Many wildlife areas inhabited by the "big 5" animal species provide few alternatives apart from hunting — the hunt of Cecil, a renowned black-maned lion that recently hit the news, being a prominent example.

Far from being empty spaces, the stretches of land outside national parks play host to large local communities, with pressing income needs to feed hungry families. The most likely adverse impact of banning hunting in areas around Hwange National Park would be the land’s creeping conversion to agricultural uses. This despite the fact wildlife areas are often only marginally attractive for agriculture, far away from markets, and devoid of significant infrastructure — including the type needed for organizing photographic safaris or other ecotourism activities. An even worse alternative to hunting is poaching for sales of ebony, rhino horn, lion bones and bushmeat — a detrimental activity for the region’s delicate wildlife and ecosystems.

Wildlife conservation is crucial for safeguarding local biodiversity and livelihoods, and adapting to climate change. Many plant species have adapted seeds that are dependent on passing through an elephant’s digestive system before they can sprout. For instance a whopping third of tree species in West African forests rely on elephants for their dissemination. These elephant-planted West African trees are part of the forests that cover around one third of all global land area and are home to 80% of earthbound biodiversity. Losing forests would mean losing the chief guardians of our watersheds, which currently supply 75 percent of freshwater worldwide.

Be it directly or indirectly, we all depend on our planet’s finite resources. We influence local habitat and wildlife while trying to meet our basic needs and aspirations. In the case of Zimbabwe, illegal hunting is still a challenge, but economic alternatives are slowly gaining ground:

In Northern Zimbabwe, near Lake Kariba, local villagers have been busy setting up their own sustainable businesses that allow living in line with conservational requirements. They take pride in native fruit tree cultivation and establishment of beekeeping, with honey sales contributing to family incomes. They participate in regular trainings that revolve around crop and pest management, composting and awareness of working with fire.

All these efforts to improve income generation and environmental protection are financed by the Kariba REDD+ project. The community owned project is operated by Carbon Green Africa, focused on conservation and reduction of climate change, and South Pole . It is financed in its entirety through payments for carbon credits. The project’s raison d’être is to create opportunities and income by assigning more financial value to forests and wildlife when healthy and thriving, rather than felled or hunted down.

Since the Kariba REDD+ launch in 2012, the people of Hurungwe, Nyaminyami, Binga and Mbire have seen more productive opportunities. They have had the possibility to convert their time to education in recently renovated school buildings. The region boasts a vibrant wildlife which wanders along the Matusadona and Mana Pools National Parks — a Unesco World Heritage Site – thanks to the anti-poaching and biodiversity monitoring run by locals. After three years of operation, the wildlife surveillance data shows that population levels of 12 species are positively impacted in the project area.

Despite the imminent divide between the “hunt” and “not to hunt” camps, money remains the bottom line. While many have spoken vocally against hunting, there exist limited options beyond hunting operations and safaris for the local people living in wildlife areas. The use of smart finance, such as in the case of Kariba REDD+, will not only support the protection of endangered wildlife, but also build economically viable, healthy and sustainable communities. Without alternative income streams, the current situation seems unlikely to change. Local people will cling to their means for long-standing revenue with an iron grip.

The recent attention-grabbing headlines revolving around Zimbabwe have encouraged both time and resources to be channeled toward conservation causes. The concern for wildlife clearly reaches beyond Zimbabwe’s borders and across the Twittersphere. This global push shows the will and pressing need to find better financial alternatives for local communities – and to ensure the remaining Cecil’s keep roaming in the wild.

If you wish to support the Kariba REDD+ project in providing sustainable alternative livelihood activities, you can buy carbon credits from it here or, for larger quantities, by getting in touch with South Pole Group’s team: Andrea Rumiz, Director Key Accounts,

Image credit: South Pole