Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 415–429 | Cite as

Human encroachment into protected area networks in Zambia: implications for large carnivore conservation

  • Fred G. R. WatsonEmail author
  • Matthew S. Becker
  • James Milanzi
  • Moses Nyirenda
Original Article


Large carnivores are declining globally, with strong direct and indirect ecological impacts on protected area networks (PANs). Human encroachment on ecosystems is a global threat for large carnivores, particularly in savanna Africa, where increasing human resource demands continue to degrade the connectivity and viability PANs. Zambia has a regionally significant role in large carnivore conservation, given that it borders eight countries, includes three transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), and manages nearly 40 % of its land for wildlife. Deforestation in general and encroachment in particular are recognized problems in Zambian natural resource management. However, specific impacts on PANs are poorly understood owing to a lack of adequate mapping of encroachment, deriving from widespread difficulty in mapping cultivation and clearing in fire-prone savannas, and severe inaccuracy in several previous land cover data sets. Using simple manual interpretation of diverse and carefully chosen remote sensing imagery, we evaluated land use change from 1965 to 2011 in Zambia, primarily in the Luangwa Valley. We found widespread encroachment extending toward national parks from major roads as fast as 2 km/year and averaging 18 hectares per hour of daylight throughout a 159,805 km2 study area, eliminating designated buffer zones in some areas, decreasing connectivity, and potentially eliminating viable TFCAs. At current rates, Zambia’s PANs would be expected to be reduced into small isolated pockets primarily centered on national parks, with substantial human edge effects threatening the viability of wildlife populations in the region, particularly wide-ranging, low density, and threatened large carnivores such as African wild dogs, cheetah, and lion. It is thus critical that encroachment is accurately mapped across the entire region and that land use plans are developed, implemented, revised where necessary, and enforced with strong governmental support, enabling protection of these areas and the communities that depend upon them.


Remote sensing Encroachment Zambia Transfrontier Community conservation Luangwa Kafue KAZA Wildlife 



We thank the Zambia Wildlife Authority for permission and collaboration with this research. This work was funded through grants by Worldwide Fund for Nature, The Netherlands, Painted Dog Conservation Inc., National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, and National Science Foundation Animal Behavior Program under IOS-1145749. Fieldwork was supported by R. McRobb, B. Kanyembo, B. Banda, K. Chulu, and M. Phiri.

Supplementary material

10113_2014_629_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred G. R. Watson
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Matthew S. Becker
    • 2
    • 3
  • James Milanzi
    • 4
  • Moses Nyirenda
    • 5
  1. 1.Division of Science and Environmental PolicyCalifornia State University Monterey BaySeasideUSA
  2. 2.Zambian Carnivore ProgrammeMfuweZambia
  3. 3.Department of EcologyMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  4. 4.Zambia Wildlife AuthorityChilangaZambia
  5. 5.Worldwide Fund for Nature, Zambia Country OfficeLongacres, LusakaZambia

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