Northern Mozambique’s Niassa Reserve (4.2 million hectares) is one of the planet’s last remaining havens for biodiversity. Niassa harbours 40% of Mozambique’s entire elephant population, and is one of the most important refuges on the entire continent for two of Africa’s threatened carnivores, lion and wild dog.
FFI has been supporting Niassa – and the impoverished communities whose livelihoods depend on the reserve’s natural resources – for almost 15 years. This experience and institutional memory gives FFI a clear perspective on what is required to safeguard and conserve this amazing wilderness. The size of Niassa is its greatest attribute. However, it is also presents its greatest management challenge. Effective conservation management for an area this size presents enormous logistical difficulties. The recent resurgence in the demand for ivory and consequent explosion in poaching activity has exacerbated that problem.
As a result, in 2012, FFI took the strategic decision to secure a key area of the reserve situated at the coalface of the poaching threat and home to the most significant concentrations of wildlife. Chuilexi Conservancy was formed from three adjoining tourism concessions within Niassa Reserve, which FFI brought together after securing the management rights. This ‘reserve within a reserve’ is a vast area in its own right, covering 586,800 hectares. It was carefully chosen to ensure maximum conservation impact by protecting the highest densities of wildlife within the most severely threatened part of Niassa as a whole.
Over the last six years, FFI has implemented an ambitious programme of community engagement and anti-poaching measures that include livelihoods support and investment in critical infrastructure that has enabled access to the furthest reaches of the conservancy. Chuilexi Conservancy is now taking shape as a model of excellence that could serve as a blueprint for effective conservation management throughout the rest of Niassa.
Chuilexi provides strong evidence that FFI’s approach can reap significant benefits, curbing snaring and illegal logging, and – most critically – reducing the levels of elephant poaching within Chuilexi’s boundaries. We have been able to demonstrate that elephant poaching, which is rife across the African continent and the greater Niassa Reserve, can be significantly reduced with effective management whilst also benefiting local people.
Within the space of just six years, with intensive investment, Chuilexi has grown from three unprotected and besieged concessions into a well-established and functional conservancy – one of the largest private concessions in Africa. Given the sheer scale of the operation, this is a significant achievement. More importantly, it demonstrates that our model is working, and paves the way for even deeper and wider impact in future years to come.