KAZA

Facts

  • Continent
    Africa
  • Species
    African savanna elephants, black and white rhino, lion, African wild dog, crocodiles, tiger fish, bream
Map of KAZA region

The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) is the world’s largest terrestrial transboundary conservation area spanning across five southern African countries. In 2011, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, committed to collectively manage this valuable and biodiverse 106 million-acre region, roughly the size of France.

KAZA’s woodlands, wetlands, rivers, and grasslands provide critical habitat for lions, wild dogs, and the planet’s largest population of savanna elephants to move across borders and between protected areas. Flowing through this region are KAZA’s three main rivers, Zambezi, Kwando, and Okavango, which support critical seasonal habitats that KAZA’s people and wildlife depend upon.

At the heart of the KAZA vision is the premise that conservation of the region’s rich natural resources can be the economic driver of a region, resulting in thriving landscapes where wildlife and communities coexist. To achieve this, WWF is working with KAZA country governments, other partners, and communities to protect wildlife, promote tourism, and support the socioeconomic well-being and resilience of local communities, ensuring that the people who live alongside KAZA’s iconic wildlife are at the forefront of our conservation planning and actions.

In Namibia's San community, nature is woven into every part of life

In Nyae Nyae, nature is more than a provider; it is an integral part of the community. The San people tend to it with reverence, knowing that nature cares for them, just as they care for nature.

Residents of Nam Pan Village gather for a game of jump rope_Nyae Nyae Conservancy_Namibia

Species

Lion lying in shade

Iconic to KAZA is its immensely valuable wildlife, including both terrestrial and freshwater species, which play a critical role in maintaining KAZA’s ecosystem.

The world’s largest population of elephants (~228,000), more than half of Africa’s remaining savanna elephant population, live and move through this region. Known as "landscape architects", as they move and forage, they create clearings in wooded areas, which lets new plants grow and forests regenerate naturally.

It’s also a crucial conservation landscape for large carnivores, including an estimated 25% of Africa’s wild dogs, almost 20% of the continent’s lions, and approximately 15% of the world’s cheetahs. These predators help balance the ecosystem by keeping herbivore populations at healthy levels.

KAZA’s rivers are also home to key freshwater fish and endemic species that are only found in specific rivers. Species include the tiger fish, which is a top predator and can reach up to three feet in length, and large tilapia species. The region’s freshwater fish, such as tilapia, provide an important source of protein for local communities.

People & Communities

Kids following cattle on dirt road

Approximately 2.7 million people live in KAZA on communal lands and in rural and urban settlements. Most are heavily dependent on small-scale agriculture and subsistence use of natural resources. KAZA’s ultimate success depends on the commitment of communities to sustainably use and manage their natural resources. This can only be achieved if the local people are actively engaged in decision-making about their land and resources, and have strong incentives to value and protect wildlife. This is also the most powerful deterrent against poaching for meat and the illegal international wildlife trade. WWF has long supported community-based natural resource management efforts across KAZA to ensure community engagement, including supporting communities’ rights over management of fisheries and wildlife resources, and increasing community resilience to the impacts of climate change and future pandemics.

Threats

Aerial photo of river horseshoe bend

Climate change

KAZA falls almost entirely within an African geographic zone considered to be most at-risk from climate change. The impacts are already evident: changing seasonality of rainfall, heatwaves, droughts, and flooding are impacting local peoples’ livelihoods, threatening food and water security, and impacting species. These factors can exacerbate habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict as people and animals struggle to adapt and compete for access to declining natural resources.

Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation

KAZA's expanding human footprint, including settlements, infrastructure, and agricultural development, has resulted in the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of important wildlife habitat across the region. This is impacting the connectivity of the region’s landscape and freshwater systems, disrupting important wildlife corridors, and threatening the free-flowing rivers that sustain both wildlife and people. Wildlife has less space to move and natural ecological processes that support clean air, rich soil, and freshwater which we all rely upon break down, increasing resource competition and human-wildlife conflict.

Human-wildlife conflict

KAZA’s wildlife exists alongside human communities with their own needs for water, food, farming, and grazing land for livestock. As human populations and associated development continue to grow, so does the risk of increased conflict between humans and wildlife across the landscape. More conflict is predicted as populations of elephants and large carnivores rebound and reclaim their historical ranges. In some of those places, the communities living there have little recent experience or tolerance for living with wildlife. With the effects of climate change bringing longer and more frequent droughts to the region, competition for water and pasture access, and therefore human-wildlife conflict, is expected to increase.

Wildlife Crime

KAZA’s wildlife, particularly elephant, rhino, and pangolin, are threatened by poaching for their parts for the illegal international wildlife trade. In fact, wildlife crime, which is undertaken by internationally operating criminal networks, is the greatest threat for these species. Pangolins are fast becoming the most trafficked species in the region, with Namibia reporting more pangolin-related criminal cases in the past few years than for rhinos and elephants combined. There are also indications that illegal bushmeat hunting for subsistence and commercial use has increased in KAZA due to the livelihood impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic—a trend that may continue if community benefits from conservation and related activities do not increase.

Unsustainable Infrastructure Development

KAZA’s natural resources are threatened by development of high-impact infrastructure including large scale energy and water infrastructure, roads, railways, and urban development. This is leading to increased habitat fragmentation and loss of wildlife connectivity, threatening wildlife migration corridors, agriculture, and freshwater sources. New hydropower projects, particularly in Angola, can fragment remaining free-flowing rivers, blocking critical migratory routes for freshwater fishes and altering crucial downstream water flows. This affects down-river landscapes including biodiversity and wildlife-based economies, while depriving people of access to water in support of their livelihoods.

What WWF Is Doing

Men posing for camera

Fighting wildlife crime

Each year in Africa, poachers kill thousands of elephants for the illegal international trade in their ivory. Wildlife crime is a major threat to KAZA’s wildlife. It endangers the wellbeing and livelihoods of local people, enhances corruption, and erodes good governance. WWF is strengthening collaboration between KAZA countries to disrupt transboundary operating criminal networks through support to anti-poaching patrols, information exchange, investigations, and prosecutions.

In Namibia, WWF is supporting the country’s successful “whole of government” national wildlife crime program; an active collaboration between all law enforcement agencies, civil society, and conservation partners. As a result, chances for wildlife criminals of getting caught and receiving meaningful sentences that deter others from committing similar crimes have dramatically increased, resulting in growing elephant and rhino populations.

In Zambia’s Kafue National Park, WWF is providing technological expertise and equipment to help authorities detect and respond to wildlife crime using thermal imaging technology. For example, thermal cameras enable Kafue’s rangers to monitor illegal incursions into the park via Lake Itezhi Tezhi. Data from the system helps them focus on areas with the most illegal activity—both poaching and illegal fishing—and provides evidence for prosecutors. WWF and partners in Kafue have integrated artificial intelligence on the cameras, enabling them to send real-time video alerts to rangers when the cameras detect illegal boats entering or leaving the park.

Man in helmet installs camera on tower

Improving food security

Almost 30% of land within KAZA supports about 2.7 million people, most of whom are smallholder subsistence farmers living with food insecurity. WWF and partners are studying food systems in KAZA and working to find solutions that advance sustainable farming principles among smallholder farmers while meeting the growing food and nutrition demand for the local population and visitors to the region. For example, incentivizing small holder farmers to cluster their activities through fenced plots or water provision could discourage expansion into wildlife corridors.

We’re also supporting communities in Namibia, Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to broaden the range and productivity of community livelihoods by co-managing freshwater fisheries, improving management of grazing land, and implementing sustainable agriculture to the benefit of wildlife and people. One example is a circularity prototype project for future scalability underway in Victoria Falls where food waste as well as insects are being leveraged for animal feed.

Tourism and the hospitality industry in visitor hubs like Victoria Falls increase pressure on the region’s food system. Circular Food Future, a WWF global food practice initiative, is helping institutionalize and scale food loss and waste reduction across the entire supply chain, in addition to ending landfill of food and organic material.

Increasing landscape connectivity

Sign indicating Elephant Corridor

In order to ensure KAZA’s wildlife species have the space they need to thrive throughout the transboundary landscape, including vital access to resources in a changing climate, connectivity across boundaries needs to be strengthened.

WWF is working with partners and communities to identify, conserve, and secure wildlife corridors as much as possible to allow elephants and other species to move freely across KAZA. This improves population distribution and helps build wildlife-based economies in areas where wildlife has declined.

For example, we’re working to reduce the impact of fences, which particularly affect the movement of breeding herds of elephants, to help re-open wildlife migration routes and improve landscape connectivity. WWF is also working with national parks to bolster their management and monitoring capacity, engage in transboundary cooperation, and recognize communities as critical partners and beneficiaries.

The long-term viability of KAZA elephants as a transboundary population depends upon securing landscape connectivity between protected areas. To achieve this, we first need a current and relatively precise baseline of elephant numbers and movements in the region.

WWF and KAZA partner countries conducted the first synchronized transboundary survey of KAZA’s elephants in 2022, and published the region’s first elephant connectivity policy brief in 2023. The data from these two studies will inform KAZA’s recent policy recommendations on securing and maintaining elephant movement corridors and landscape connectivity to help ensure long-term protection and management of Africa’s largest transboundary elephant population.

Protecting KAZA’s freshwater resources

KAZA’s three main rivers—Okavango, Zambezi, and Kwando—sustain people and wildlife in southern Africa’s otherwise dry landscape. These rivers support critical migratory corridors and seasonal habitats that the region’s people and wildlife depend upon.

WWF and partners are working to secure the region’s free-flowing rivers, particularly the Kwando River, and manage the water resources of the Kwando Basin. For example, we’ve developed a “report card” on the health of the Kwando River Basin, an approach that’s been successful elsewhere in planning for the wise use of water. This supports recommended actions like implementing environmental flows for the basin and creating national and regional Kwando water resource management plans.

In Zambia, WWF is engaging government and other stakeholders to advance low-carbon, low-cost, and low-conflict energy solutions that meet Zambia’s energy needs while limiting the impact of new hydropower development. We intend to undertake similar work in Angola to advance protections for KAZA’s headwaters.

With Angola poised for major development in the coming years, we’re also supporting the Angolan government and the KAZA Secretariat’s work with small and medium-sized Angolan businesses to look at bankable projects in the tourism, energy, agriculture, and fisheries sectors that will deliver services and support livelihoods without jeopardizing conservation.

Reducing human-wildlife conflict

Permanent enclosure for livestock

Large carnivores and elephants require large areas of secured and connected habitat to thrive. However, due to increasing human expansion leading to fragmented habitat, they must move through human-dominated landscapes to disperse and find resources. This results in conflict with people when large carnivores prey on livestock, elephants raid crops, or people are injured or killed.

While our work improving KAZA’s connectivity is an important long-term strategy to reducing human-wildlife conflict, WWF also works with communities to find solutions to better manage human-wildlife conflict on the ground. Identifying wildlife corridors and conflict hotspots helps guide decisions, such as which conflict management approaches to implement and where to do so. This information can also influence land use and management decisions to prevent conflict. WWF is also working alongside local partners in Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to explore establishing a KAZA-wide database on human-wildlife conflict that will allow for a more systematic way to share best practices and lessons learned.

Management approaches to conflict vary but successful tools implemented throughout KAZA include predator-proof livestock enclosures, early alert systems informed by collared species’ movements, methods to protect water storage facilities and agricultural plots from elephant damage, and farming techniques that prevent elephants from raiding crops like clustered farms or electric fences. WWF implements these approaches in collaboration with local communities and partners to reduce conflict.

Climate adaptation

WWF is working to help both people and wildlife adapt to the rapidly changing climate and improve food and water security.

Through the Climate Crowd initiative, WWF works with communities to collect and analyze data, present it back to them, and work with them to develop and implement on-the-ground climate adaptation solutions. Improving adaptation strategies benefits wildlife too, as the nature-based and nature-friendly solutions help communities cope with climate impacts while reducing pressure on wildlife and conservation areas. Following a successful pilot project assisting communities near Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls, WWF is now scaling this work across multiple sites in KAZA, with solutions focused on increasing water security, climate-smart agriculture, alternative livelihoods, and reducing human-wildlife conflict.

Community-based conservation

Man holds up fish

Namibia’s communal conservancies are a globally recognized conservation success story, which began in the late 1990s following groundbreaking legislation that put the rights to, and responsibilities for, conserving wildlife in the hands of the communities living with it.

WWF, the Namibian government, and local NGO partners helped create the conservancy model and we continue to partner with local communities to help them manage their natural resources and ensure a future that includes healthy wildlife populations and sustainable economic growth. Today there are 86 conservancies covering nearly 65,000 square miles, or 20% of Namibia—the highest percentage of community management in a single nation worldwide.

Conservancies have helped to recover many wildlife populations in Namibia, which in turn has contributed to wildlife-based enterprises like tourism, providing incentive for people to conserve wildlife. With the sharp downturn of tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WWF has been helping to support tourism recovery including developing the African Nature Based Tourism Platform, which connects funders to communities and small to medium-sized enterprises impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

WWF is also helping communities diversify income sources and reduce over-reliance on tourism. For example, Wildlife Credits offer one innovative financing mechanism for communities that have set their lands aside, forgoing other traditional livelihoods such as livestock farming. With this approach, conservancies can increase their resilience and financial independence so that, when future shocks to the tourism industry arise, communities and conservation are secure.

In Angola, WWF is supporting communities along the Kwando River to adapt community-led fisheries management models to the Angolan context and supporting sustainable agricultural projects that link communities with local markets. In an effort to support more widespread learning and uptake of community fisheries management models, WWF is also supporting a forum for fisheries professionals and organizations to share lessons learned as they undertake similar efforts in Namibia, Angola, and Zambia.

Projects

  • Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund

    WWF’s Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund supports the testing of new ideas that have potential to reduce the vulnerability of wildlife to changes in climate through on-the-ground projects. Successes and lessons learned from these pilot projects provide useful guidance that move conservation beyond business-as-usual approaches and successful efforts can be replicated or taken to scale to help wildlife endure under conditions of rapid change.

  • Cuando River Basin Report Card

    The Cuando River Basin report card aims to strengthen transboundary water governance and inclusive decision-making mechanisms across the four countries that the basin traverses.

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