Inspiring local communities in Africa to support lion conservation
“Local people should be at the forefront of the solutions to the challenges facing their wildlife. Sometimes, change can only come when the people most affected and impacted take charge. Local communities play an important role in fighting poaching and illegal wildlife trade, which are major threats affecting lions and other wildlife.” – Moreangels Mbizah
Moreangles Mbizah is a lion conservationist. She is a dedicated conservationist with the aim of promoting human-wildlife coexistence and empowering local communities. As the Founder of Wildlife Conservation Action, she has dedicated her life to seeking ways of jointly addressing conservation and livelihood issues to benefit both wildlife and local communities who are living in abject poverty. She is also the focal area group leader for the Kaza Carnivore’s Conservation Coalition in Sebungwe region, Kaza.
Mbizah believes that unless local communities want to protect and coexist with wildlife, all conservation efforts might be in vain and no amount of outside intervention will work. Local communities should stand to benefit from all conservation efforts in order for conservation to work.
This interview explores why conservationists must prioritise environmental education and help expand local communities’ skills to conserve their wildlife. School children and communities must be taken to national parks, so they get a chance to connect with wildlife. At every effort and every level, conservation must include the economies of the people who share the land with wild animals. It is also critical that local conservationists are part of every effort.
Watch a National Geographic video featuring Moreangels Mbizah talking about Cecil the Lion:
Why do you work in conservation?
As a conservationist, I’m doing this because I want to make a difference in protecting wildlife. And one of the most important things for me is also to involve communities in protecting wildlife, because, for the longest time, wildlife conservation has been about people coming from outside of Africa and doing the work in the local communities. But I think for me, it’s important for local communities to be involved directly to make [the] decisions they want for their wildlife and to also be involved directly in the conservation activities that are pending. That’s why I’m doing this. And I’m just hoping that it will make a difference in how we do conservation and how our communities perceive wildlife conservation and just how they protect wildlife in their communities.
What are the main activities in your current role?
In my current role at Kaza Carnivore’s Conservation Coalition, I oversee the conservation projects in one of the regions called Sebungwe.
My role as the working group leader is to lead the different conservation activities happening in that area and try to bring in all the stakeholders together so that we can work on different projects together and find a way to maybe expand some of the projects to the whole landscape. For example, human-wildlife conflict projects happening in one of the areas within the region, then we can upscale that project to cover other areas within the landscape.
We aim to coordinate the different conservation activities happening across the landscape and also find ways where the different stakeholders and organisations can collaborate on the different projects that they are doing so that we can have something that is uniform across the landscape.
Also we can identify and try to fill the gaps. Sometimes there’s an overlap between what different organisations are doing and we want to avoid that. So we find a way for these organisations to work alongside each other and also find strength in each other and collaborate on different activities.
What is the best part of the job that you do?
Interacting with different stakeholders from conservation organisations. They are the rural district councils, which are the governing boards for some of these districts that are under the carnivore program; we have the town councils, the government departments, national parks, the private sector and some companies that are working in that area, but are also involved in conservation activities. So it is just interacting with all of these stakeholders and the communities which are the most important stakeholders.
Interacting with them and finding ways to make conservation work in the landscape and seeing the results of the collaborative work that these different stakeholders are doing. Seeing how the community is involved and is becoming part of the conservation activities, just gives me the strength to go on and the passion to continue doing what I’m doing now.
What are your career highlights or things you’re most proud of so far?
Completing my PhD is a highlight for me because it wasn’t an easy journey. I had so many obstacles, so many ups and downs, and so many challenges. And I think just going through that and coming out the other end is a great highlight for me. I’m proud that I could achieve that under those circumstances. The other thing is the TED Talk; it is something that I, even up to now when I look back or even watch it again, I am proud. It’s something that I can’t still believe that I did. It was frightening standing in front of those people. Those two are my highlights.
What key steps in your conservation career have you taken so far?
I always make decisions based on what I feel is best and has an impact on wildlife and in communities living alongside wildlife. That has been my focus along my journey and I try to make decisions and find my way around it. I have been using that to make decisions about my career, decisions about the best steps in my career, decisions about which jobs I can pick, decisions about consultancy work. So I’ve just been focused on what is best for our lives and for people and also my values.
This has been key in all the decisions that I have been making and some of the things that I have decided on, have been coming from how I feel about a certain situation. This is based on my intuition to make decisions. And so I think one of the things that I have decided on was to start my own organisation, which I did in 2018. That’s something challenging. You have people asking why you have to do that, it is risky, and why can’t you do this or that. But because you believe in something, you want to push for that and you just be firm on your decision. It’s scary and there’s no guarantee you will succeed with your plans or you are going to find a way around it. But because I am determined and I believe in our mission, i.e. the mission of always being open and that it’s always better to try than not trying because you are afraid of failure. If I fail, that’s fine as long as I have tried. That’s what I am doing now.
Tell me more about this organisation you founded.
It’s called Wildlife Conservation Action. Our mission is to empower local communities and build the capacity of the local communities to protect and coexist with wildlife. We are trying to work with local communities so that we can give them the skills and the know-how, that they can be able to protect wildlife and they can feel like it is their wildlife, not somebody else’s. In that way, they can protect wildlife and they can coexist because most of these communities are living very close or alongside wildlife.
They need ways to coexist with wildlife. We are trying to find ways together with the communities for how best they can live with wildlife and how best they can protect wildlife and how they can benefit from having wildlife in their areas.
What advice do you give someone wishing to follow your footsteps?
I would say they should follow their dreams, they should follow their passion. Because in conservation it’s about passion. You have to be passionate about it because sometimes it’s stressful, sometimes it’s depressing. If you are passionate and you want to make a difference, then it’s a great opportunity for someone to do that. I would just advise them to follow it through and to keep pushing. Sometimes some doors don’t open easily but you have to keep pushing. Be ready to allow yourself to learn and grow as you go. Like in your career as you go you learn, grow, and you get to connect with different people and you get to learn. Be always open to learning. Be open to new ideas and to new ways of doing things. My advice is just to stay true to themselves, because sometimes, we encounter different situations where you just have to make a decision to be true to yourself and not allow other people to determine the direction that they want you to go. So you just have to remain true to yourself and true to what you believe in.
If you’re inspired by people taking risks and sticking to what they believe in, you can learn more on the Wildlife Conservation Action website.
To learn more about opportunities with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and University of Oxford, UK, where Moreangels completed her PhD, visit our Conservation Training board.