The fascinating untold story of how Mozambique’s Coutada 11 went from desolation to wildlife mecca

Bringing Back the Lions by author Mike Arnold tells it all.

For most, Africa conjures up images of elephants, giraffes, lions, and herds of wildebeest and impala. While that was once the case for Mozambique’s magnificent natural area known as Coutada 11 in the 1990s, the once-beautiful Zambezi Delta region was devoid of wildlife. Several factors contributed to the extreme change, including a Civil War, poachers, and a starving local population that was going to extreme measures to survive.

After many visits to Coutada 11 and countless interviews, Mike Arnold recounts the incredible journey of how Mark Haldane and a select group of people restored wildlife and wildlife habitat in his new book, Bring back the lions.

This is a true-life fantasy story of modern conservation at its finest that will keep you enthralled from start to finish. Here is an excerpt from the book:

The Civil War in Mozambique, a country in southern Africa, lasted from 1977 to 1992. During this terrible conflict, particularly in the countryside, there was no food or work. The children suffered from chronic malnutrition and severe protein deficiency, or Kwashiorkor, a visible sign of which was their terribly swollen bellies. With no other options to survive, family units relied on poaching for protein to stay alive. Poaching brought game animals to the brink of extinction. Many species of plants, birds and mammals disappeared. Ecosystems within what is known as the Marromeu Complex of the Zambezi Delta deteriorated.

Shortly after the Civil War ended in 1992, people from the capital city of Maputo and neighboring South Africa arrived at the Marromeu Complex. They held meetings with the Sena people. They explained that they had a vision to improve not only the lives of the villagers, but also the ecosystems in which they lived. His vision included the recovery of native plants, songbirds, small amphibians, insects and, yes, all the larger mammals coveted by poachers. They emphasized that for this resurrection to occur, the Sena people and outsiders must work hand in hand. The newcomers described the first critical action that must be taken, without which the seemingly unimaginable vision would be impossible to achieve.

What was this first step? It involved the provision of a constant supply of meat to the Sena families. But where would it come from? As with the minimal protein provided by villager poaching, the source would be game animals. However, unlike indiscriminate poaching by villagers, international trophy hunters would be the source. All the meat from the strictly regulated sport hunt would go to feed local villagers and international hunters. The goal was to provide 10 pounds of meat per week for each of the Sena families. However, unlike the large-scale killing of animals by poachers, sport hunters would take only a few of the largest males each year of each game species.

As the weekly supply of 10 pounds of meat from trophy hunting was met, poaching became unnecessary for the survival of the villagers.

With poaching controlled through meat and funds provided by hunters, animal populations have gone from the brink of extinction to carrying capacity and beyond. When Zambeze Delta Safaris began operations, Sable Antelopes, Waterbucks and Zebras were almost impossible to find. This was understandable with only 30 Sabers, 200 Waterbucks and 8 Zebras surviving the intense poaching. Protecting these and other trophy species from destruction by the bushmeat trade was key. The results of anti-poaching efforts, supported by funding from international sport hunters, are evident in these three species. Since Zambeze Delta Safaris began its work in 1994, the Sable antelope have increased from 30 to 3,000; Waterbucks from a few hundred to about 25,000; zebras from 8 to over 1200.

Although the successful suppression of poaching for meat in the Marromeu Complex was effective early in Zambeze Delta Safaris’ tenure, habitat loss due to slash-and-burn agriculture remained a major concern. This agricultural practice is common in developing countries, where local villagers clear an area around their houses by cutting down vegetation and burning fallen trees and bushes.

Like the development of housing subdivisions in North America, the remaining habitat is rarely useful to local wildlife. To combat habitat loss from such farming practices, Zambeze Delta Safaris undertook two major initiatives.

First, with funding from the Michigan Chapter of Safari Club International, they developed a 150-acre community farm. Safaris staff use a tractor and plow purchased with hunter funds to prepare the field for Sena villagers. Each participating family receives an allotment of 1 hectare plus fertilizer at the beginning and middle of the growing season.

Locating the field in a single, centralized area prevented the development of 65 separate agricultural fields throughout the Marromeu complex. This allowed previously cleared areas to regenerate.

The second initiative was even more ambitious and effective. Zambeze Delta Safaris owner/operator Mark Haldane met again with Sena chiefs and its inhabitants. This time, Mark and his staff asked them if they would be willing to move their small settlements to a centralized location. This was a completely voluntary program, but Mark and his colleagues proposed to find funds for a school, housing for teachers and a clinic, all to be located near the resettlement area. Zambeze Delta Safaris’ plan also included a cash payment to anyone willing to accept the resettlement offer.

The resettlement program was a great success, as every small town had now moved to the centralized location. The migration has been beneficial to the people, bringing the children closer to their school and all the villagers within walking distance of a clinic.

Hunter funds paid for all parts of this program. And the result for wildlife has been the restoration of large tracts of the Zambezi Delta and the Marromeu Complex.

Without the hunters’ funds there would have been no suppression of poaching and no end to slash-and-burn agriculture in this part of Mozambique. With significant funding provided by passionate sportsmen and sportswomen dedicated to the conservation of not only game animals, but also songbirds, trees, frogs and insects, there are now millions of acres of wild Africa restored and protected.

Of all the uses of African landscapes, sport hunting is by far the one that leaves the smallest carbon footprint and provides the greatest opportunity for the resurrection of ecosystems and the lives of indigenous peoples.
According to Joe Betar, executive director of the Houston Safari Club Foundation: “Bringing Back the Lions is masterfully crafted…if you care about the future of wildlife and habitat, you should read this book.”

Get your copy now. Bringing Back the Lions is available at