Oxford University- Chancellor, Masters and Scholars, University of Witwatersrand, IUCN, ITB Vietnam Institute of Tropical Biology, G37 Consulting
Zimbabwe boasts one of the most successful conservation programs in Africa, partly because the conservation effort enables local communities’ to thrive on sustainable livelihoods that are contingent on maintaining biodiversity-rich landscapes.
Recently, global challenges have made conventional livelihoods less viable, and this has led to increased pressures on natural resources and diminished support for conservation initiatives. Developing alternative livelihoods for rural communities is now regarded as one of the most important conservation challenges facing Zimbabwe.
Commercial snake farming across Asia has risen in prominence over the past decade to be a lucrative and fast-growing international industry. As an alternative livelihood for small-scale farmers, it addresses some of the most perplexing challenges facing livelihood security – issues such as energy deficiency, climate variability, sustainable intensification and freshwater scarcity.
Pythons require up to 90% fewer calorie inputs compared to conventional livestock, and they can survive without food for up to two years during times of famine. They can be sustained on virtually any form of waste protein – from seasonal insect pests to by-products from agri-food chains. Python farming requires minimal start-up costs, land or freshwater resources, and both python meat and skins command a premium on the international market – a global industry now worth over a billion dollars.
Our research on the agricultural potential of pythons has been ongoing in Asia since 2013. Our findings have been widely published through peer reviewed journals and reports. We now plan to transfer this sustainable, pro-poor and proven technology to Africa, where socio-economic and environmental conditions are similar but no such industry exists.
The primary aim of this scoping trip is to undertake a feasibility assessment for establishing and developing a python farming industry in Zimbabwe. To do this, we plan to carry out meetings with various local stakeholders to a) present background information via PPT presentations b) assess attitudes and general willingness to support the idea, c) establish national and international policy and legislative frameworks and d) identify socio-economic prerequisites (e.g. existing and available resources).
Stakeholders will include Parks and Wildlife Authority, Ministries of Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and small-scale farmers near Hwange National Park.
Letters of support are available from all project partners.
Example of recent work and collaborations:
Aust, PW., Truyen, T., Natusch, D. J. D. (2016) Industry Standards for Captive Breeding of Pythons – First Edition. Compiled by the IUCN/SSC Boa & Python Specialist Group and Viet Nam CITES Management Authority for Kering.
Aust PW, Van Tri N, Natusch DJD & Alexander GJ (2016). Asian snake farms: conservation curse or sustainable enterprise? Oryx, available on CJO2016. doi:10.1017/S003060531600034X.
Aust PW (2015). An assessment of the commercial production of CITES-listed snake species in Viet Nam and China. Report to CITES. Proceedings of the 28th Meeting of the Animals Committee. CITES, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Nossal K, Livingston DG, Aust PW, Thai T, Ngo Viet C, Nguyen V & Natusch DJD (2016) The impact of the python skin trade on local livelihoods in Viet Nam, Report to International Trade Centre, Geneva, Switzerland.