Markhor Award Winner 2008 – Niassa National Reserve Mozambique Revisited
May-June 2010, Volume 8-3

The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) awarded the prestigious “Markhor Award for Outstanding Conservation Performance” to Sociedade Para a Gestao e Desenvolvimento da Reserva do Niassa (SGDRN), in 2008. This short report highlights some of the on-going activities and achievements of SGDRN and describes some of the continuing challenges facing the Niassa National Reserve.

May2010_Vol8-3_1The Niassa National Reserve, with its vast area of intact and largely undisturbed miombo woodland, remoteness and inaccessibility, low human population density and relative political stability in Mozambique is destined to be one of Africa’s premier conservation and hunting destinations. Despite enormous challenges, the management authority for this Reserve, Sociedade Para a Gestão e Desenvolvimento da Reserva do Niassa (SGDRN), has made significant strides since its inception in 2000 in the conservation and sustainable development of the Reserve. Encouragingly, aerial surveys since 1998 indicate that the overall herbivorous wildlife populations in the Reserve have doubled, notably the elephant population and some of the rarer species (Niassa Wildebeest, Boehm’s zebra). – while over the same period revenue generation and employment opportunities from the development of tourism hunting has steadily increased and is now making significant contributions to communities and reserve management.

Niassa Reserve is undoubtedly one of the most important protected wilderness areas remaining in Africa. SGDRN was established in 2000 with a vision to “conserve the wilderness and biodiversity values of Niassa Reserve and to contribute to the economic development and welfare of the province and of the reserve’s residents”. To achieve this it has entered into a unique public-private May2010_Vol8-3_2partnership that that brings together the government, private sector and civil society to collectively share the responsibility for the development, financing and management of national protected areas in Mozambique. SGDRN has received essential technical and financial assistance from Fauna and Flora International (FFI) – one of the world’s largest and oldest conservation organizations – that is instrumental to the progress made over the last 9 years. Funding assistance has also been provided by other donors, notably the US Fish and Wildlife Service and USAID enabling SGDRN to carry out much of the initial baseline biodiversity and community studies in the reserve and to equip and support its conservation management, tourism development and the protection programs.

More recently SGDRN has received support from the European Commission to implement a 3-year program to develop an integrated community fishery program that is critical for the long-term sustainable use of the fishery along the 400km-long Lugenda River. Other specific projects focus on Human-Wildlife Conflict and Environmental Education. SGDRN has also benefited immensely from the independently funded Niassa Carnivore Project that is undertaking essential research on the impact of human activities and sport hunting on lion, and more recently is supporting Agostinho Jorge, a member of the Niassa Reserve team, who is embarking upon a MSc to determine the status of leopard in the Reserve.

SGDRN has also initiated two research projects to investigate the ecology of the buffalo population in the Reserve in collaboration with Dr Rui Branco (buffalo health and disease status) and by the Fondation Internationale pour la Gestion de la Faune (IGF) who will be investigating the a wide variety of factors including distribution, diet, predation and human impact. The early results from the satellite tracking are already beginning to provide valuable information on the buffalo in Niassa.

In terms of its mandate with Government, SGDRN has negotiated several long-term contracts and short-term Memorandum of Agreements with private sector operators, and there are plans to open competitive tenders for additional concessions in 2010.

Sport hunting continues to be the primary tourism activity in the Reserve. Gradually the Niassa May2010_Vol8-3_3Reserve has built up a reputation as being one of the premier hunting destinations in southern Africa and all indicators suggest that this industry has grown steadily but future growth is hampered by the availability of key species that fall under CITES, notably elephant and leopard.

Careful attention is given to trophy monitoring and performance of the hunting operations to ensure the sustainable management of the key trophies (lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant) as well as the major antelope (sable, hartebeest, waterbuck).

Though Niassa National Reserve does not produce world record trophies, it does provide the discerning hunter with world class hunting opportunities in one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Africa. Elephant trophies remain some of the best in the region, with an average of 66lbs, and the magical “100lb” trophy a distinct possibility.

May2010_Vol8-3_4Though remote and relatively inaccessible, Niassa Reserve remains vulnerable to the ever present threat of professional wildlife poachers and from wildlife traders and commercial timber merchants who engage with local community members as their suppliers. More recently the Reserve has had to deal with a fresh challenge from illegal miners who have invaded the Reserve seeking semi-precious stones which has placed a severe burden on the law enforcement capacity of the Reserve

The immediate long term threat to the conservation objectives and values of the Reserve is from the expanding human settlements as a result of in migration and population growth, and the uncontrolled fishing along the Lugenda and Rovuma rivers – the life blood of the Reserve. The solutions to these complex problems and strategies to address them require the active support of government and communities as well as the support of the international conservation fraternity.

For further information or enquiries please contact:
SGDRN (Sociedade para a Gestao e Desenvolvimento da
Reserva do Niassa), Av. Mao Tse Tung, No.1031,1st Floor,
Maputo, MOZAMBIQUE; Tel: +258 21 329807 / 21 429258,
Fax:+258 21 329808; Office Mobile: +258 823151640
Email: sgdrn.map@tvcabo.co.mz; Web: www.niassa.com

Author: Vernon R Booth