Turning weapons into jewelry – that’s one of the goals of an NGO that is helping Zambian poachers become jewelers. The raw materials are 750 confiscated firearms and 40,000 wire snares used to capture endangered wildlife. The project is sponsored by the group Community Markets for Conservation, based in New York, under the auspices of Wildlife Conservation Society International. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Danstan Kaunda in Lusaka says one-time poachers in Luangwa Valley, along the borders of Malawi and Mozambique, are now making necklaces, bracelets, anklets and earrings.
Unlike ordinary jewelry, this uses steel wires that, when made into a loop, formed deadly snares used to kill endangered animals. Today, the wires are beaded with wild fruit seeds and put to an entirely different use.
They’ll hang around women’s wrists and necks – and from their ears -- as fashionable ornaments costing up to $30 a piece.
Dale Lewis is a director of the project. He says, “Generally, most of these people are poor farmers who live in these parks and they are isolated in those remote areas. Therefore, it is not easy for them to find food or market products that they produce. As a result, many of them find themselves doing things that are illegal or destructive and harmful to the natural resources [there.] “
Lewis says the jewelry has received an overwhelming response from tourists visiting Zambia. Orders are also coming in from abroad, thanks to a successful effort to market the ornaments on-line at www.Itswild.org.
Lewis also says, “We are thinking of exploring a way on how we can set up a distribution center in the United States because that’s where most requests come from. With that, I think we can [set] a high price [there] for this product, and [the profits] will be returned to the community conservation programs.”
In most African cultures, women wear beads for many reasons – from courtship to solemn occasions like funerals. Evanet Chilombe sells jewelry and says, ”I have been in this business two years now. It is sustainable and profitable. And now most of the Zambian women are also getting interested in buying our products, [rather] than buying cheap things made in Asia.”
The ornaments cost between $15 and $30 apiece. Many of them are sold to tourists but some Zambian women also manage to purchase one or two of the pieces. So far, the project has raised more than $300,000 for supporting rural communities and protecting wildlife.
The project also teaches poachers alternative ways to make money, such as fish farming, bee keeping, organic farming, and carpentry.
Zambia’s Luangwa Valley has one of Africa’s greatest wildlife ecosystems. But in recent years poaching has almost driven the black rhino into extinction and cut the elephant population by half.
The sponsors of the project hope that giving poachers another way to earn a living will help reduce the damage to the environment.