The Nature Conservancy has spent a lot of time and money working to protect the land in the Illinois and Mississippi watersheds. That effort has included partnering with other river conservation programs around the world. The Pantanal in Brazil and the Yangtze River in China are already members of the Great Rivers Partnership. Now the Zambezi River in Africa is in the fold. Jimmiel Mandima is an aquatic ecologist and the director of the African Wildlife Foundation’s Zambezi Heartland Project. He is in Peoria today and joins us now.
Jonathan Ahl: The Nature Conservancy is now taking your project under its wing. What do you hope to get out of working with the Nature Conservancy and the people here in Illinois?
Jimmiel Mandima: Great question. The Zambezi River is one of the lifelines of the Zambezi [Heartland] in southern Africa, and we feel that the experience the Nature Conservancy has had on the Illinois and the Mississippi and other great rivers in Brazil and in China would bring a lot of lessons which could come to bear for conservation within the Zambezi. I am looking in particular at places where we can learn from the experiences of how flood region modification on the Illinois, as it is out of levees, can give us lessons on how we can also improve productivity on the Zambezi River, which has been modified as a result of damming on the system.
JA: Now the science is only part of it…maybe the bigger part of it is how to marshal resources and get people interested in river preservation. With the dramatic differences in the governments between your country and ours, do you anticipate there being a lot of practical knowledge in that realm as well?
JM: That is very valid because we are looking at a landscape which is in a developing world situation, compared to a developed world situation in the Illinois and the Mississippi. What we look at is really the bigger picture of the global perspective of conservation, where these great rivers do inhabit the heritage of wildlife resources…I think we will be able to interest the different well-wishers who are interested in this global heritage and natural resources, which will drive the function of the whole world to invest in conservation initiatives on the Zambezi.
JA: The Nature Conservancy has been very active in tourism issues in some of their conservation lands in the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. What lessons do you hope to learn from them along those lines in balancing tourism with conservation?
JM: A couple of things. What we’ve noted is that it is very possible to overdevelop by having so much infrastructure to service the tourists. Yet in that process you can easily remove the very attraction people come for. And we want to learn from what development has taken place on the Illinois in terms of tourism infrastructure and ensure that the valley which exists along the Zambezi River is not destroyed by overdevelopment, but try to develop facilities which encourage eco-tourism. These are the kinds of lessons we are looking at getting.
JA: In your tours of the Illinois River—you were here last year and back again this year—what strikes you most when you see what we have here? What sticks with you as something that is unique and different? What are the kinds of things you tell your friends when you go back home?
JM: I think I have been more than impressed by the Nature Conservancy’s approach—the way they’ve invested highly in purchasing and acquiring land to restore the natural ecosystem’s functions. The situation that I saw at Spunky Bottoms and Emiquon where you already have a floodplain which is now really starting to generate the natural kind of function of different species, is very impressive. And my hope and lesson is that we don’t have to go to that extent…we need to learn from this lesson where we do not have to invest so much money and avoid the need to go to the extent of where we’d have to [in order to] restore our system, but rather, avoiding such extent of overdevelopment.
Jonathan Ahl is the News Director of WCBU, Peoria’s listener-supported NPR News and Classical Music station on 89.9 FM. This interview took place on February 7, 2007.
For more information about the Nature Conservancy and its Great Rivers Partnership, go to www.nature.org/wherewework/greatrivers. IBI