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Zambia’s wildlife: Threats, challenges, and how you can help

Article by Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo

Posted: September 25, 2019

Zambia’s wildlife is incredible, diverse, and under threat. The challenges facing the country’s wildlife have created a need for innovative approaches to conservation. 

Zambia’s remote wilderness areas set the stage for mesmerising animal encounters. This landlocked nation has the same level of wildlife diversity as celebrated safari destinations such as South Africa or Tanzania, but with a fraction of the visitor numbers. 

Travelling into Zambia means traversing deep tracts of bush where you might come face to face with roaming elephants, or canoeing down the slow-moving Zambezi river while keeping an eye out for crocodiles. Located smack in the centre of the continent, with an impressive 20 national parks and 34 game management areas,  Zambia is one of Africa’s great wildlife destinations. 

However, Zambia faces a number of conservation threats. Here is an outline of the challenges facing Zambia’s wildlife and actions you can take, as a volunteer and tourist, to help. 

Wildlife conservation in Zambia

Zambia’s three mighty rivers — the Kafue, the Luangwa and the Zambezi — are defining features of the country and unique aquatic habitats for a wide range of animals. On the river banks and flood plains, hippos, elephants, and antelopes such as the lechwe and sitatunga, roam.  



Lakes and swamps diverging from the rivers are home to hundreds of species of birds, while in the nearby savannahs and grasslands, predators such as leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs hunt their prey. 

Despite these vast areas of seemingly untouched wilderness, it’s impossible to ignore the human impact on Zambia’s wildlife. 

Poaching, illegal hunting for bush meat, and habitat loss from deforestation for farming and charcoal production are all significant threats to Zambia’s biodiversity. 

Since the 1950s, poaching has killed more than 90% of Zambia’s elephants. In the 1980s, estimated numbers dropped from a quarter of a million to just 18,000



The rhino population in Zambia once stood at 12,000. Yet in 1998, rhinos were declared extinct in the country. Small numbers have been reintroduced to the North Luangwa National Park, but this tiny herd still needs constant protection from poaching. 

The capital city of Zambia, Lusaka, has a reputation as a wildlife crime hub. Trade in weapons and wildlife products thrives in the city. 

On top of this, severe weather events are on the rise as climate change worsens. The United Nations attributes an increased frequency in droughts and flooding in Zambia to climate change. These shifts in weather patterns present a significant challenge to Zambia’s biodiversity. 

African wildlife conservation is typically based on law enforcement measures, which are put in place to try to halt poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. However, illegal hunting in Zambia has continued despite punitive measures, so conservation initiatives are shifting to a more community-based approach. 


Community involvement in wildlife protection

The wellbeing of people and the environment are closely linked, so empowering local communities can have a positive effect on conservation efforts. 

When more employment opportunities are available, people are exposed to alternatives to hunting animals for survival, or the illegal wildlife trade for income. 

Volunteer work in Zambia can contribute to protecting vulnerable wilderness areas, even when not specifically focused on conservation. For example, GVI’s volunteer opportunities in Zambia are community-focused, but through sustainable development, the impact can extend to animals protection as well. 



Our teaching and community development program in Livingstone, Zambia is a chance for international volunteers to teach English in a rural area. When you take part in this project, you could help locals to improve their employability within the international tourism industry. This project also gives you the opportunity to lead community education classes on how best to protect Zambian wildlife. 

Education has far-reaching and long term benefits for the environment. Empowering girls helps to protect both animals and wildlife from climate change. In fact, educating girls has been ranked as the sixth most effective way to reverse global warming, according to Project Drawdown. 



Volunteering to empower girls in Zambia not only helps to achieve gender equality, but in the long run, it could be a vital tool in protecting the country’s wildlife. GVI’s girl empowerment internship near Victoria Falls, Zambia, is a great way to get involved in women’s rights. 

Zambia safaris: Support where it matters

Original photo: safari” by Andrés Monroy-Hernández is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0

Supporting Zambia tourism is a form of protection against poaching. If you choose to volunteer in Zambia, going on a safari is one way you can contribute to wildlife protection. When you opt to go on safari in Zambia, you are indirectly helping to support conservation. 

Safari tourists pay thousands of dollars to see a fraction of the animals that a poacher would kill in the course of a year. In this way, preserving animal populations can be beneficial to local communities. As long as it is successful, the safari industry can provide higher incomes than illegal hunting or poaching. 

This motivation is more effective in protecting resources than law enforcement alone, and ensures that local communities, as well as wildlife, can thrive. 


Original photo: Hippo pod” by SarahDepper is licenced under CC BY 2.0

Volunteer in wildlife conservation in Africa

Seeing Zambia’s wildlife while on safari is an inspiring experience and could motivate you to do more work in the conservation field. GVI’s wildlife volunteer projects in Africa are a great opportunity to learn more about conservation challenges and solutions. Following a conservation volunteer program or internship, you could even pursue a longer-term career in wildlife protection and research.  

Browse GVI’s volunteer opportunities in Zambia and wildlife conservation volunteer programs further afield in Africa.

By Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.
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