Nsumbu Tanganyika Conservation Project

Located on the Zambian shores of Lake Tanganyika, an aquatic world in itself, Nsumbu is a wildlife refuge, a unique ecosystem and the youngest of Frankfurt Zoological Society’s projects in Africa.

Impenetrable Sumbu-Itigi forest lines Lake Tanganyika in Nsumbu. Photo: Craig Zytkow/FZS
The Nsumbu ecosystem is located in the northeast of Zambia, linking the Great Lakes Tanganyika and Mweru Wantipa. The Nsumbu National Park covers approximately 2,000 square kilometres, including about 80 kilometres of the most pristine shoreline of Lake Tanganyika. It is one of only three national parks along the entire lake shore and with its endangered Sumbu-Itigi forests, fish spawning grounds and elephant population arguably the most important one.

Nsumbu National Park is a diverse landscape with three main terrestrial habitat types: miombo woodlands, floodplains and Sumbu-Itigi forest. The southern section at higher altitude is characterized by miombo woodlands. Here, the Lufubu river slows into oxbow lagoons and has formed sizeable floodplains with extremely productive grasses and wetlands. The system of wetlands, floodplains and surrounding forest north of the river contains the largest diversity and populations of mammals, especially antelope. With decreasing altitude, the open woodlands give way to large stands of the endemic Sumbu-Itigi forest that is virtually extinct outside the protected area due to agricultural land clearing.
The “Ilangi” is a cichlid variant endemic to Nsumbu National Park. Photo: Evert van Ammelrooy
With about 250 species, the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika are widely considered the most diverse population in the world. About half of all cichlid species are present within Nsumbu National Park. Five percent are considered endemic. The rich shallow waters are vital breeding grounds for almost all fish species, including ones that are an important source of protein to about one million people in the region.

What we do

The Nsumbu Tanganyika Conservation Project is Frankfurt Zoological Society’s latest engagement in Africa. We build on the work of Craig Zytkow who founded and led the organisation ‘Conservation Lake Tanganyika’ and will continue his efforts focusing on protected area management with an emphasis on conserving the elephant population, as well as community engagement and capacity building around conservation.

Community participation and inclusion

The southern section of land around Lake Tanganyika is inhabited by the people of the Tabwa and Lungu tribes. Traditionally, fishing and hunting was sustainable due to lower human populations and a lack of markets. But the recent past has seen the decimation of natural resources and changing population dynamics exasperate the problems.

Ensuring that communities are engaged and empowered to make decisions is the only way Nsumbu can be conserved in the long term. Communities need to see tangible benefits from conserving their resources. We plan to support the communities in the Game Management Areas in Nsumbu by:

  • Facilitating the democratic election of a Community Resource Board and strengthening these community institutions
  • Creating Community Fisheries Committee to engage with government on fishing methods, licencing and management initiatives
  • Training and ongoing support to farmers in conservation farming methods
  • Creating village and GMA-level land use plans
  • Developing conservation compatible alternative livelihood options
  • Promoting population, health and the environment linkages

Park Management and Law Enforcement

Nsumbu National Park is managed by the Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife. We support the Senior Park Ranger strategically in anti-poaching and other management issues:

  • Construction of critical Park infrastructure
  • Provision and support of motorized equipment
  • Employing a minimum of 10 Community Scouts and providing uniforms and field equipment to all scouts in the field
  • Running an operations control room and providing equipment for patrol planning
  • Ongoing ranger training and mentoring
  • Funding the newly established Investigations and Intelligence Unit
  • Surveying Nsumbu’s lion population

Elephant Conservation

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Elephants in Nsumbu are slowly losing their fear of humans and can be watched in the open. Photo: Craig Zytkow/FZS
Nsumbu was once home to several thousand elephants and part of a wider elephant habitat that extended from the shores of Lake Tanganyika to the hinterlands of the Congo. Today, Nsumbu National Park has become the last refuge of an isolated population of about 150 elephants.

The dense Itigi forests of Nsumbu make accurate counts difficult, but provided a vital retreat during years of heavy poaching. Law enforcement efforts are formed around protecting the remaining population and today, elephants feel safe enough to venture out during daylight and can be seen swimming in Lake Tanganyika. The high number of young animals indicates the herds are breeding and elephants are being seen in areas of Nsumbu where they have been absent for decades.

Protecting elephants by the nature of their behaviour means patrolling and monitoring vast areas, which in turn provides protection for all other species in that habitat. We believe ensuring elephants continue to exist on the shores of one of the most ancient lakes on earth is critical to its preservation and provides a symbol of what is possible.