Can Elephants Help Rebuild Mozambique’s Economy?

By creating a dynamic park with iconic animals, the country can take its first steps toward building a vibrant tourism industry.

December 5, 2018

10:44 am

Shortly after Mozambique received independence from Portugal in the mid-1970s, it descended into conflict, one of the most brutal post-colonial civil wars of the last century. Approximately one million people died, and many perished from famine.

One can imagine the effect that a starving populace might have on the fauna of a land in conflict, and indeed the wildlife population of Mozambique was nearly decimated in the process. But now, through the reintroduction of animals back to Mozambique, the country is not only resetting its ecosystems, but is also building a foundation on which it sees a clear path to economic success: tourism.

Elephants are being translocated to Mozambique’s Zinave National Park, approximately 1,000 miles northeast of their most recent home, De Beers Group’s Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (VLNR) in South Africa. The project is a public-private-civil society partnership, financed by De Beers Group, and jointly executed by the company and two other entities — the Mozambique government’s ANAC (the Portuguese acronym for National Administration of Conservation Areas) and nonprofit Peace Parks Foundation (PPF, co-founded by Nelson Mandela), which advocates for reconnecting wild spaces across man-made borders so as to, amongst other things, re-establish ancient transfrontier wildlife corridors throughout southern Africa. ANAC and PPF co-manage Zinave.

To get more insights into how elephants can help rebuild Mozambique’s economy, Moving Giants went to Zinave and spoke to PPF’s Antony Alexander, Senior Project Manager in Mozambique, and Brian Child, an Associate Professor of Geography and African Studies at the University of Florida.

A Sitswa mother transporting wood to the Covane community in Zinave National Park using a buffalo bicycle.

Moving Giants: So, how can elephants actually catalyze an economy?

Child: National parks [that offer safaris] can be economic engines: But you have to invest in them. A piece of land like this [Zinave] in the bush is not going to function without three things:

The first is wildlife: The wildlife has to exist and has to be managed properly. That comes down to anti-poaching and translocation, and a bit of water. If a place has no water, you put water in it. You have to have a gap down to the water so that animals can drink.

Second is access/infrastructure: Roads, airports, branding. You [tourists] need to get to the park and drive around in it without costing a fortune. For almost every park that’s been developed in the region, there’s been some investment in infrastructure — either a main road or an airport. If we can’t get tourists in, they’re not going to come.

And third is a tourism product, driven by the private sector: most destinations need the private sector to be involved. Lodging, activities, walking, horseback riding, helicopter rides, boating, camping, bicycles: you have to make it fun [if you want to appeal to] young people: they want to do exciting things — have a more adventure-driven experience.

There is $2 billion in revenue in the region from wildlife-based tourism. You look at a place like [Zinave] and wonder: why are we not 10 times bigger than we are?

MG: Okay, that is how the government can bring visitors into the country. But how will local communities benefit from this?

Alexander: As part of law in Mozambique, all national parks give 20% of revenue to communities. And communities set up their own governance structures on how to disperse the funds for their own selected projects. We will help the communities set up those structures and advise them on how to spend that money. As long as that money is not spent on anything that counters the ideals of conservation.

You try to capacitate the community themselves to enforce that. If they can see benefits from the conservation areas, they will be far more interested in supporting the park. It’s to give them benefit of the park, over and above employment.

Child: The money belongs to everyone [in the community] equally — PPF is setting up micro-democracies. Transparency, accountability, democracy and equity. When people are participating, they control the money.

"In order for this to work, we have to get the wildlife first. We have a quite ambitious plan to get as many animals here as possible, as quickly as possible."

Antony Alexander, Senior Project Manager in Mozambique, Peace Parks Foundation

MG: What economic opportunities are there here for the local people?

Alexander: The Shangaan people [the local tribe] — how they survive here, it’s difficult to tell. A lot of it is fishing. There is very fertile soil here, but very little agriculture. The agriculture here is subsistence agriculture, because they’re so far away from a market. Their livelihood is subsistence. There is a lot of migratory labor — a lot of them used to work in the mines in South Africa, some of them live off pensions from this historical migrant-labor work in South Africa. A wildlife economy becomes the only viable land-use model in this area.

MG: Have there been difficulties in communicating to the community how wildlife — particularly elephants — can benefit them?

Child: People around here [in the community surrounding Zinave] are afraid of elephants. They’re dangerous [animals]. It’s like the way people in Yellowstone feel about wolves. But if you tie them to the economy and create jobs — protected wildlife areas create a lot of jobs. Which create even more jobs in the surrounding areas. We’re trying to convince politicians that parks can be economic engines. Look at Kruger [National Park in South Africa] — how many jobs they create in the park and in the surrounding areas. That’s where we need to be in 20 years.

Another example would be South Luangwa, in Zambia. The “wildlife economy triangle” is responsible for $38 million there — and at least 4,000 jobs.

Alexander: It’s the multiplier effect. Take Zinave, for example. We employed 200 community members for work like putting in fences, an infrastructure program, marking the cut line [the boundaries of the park]. That money is now money brought from the outside into the regional economy. If a person then needs a hairdresser, needs to go to the bank, they need tomatoes from the market — if you spend $1, the multiplier effect is much wider in the regional economy.

Child: The park is doubling the income of people near the park. It brings cell phones, it brings schools, it brings stores, it brings ambassadors — it becomes an economic-development hub. There’s nothing else around here. These parks bring business.

Alexander: In order for this to work, we have to get the wildlife first. We have a quite ambitious plan to get as many animals here as possible, as quickly as possible.

Child: Kruger is huge — two million hectares — but it is full, and it has a large, compressed elephant population. On the Mozambique side, part of our strategy is creating a safe environment for elephant to move into Mozambique, reducing the elephant-population pressures in South Africa and Zimbabwe. We also want to promote the movement of these key species between the national parks — west to east.

But for them to get to Zinave naturally it will take too long. It cannot be naturally repopulated in a reasonable timeframe. So we’re translocating to Zinave while simultaneously improving the environment in Mozambique for elephants to move between countries, and reduce the pressures in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

MG: What about predators?

Alexander: We will bring in lions in a couple of years’ time. When you have lions here, then you have your product. First you need to get your plains-game numbers up to an acceptable level — if you bring lions in too early, they’ll limit your growth.

Child: It’s called a “predator trap” — where there are more predators than the prey can sustain then you have a declining food base. Lions always eat the expensive ones first — like sable and roan.

Alexander: Parks take a long time to develop — that's the reality. It could take 20 years to reach full development. However, through the rewilding program [in partnership with De Beers Group], we believe we will have a viable tourism product within three years.

MG: Additionally, De Beers Group has committed $500,000 toward anti-poaching efforts.

Alexander: Yes, $100,000 a year for the next five years to Peace Parks Foundation, to be used to further develop a wide spectrum of anti-poaching measures for conservation areas in Mozambique, including the hiring and training of rangers.

Wildlife tourism is the only viable economic model for the region, and this can be achieved through protection of the land and wildlife, leading to more employment and economic spin-off benefits to the surrounding communities.

This feature is a companion piece to Episode 2 of our "Moving Giants" video series, which you can watch below. To see previous episodes in the series, please visit our video hub here.

Sitswa children playing during school holidays in the Covane community situated in Zinave National Park.