Sites and Habitats

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) / Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)

Patterns of biodiversity distribution are such that it is often possible to select sites that support many different species. Therefore, safeguarding habitats at specific sites is one of the most effective conservation strategies for combating the biodiversity crisis in the world. These sites are carefully identified on the basis of the biodiversity numbers and species they hold and are called Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBBAs). BirdLife defines IBBAs as sites of international significance for the conservation of the world's birds and other biodiversity. Globally, over 13,000 IBBA’s have been identified and designated worldwide. The IBBA’s concept is one of bird conservation’s cornerstones which identifies all priority sites for bird conservation on the basis of objective criteria identifying presence of key bird species and populations. This concept was developed and has been championed by BirdLife International since 1985, building on and feeding into various key legislative concepts such as Ramsar Sites and the European Bird Directive, now incorporated into Natura 2000. Zambia has a network of 42 IBAs which were identified using the globally standardised, quantitative and scientifically agreed criteria. Zambia’s IBA network was designed over 20 years ago, and published in 2005 (Leonard 2005). No updates – other than the species lists (Willems & Leonard 2019) - have been carried out since. The IBA concept has been instrumental in informing decisions to design sound conservation projects that have significantly contributed to protecting these areas and the vast biodiversity they hold. However, much has since changed since the publication of the Important Bird Areas of Zambia book in 2005, creating an urgent need for updating these sites. This includes adjustments in criteria and the implementation of those at international levels, to changes in Red List status of birds (and consequently the relevant “trigger species” for IBA designation), as well as improved insights on key bird populations within and outside designated IBAs.

Over the last decade or so, the global Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) network has steadily been absorbed into the framework of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA), with all existing IBAs automatically qualifying as KBAs (referred to as Legacy KBAs). KBAs are sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. The KBA concept is based on all biodiversity values, including all groups of species (not only birds) as well as incorporating criteria related to ecosystems. It is important and a global priority that countries implement programmes that reassess these legacy KBA sites against the KBA Standard and identify new KBAs, taking into account additional taxa and ecosystems. In Zambia, the 42 KBAs have been recognised by virtue of them automatically qualifying from IBAs. However, these sites need to be assessed using the KBA guidelines, criteria and threshold in a Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (IUCN, 2016). These guidelines should be closely followed in designating Zambia’s KBAs, with the recognition that the need for scientific objectivity and standardisation has to be balanced by common sense and practical objectives. IUCN has established and recognizes 5 KBA criteria (A-E) with thresholds to be followed for the selection and identification of KBAs under each criterion.

Follow the link to read more about the selection criterion of Key Biodiversity Areas here

BWZ Key Biodiversity Areas Programme

During an introductory KBA workshop held in 2021 and attended by major stakeholders and interest groups in KBAs, BirdWatch Zambia (BWZ) was identified as the best placed party to spearhead an evaluation and update of the IBA/KBA network, in close collaboration with the National Biodiversity Steering Group. The overall objective of this programme is to assess the current status of Zambia’s IBAs/KBAs and investigate the status of biodiversity (other than birds) in order to inform development and management decisions in Key Biodiversity Areas and ensure Zambia adequately contributes to meeting the Global Biodiversity Framework and vision 2050 targets. The assessment of these sites seeks to keep an updated record of the Status of Zambia’s IBAs/KBAs. Apart from the Mafinga KBA, no such assessment has been done for any of Zambia’s sites. Currently, there are 643 trigger bird species, 1 amphibian species, 5 mammals and 3 plant species within the 42 KBAs, with 21.43% of the area completely covered by protected areas, 45.24% covered by partial protection and 33.33% with no protection. Zambia has relatively high levels of habitat remaining, providing great potential for Key Biodiversity Areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). OECMs are a conservation designation for areas achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas. Through routine monitoring of some IBAs, BWZ is aware of the threats in these areas and uses that information to design suitable interventions to combat or mitigate the threats. The monitoring is not done in isolation but as a joint activity with relevant stakeholders in each IBA/KBA. BWZ also conducts training using the BirdLife International adopted ‘State-Pressure-Trends and Response’ model. The training not only develops capacity within partner institutions but also ensures the sustenance of the monitoring programme. As a result of this programme BWZ has strengthened its collaboration with both Civil Society Organization (CSO) and government departments and agencies including; Forestry Department (FD), Department of National Park and Wildlife (DNPW), National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC), Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock through the Department of Fisheries (DoF) and District Councils. In addition, BWZ has also sustained and strengthened collaboration with relevant civil society groups, Site Support Groups (SSGs) and communities in the KBAs.


1. Darwin Funded invasive species control project

Controlling an Invasive aquatic plant for improved biodiversity and livelihood on the Lukanga swamp KBA.

The Lukanga swamp is located approximately 50 kms west of Kabwe town in central Zambia. It is the largest permanent water body in the Kafue basin covering approximately 3300 km². It is one of Zambia’s important wetland ecosystems, a designated Ramsar site as well as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), hosting over 360 resident and migratory bird species including some globally threatened species e.g. the Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus). In addition to avian species this site also holds a good population of semi-aquatic antelopes such as Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei), Oribi (Ourebia ourebi) and a few Red Lechwe (Kobus leche leche). Reptiles such as the Nile crocodile, Rock Python and Monitor Lizard are also common in isolated portions of the swamp. Besides being a suitable habitat for birds and other biodiversity, the swamp is one of Zambia’s major fisheries supplying protein to at least four large cities and contributing about 20% to the country’s fish. The Swamp is highly important for the fishing local community, with its small floating islands, and the surrounding mainland, hosting approximately 22500 fishing community members which translates to at least 2500 households whose livelihoods are supported by fishing from the swamp.

However, since 2009 the swamp has been choked by the infestation of an invasive aquatic weed, Salvinia molesta which posed serious threats to the socio-economic well-being of the local community and the Swamps’ enormous biodiversity. Approximately 60% of the open water lagoons of the Lukanga swamp was infested by the Kariba weed (Salvinia molesta) as indicated by the 2017 satellite image analysis. Since then, records from the Department of Fisheries, local councils and interviews with local resident fishermen indicated reduced catch per unit effort as most of the fish moved further into the swamps, in areas not infested by the Kariba weed. This led fishermen to start using more gear and, in some cases, use incorrect fishing gear such as Mosquito nets and poisons to catch more fish.

Salvinia molesta, commonly known as Kariba weed, is a free-floating aquatic fern native to Brazil. The weed is characterized by its slender stem, floating leaves, and root-like structures. It is considered to be one of the world’s worst weeds because of its high mobility, tolerance to environmental stress, exponential growth rate and the level of difficulty to control it. Once the infestation begins, this fern forms a thin mat of vegetation on the water surface resulting in the alteration of ecosystem processes and functions in aquatic environments. As growth continues the mat increases in thickness and biomass, ultimately forming a multilayer barrier between the terrestrial and aquatic environments. The weed further reduces both sunlight and oxygen underneath which ultimately may lead to death of fish and other aquatic organisms.

In 2013, BirdWatch Zambia (BWZ) attempted manual and mechanical control of Salvinia molesta where community members were involved by using hands and rakes to remove the weed from the swamp. However, these two methods proved to be unsustainable as the weed was difficult to clear hence it re-germinated and was not controlled.

Therefore, in 2017 BirdWatch Zambia through its partnership with BirdLife International, was awarded a 4-year (2017-2021) project funding from the Darwin Initiative of the UK Government to conduct a biocontrol intervention that sought to control this invasive aquatic plant, Salvinia molesta by introducing a very effective and host specific weevil (a known natural enemy that exclusively feeds on the Kariba weed, Cyrtobagous salviniae). The damage caused by the weevil causes Salvinia molesta to turn brown, lose buoyancy and ultimately sink to the bottom of the water body and rot. Through the interventions of this project, a significant portion of the infested habitat of the Lukanga swamp has been restored. The biocontrol method against Salvinia molesta by Cyrtobagous salviniae has proved to be the most efficacious in controlling Salvinia molesta infestations throughout its introduced range.

This project was being conducted in partnership with the Department of Fisheries (DoF), Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and several other partners.

Expected outcomes once the weed had been controlled were that; fish catch was going to be improved, habitat restored, increased dissolved oxygen and sunlight penetration in water and an increased population of the globally threatened species and other waterbirds. The prime objective of the project was to improve conditions for waterbirds, other biodiversity and livelihoods of over 2500 fishing households.

Project activities

After a successful approval from ZEMA, BWZ initiated the biocontrol process. Unfortunately, the project could not obtain weevils from Kafue Fisheries in Zambia as it had undergone a 100% Salvinia control and weevils had died by the time BWZ obtained their permits. Therefore, BWZ imported about 2,200 weevils from the Edgecombe mass rearing facility in Durban, South Africa in October 2018. This consignment was introduced directly into an initial 11 release points on the swamp while a small portion (about 100) initiated the mass rearing process outside the swamp in permanent concrete ponds and movable troughs.

By the end of the project in March 2021, weevils had been introduced onto a total of 76 release points since the initial introduction in October 2018. The quarterly monitoring surveys demonstrated that the weevils covered approximately 1900 km² with 12 kms as the maximum distance covered by weevils from their initial point of release. These results obtained from site monitoring activities focused on observing the extent of spread of the weevils, the browning score (discoloration of Salvinia molesta) as well as observing if the weevils have had any effect on associated plants.

In addition, all control points (points at which weevils were not released, but were monitored to compare impacts with weevil release points) and at least 37 weevil release points merged forming clusters of continuous linked points from weevil activity. This has demonstrated a great extent of weevil spread.

Weevil mass rearing facilities were established in all three entry points into the project site (Waya, Chilwa and Chiyuni) and at the BWZ office. This was done so as to increase the weevil population prior to introduction into additional points in the swamp. A total of 20 weevil mass rearing avenues were established during the project implementation period both on and offsite. These were composed of concrete ponds, fibreglass troughs and plastic troughs. Unfortunately, in 2019 the project experienced a setback when about 400 weevils were lost in one location. This was as a result of negligence on the part of the five weevil monitors in Chiyuni entry point and miscommunication with the BWZ project team. This was however mitigated by a refresher training emphasizing the mass rearing methodology for the weevil success as well as enhanced communication with all monitors in all sites every fortnight.

During the 29th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in project year 3 (July 2019), the project team learnt new techniques used in weevil mass rearing from experts from the Northern Territory Government of Palestine. The new techniques learnt involved keeping the mass rearing avenues at the optimum temperature (25.5 oC-33oC) by using a heating pad, application of a Nitrogen rich fertilizer to improve nutrient quality, thus improving weevil growth through all stages of the life cycle and promoting growth of Salvinia molesta in mass rearing avenues thereby sustaining the weevils.

Additionally, the team learnt a technique for counting weevils from mass rearing avenues, thus providing an indication of the number of weevils at a particular time. Unfortunately, the use of the Nitrogen rich fertilizer (Nutrified) was discontinued due to an increase in algae in the mass rearing avenues.

Additionally, the use of a water-soluble nitrogen-rich fertilizer promotes the speedy development of Salvinia molesta growth tips and improves nutrition in the water that supports the development of the larvae, pupa and egg life cycle stages. The fertilizer improves the health and growth rate of Salvinia molesta which ultimately produces lots of healthy weevils as a result of an improved food supply. In addition to that, nitrogen is known to increase the size of females thus leading to large egg clutches.

Awareness raising to stakeholders and the local community was a vital aspect of the project. The target groups were the fishermen, traders, pupils and traditional leaders and relevant stakeholders. Approximately 4,103 individuals [1682 (41%) females and 2421 (58%)] were reached through awareness raising sessions during the lifetime of the project both on and offsite.

These talks focused on discussing the project intervention, how the weevil works, as well as the Dos and Don’ts with regards to good weevil management to improve the rate of success. These were usually interactive talks with visual awareness raising materials such as posters, banners, invasive species guide and weevil life cycle leaflets.

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