The BirdLife Africa partnership has committed to work beyond species and sites to address the systemic drivers of the biodiversity and climate change crises, and promote a nature-and carbon-neutral world. The last decade has seen a growing trend in the frequency and prevalence of systemic threats around Key Biodiversity Areas in Zambia. Some of the biggest threats include mining, charcoal production, agriculture and climate change. BirdWatch Zambia recognises the devastating impact of most of the threats to KBAs in Zambia. In line with the commitment made, BWZ will endeavour to halt or substantially reduce the impact of systemic threats in the landscapes we work.
Major Threats to habitat and species
Deforestation is the major cause of habitat loss and species extinction around the world. Due to the increased human population in recent years, huge areas of land have been unsustainably cleared to make room for other land uses. This has negatively affected climate, natural ecosystems ability to function properly, and contributed to the decline in biodiversity (plants and animals). Despite all the reasons given for cutting down trees, this has disturbed the balancing of ecosystems. According to the National Geographic, about 70% of Earth’s land fauna and flora are found in the forests, and many cannot survive if their homes are destroyed through deforestation. The following are the drivers of deforestation;
The high demand for charcoal in Zambia is known to be a major contributor to deforestation in the country which results in habitat degradation and species decline. Charcoal is produced for both household consumption as well as commercial distribution in urban areas, while firewood is mostly used almost exclusively within the community where it is harvested. According to the USAID (2012), about 88% of Zambian households depend on forest resources to meet their energy needs, and wood fuels contribute to about 68% of the country's energy consumption. It has been reported that Zambia is the largest charcoal consumer in Southern Africa and charcoal production provides livelihoods for a substantial number of people. This considerably contributes to deforestation, with reports showing that an average of over 300,000 ha of woodland is lost annually. In most Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) where BWZ operates, forests have been destroyed to produce charcoal which is seen as a cheap source of energy. Some of the notable areas with high deforestation rates due to high charcoal production are Game Management Areas (GMAs) around the Kafue National Park, the Kafue flats and Chisamba KBA among others.
Agriculture and land expansion for settlement
The conversion of forests into agricultural and settlement land has been known as the major driver of deforestation globally. The rapid growth in human population and high demand for natural resources across the world is threatening the existence of biodiversity and their habitats due to the pressure which has been put on them. As the population density increases, it creates land shortages and soil fertility suffers, more land is cleared for agriculture expansion and this results in deforestation. As farmers transition to shifting cultivation practices, the land is cleared, and intensive farming kicks in, then abandoned for later use. Huge portions of land in most KBAs are being cleared every day to pave way for settlement and agriculture expansions both small-scale and commercial. These activities have degraded and fragmented suitable habitats for biodiversity to thrive.
Wild and uncontrolled fires destroy millions of hectares of forested lands worldwide. Although fires are a part of nature and can be used as a conservation tool, they have catastrophic effects on the environment and can result in biodiversity loss. Degraded ecosystems are more vulnerable to fires and can cause habitat and species loss. Vulnerable habitats to fire include heavily logged forests, forests on peat soils, or where exclusions have been established to keep fires away resulting in the accumulation of vegetation that results in intense fires. The resulting loss has a huge impact on biodiversity, climate, and economic growth.
Illegal and unsustainable logging (timber extraction)
The high demand for timber for commercial use has a devastating effect on the forests. Illegal logging degrades the economic value of forests and associated biodiversity and makes land more vulnerable to erosion. It also undermines the efforts of sustainable forest management and affects people’s livelihood. Logging impacts climate change by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Illegally harvested wood in Zambia such as the rose wood, Zambezi tick and Mukula finds its way into major consumption markets as far as Europe including the USA and China.
Mining and infrastructure development
The increased demand for mineral resources and urbanisation has become evident and is among the major drivers of deforestation around the world. Clearing of land to pave way for mining activities and infrastructure development contributes to habitat loss and causes biodiversity to lose their habitats. These activities have resulted in wildlife being displaced from their natural habitats and in the process, some are preyed on while others die due stress. This has been evident in Lochinvar National Park where a Gypsum mine has destroyed a natural habitat and displaced wildlife species including birds. According to the assessment report by the World Bank (2012), mining activities have driven at least 7% of deforestation. In many instances, mining projects are often accompanied by infrastructure development such as roads, railway lines for transportation, and power stations for powering the plants, thereby putting further pressure on the ecosystem freshwater resources.
Invasive species have long been known to be a major contributor to global change, biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, and deterioration of ecosystem services around the world. When invasive species invade a particular habitat, they displace biodiversity and cause distortions in the provision of ecosystem services and impact negatively on food supply for biodiversity. This has been evident on the Lukanga swamp which has been invaded by an invasive Salvinia molesta, this has resulted in decline in bird populations especially the open water dependent birds. The other notable invasive plant species Mimosa pigra which has been a problem on the Kafue flats and the Barotse floodplains. Others are Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Mosquito fern (Azolla pinnata) and Limnobium laevigatum which have colonised many water bodies in Zambia, and also Mimosa pigra which has been a problem on the Kafue flats and the Barotse floodplains.