Zambian group studies Avoyelles wetlands

	Dr. L.J. Mayeux (left, pointing) explains the different types of ducks represented by his prized collection of hand-carved decoys to a group of Zambian wildlife officials who visited the parish recently. In addition to visiting Mayeux’s “Mallard Manor” home, the group also toured Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge, which is adjacent to Mayeux’s home. {Photos by Raymond L. Daye}

By Raymond L. Daye

    Concern over saving important wetlands and protecting the survival of species that depend on that habitat knows no geographical or cultural boundaries.
    That was proven when a group of Zambian wildlife officials visited Avoyelles as part of a U.S. visit to learn more about efforts to protect wetlands.
    Zambia is, literally, half a world away from Louisiana but similar in many ways.
    “The world is becoming smaller in many ways,” Griffin Shanunzu said. Shanunzu is the supervisor of wildlife ecologists with the Zambia Wildlife Authority. He also works with the International Crane Foundation.
    Shanunzu said the group of wildlife professionals came to America to participate in the International Crane Foundation’s Conservation Leadership Program. They had two weeks of classes in Wisconsin and came to Louisiana on July 12.  LSU in Baton Rouge served as their home base for  trips around the state.
    In Avoyelles, they were hosted by Dr. L.J. Mayeux of Marksville, parish coroner and expert on ducks and duck habitat. They were impressed by Mayeux’s collection of wood carvings and other duck-related items.
    The visitors also toured Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge.
    The goal behind the program is to inspire young African ecologists to get interested in wetland protection and to put into practice what they learn from the training. While here, they also visited several other areas to get a firsthand look at wildlife management and conservation efforts.
    Shanunzu works mostly in the Kafue Flats Wetlands, which is an important habitat for cranes and antelopes.
   “I am involved in trying to control invasive plant species that kill preferred plants and damage the habitat for these species,” he said.
He said he was impressed with this area and the many impoundments that provide habit for waterfowl.
 
Moved by Gulf spill
   One of those young ecologists is Saferana Banda, who got interested in wildlife ecology after watching a report on the Gulf oil spill in 2010.
   He said the disaster, and the damage done to waterfowl and other creatures “touched me greatly. I thought, ‘What can I do to keep our wildlife habitat as pristine as possible?’ That’s when I decided to study wildlife ecology.” 
   His first job after graduation was in a more commercial area of ecology, “and my heart was not in it.”
   Shortly after that, he was offered a position with the Zambia Wildlife Authority. He now works in the West Lungu National Park in Zambia’s Northwest Province.
   Banda said there are areas in this state that look a lot like Zambia, “but it is very humid here. We do not have that in Zambia. Other than that, it is very similar.”
 
Politics vs. ecology
    Apparently, the natural environment is not the only similarity between the two wildlife conservation efforts. The political environment is also similar.
   “Our biggest challenge in wildlife conservation is that there is too much politics,” Banda said. “There is a move now to build a thermal energy plant to take advantage of natural hot springs in the wildlife habitat. The government has hired a company to explore the creation of a thermal energy plant.
    "This is a very important breeding area for the birds, and this kind of development might adversely affect them," he said. “There are also mining prospects in these areas. Mining will definitely have an effect on the ecosystem. That is why I am now studying environmental law, to get a clearer picture of the overall situation.
   “No one is above the law.”

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