubt be very welcome, even if it’s not widely advertised to travellers.
Simon Mills from our supplier Native Escapes has this advice on bolting some cultural engagement onto a trip to Zambia: “Meeting local communities and people is more of a request experience in Zambia. It is there, it happens and guests can get involved, but it is subtle and not forced upon them.”

Supporting education for girls

Large families are still very much the tradition in Zambia and most women have between six and 12 children. Putting all these children through school proves almost impossible, due to the high price of uniforms and books plus other costs, and only a small percentage of children even finish primary school. Illiteracy stands at 27 percent, and the dropout rate in schools is very high. Girls fare particularly badly, with few in rural Zambia starting school before the age of ten and then often dropping out just five years later, when they are considered adults, ready for marriage, child rearing and crop tending.

Source: The High Commission of the Republic of Zambia in Delhi.

What you can do
Many lodges and camps in Zambia work to support local schools, so rural children have a shot at education. This might be by paying teachers’ wages, building facilities or contributing supplies. Ask your accommodation supplier if they are involved in local education at all. There may be the opportunity to sponsor a particular project or initiative there, so that you can continue to support Zambia long after you come home.
Louise Race travelled to Zambia with Responsible Travel. She wrote about supporting local education projects through the camps she stayed at: “The local safari company, who run Nkwali Camp, started an excellent scheme helping local women and particularly teenage girls. We called at the Project and bought loads of stuff from them. You can also sponsor reusable (washable) sanitary towel sets. Sounds crazy, but they discovered girls were dropping out of education because they were missing two months of the educational year because culturally and practically their menstrual cycle was a matter of secrecy. At Tongabezi Lodge, my other half visited the school they set up/sponsor and is now sending them art supplies. Fabulous place. All the staff we met at both centres took huge pride in their jobs.”


Elephant poaching

Africa loses around 30,000 elephants a year to poaching. Most conservation efforts target badly affected countries, including Tanzania and Mozambique, with the southern African countries generally thought to be the main stronghold for savanna elephants on the continent. Recently, though, Zambia has been identified as a cause for concern, with the southwest’s Kwando region becoming an elephant poaching hotspot.

This area sits within the huge Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, better known as KAZA. Covering an area twice the size of the UK, it straddles Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and is believed to hold as many as 250,000 elephants – roughly half of all the elephants in Africa. However, recent research by the Great Elephant Census, an elephant-counting project, reveals alarming statistics for KAZA’s Zambian portion. Overall elephant numbers in Zambia are stable, but in the southwest a staggering 95 percent drop has been estimated.

The Sioma Ngwezi Park between the Zambezi and Kwando Rivers has seen the worst poaching, largely because there isn’t much human activity there, with no tourism or researchers to deter the poachers, and so far no anti-poaching initiatives. In addition, poachers can escape into four different countries within minutes, knowing that local law enforcement officials won’t try to pursue them across international borders. The Zambian Tourism website acknowledges that the park has been badly poached, but says numbers are improving and wildlife recovering, although the Great Elephant Census would seem to directly contradict that.

Source: National Geographic, April 2016
What you can do
Putting an end to poaching is like putting an end to drug trafficking – it is an enormous, global issue with factors ranging from corruption to misguided beliefs, guerrilla warfare and poverty all contributing to its perpetuation. In Zambia, the complex governance of the KAZA Transfrontier Park where poaching is occurring and the lack of cooperation between the nations involved hobbles anti-poaching attempts. There are, though, small ways in which you can make a difference.

Visit those game reserves that set a great example. Kafue National Park, which is also part of KAZA, has active patrolling by Game Rangers International. This NGO is an independent Zambian conservation organisation, which works with the government’s department of national parks and wildlife. Currently, Kafue’s elephant numbers are stable. Your visitor income supports this good practice.

Sioma Ngwezi National Park itself, where much poaching takes place, is still undeveloped, with just a few campsites and no roads, only tracks, but this will probably change in the future. It’s reported that the Zambian government plans to open the park to private management, providing better wildlife protection. Pop it on your list of ‘must-visits’ for the future!

Donate to an organisation such as WWF, which is pioneering innovative ways to deter poachers. Just £6 can send a local child to an elephant reserve, where they will learn about elephant conservation, and £35 will pay an anti-poaching ranger’s salary for a month.

Read more about WWF’s African Elephant Programme here.

Trophy hunting

Zambia currently allows trophy hunting, after controversially lifting a ban on big cat hunting in 2015. While the idea of shooting lions, leopards and other game in Zambia may seem highly irresponsible and unethical, the foreign revenue generated by well managed hunting trips can cover the running costs of the public agencies that seek to protect and conserve wildlife, benefitting larger numbers of animals in the long run. There are usually strict controls about where and what can be hunted, too. Since 2016, Zambia has imposed greater controls on lion hunting, with only older male cats allowed to be targeted and the number of kills restricted.

At Responsible Travel, we would never sell trophy hunting trips or promote this practice in any way, but we do acknowledge that in the current absence of other, more ethical and sustainable options, such hunting trips can benefit local wildlife and communities by pulling in vital finance. Countries like Namibia and Zimbabwe, which also allow controlled trophy hunting, have seen animal numbers rise, with investment in anti-poaching rangers and conservation a positive by-product of trophy hunting revenue.

What you can do:
While it can be argued that trophy hunting can protect some of Zambia’s wildlife, we would ideally like to see more ethical alternatives in the future. Hunting has been banned in Kenya since 1977, and has recently been banned in Botswana. Put the idea that wildlife is worth more alive than dead into action by taking a game drive or walking safari and paying your entry fees to national parks and reserves. Seek out responsible camps and lodges that put money back into the local community and support conservation initiatives, too, so that shooting only with a camera may eventually become the most financially viable form of tourism in the country.

Responsible tourism tips

Chimfunshi Chimpanzee Sanctuary in northwestern Zambia is one of the oldest and largest chimp refuges in the world. In addition to sheltering around 130 chimps, it runs social and educational projects, employs and feeds 70 families, has a school for about 80 children and provides basic medical care. The sanctuary also permanently employs 60 people, who live in five villages on site, and contributes to the local economy by buying food for the chimpanzees from local farmers. Its out-of-the-way location means it rarely features on tourist itineraries, but if you don’t make it here, you can back its good work by sponsoring a chimp or becoming a supporter, via its website. Never purchase items made from endangered species – including coral, turtle shells or eggs, ivory, fur or bone. The clear-cutting of centuries old teak forests in Sioma Ngwezi National Park by illegal loggers is also a cause for concern. Do not purchase any products made from teak that may have come from here. Some Zambia holidays include a visit to a local school. At Responsible Travel, we do not promote visits to schools or nurseries while the pupils are present. Tourists entering a classroom daily to take photos with kids is disruptive to their education, and can do more harm than help. Think about it – it would seem very strange if tourists to the US or UK were allowed to take tours of children’s schools! Additionally, any gifts should be given to teachers or staff and not to any children you may meet, who may start to see foreigners as a source of freebies, encouraging begging and bad perceptions. If you’d like to foster a lasting link with Zambia that survives long after your holiday is over, enquire about sponsoring local projects, or visit firsthand to identify gaps in supplies or materials that you might be able to help with once home. If possible, buy these items – such as exercise books, blankets or pencils – once in Zambia, to support local traders and producers. Livingstone isn’t an overly conservative town, and many people dress in a very Western style here, but dress conservatively if going to a school, market, village or through a border crossing. Exposed shoulders are fine, but a woman’s midriff is considered private. Miniskirts, hot pants and even leggings are not appropriate. It’s also considered rude to show the small of your back, so wear longer tops or tie something round your waist. Zambia’s economy was built on copper mining but as commodities are on a cyclical downward spiral, the country’s currency has lost a substantial amount of its value. Many people are very poor; over 60 percent of the Zambian population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent are considered extremely poor.* So do your bit by tipping your guides, drivers, cooks and hotel staff – discuss an appropriate amount with your tour operator before you depart, and come prepared with cash.
*Source: World Food Programme
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Dave3006] [Cultural engagement: Ninara] [Education for girls: Steve Jurvetson] [Elephant: emanuelez]