Controlling an Invasive aquatic plant for improved biodiversity and livelihood on the Lukanga swamp IBA.


Project Background

The Lukanga Swamp, located 55kms from Kabwe town in central Zambia is recognised as a Ramsar site as well as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) covering approximately 3300 km². It hosts over 350 residents and migratory bird species including some globally threatened species e.g. the Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus). In addition to avian species this site also holds a good population of semi-aquatic antelopes such as Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei), Oribi (Ourebia ourebi) and a few Red Lechwe (Kobus leche leche). Reptiles such as the Nile crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus), Rock Python (Python sebae) and Monitor Lizard (Varanus sp.) are also common in isolated portions of the swamp. The Swamp is highly important for the fishing local community, with its small islands, and the surrounding mainland, hosting approximately 22500 fishing community whose livelihoods are supported by fishing from the swamp. This swamp supports about 20% of Zambia’s fish.

Unfortunately, since 2009 the swamp has been infested by the invasive Kariba weed (Salvinia molesta) which currently covers about 2000 km² (>60% surface area) of the swamp. Since then, records from the Department of Fisheries, local councils and interviews with local resident fishermen have indicated reduced catch per effort (from ca. 35kg/hr to >20kg/hr) and most of the fish has moved further into the swamps, in areas not infested by the Kariba weed. This has led fishermen to use more gear and in some cases use incorrect fishing gear such as Mosquito nets and poisons to catch more fish. The weed forms a mat on water, reducing both sunlight and oxygen underneath which ultimately may lead to death of fish.

Darwin Project Past EffortsDarwinProject

BirdWatch Zambia (BWZ) in 2013, attempted a manual control of the Salvinia molesta where the community members were involved by using hands and rakes to remove the weed from the swamp. This method proved futile as the weed was difficult to clear due to extent of spread and water depth. Therefore, the spores from the weed that was successfully removed from the swamp to the shores sprouted, dispersed and re-germinated in the swamp making the manual control unsuccessful.

Current Interventions

BirdWatch Zambia’s Salvinia molesta biocontrol project in the Lukanga swamps IBA is funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative through BirdLife International.

This multi-year project (2017-2021) “Controlling an invasive aquatic plant for improved biodiversity and livelihoods” seeks to control the weed by introducing a very effective and host specific weevil, Cyrtobagous salviniae. Weevil damage causes the plants to turn brown and eventually sink and rot. Depending on climate and extent of Salvinia infestation, mats sink within 1-3 years. This multi-year project seeks to control the weed by introducing a weevil, Cyrtobagous salviniae, a known natural enemy that exclusively feeds on the Kariba weed. This is expected to improve habitat conditions for waterbirds, other biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of >2500 fishermen households.

This project is being conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI).

Once the weed has been controlled, the following is expected; improved fish catch, restored habitat, increased dissolved oxygen in water and an increase in the population of the globally threatened species and other waterbirds. The prime objective of the project is to improve conditions for waterbirds, other biodiversity and the livelihoods of >2500 fishermen households.

The Biological Control Agent – Cyrtobagous salviniae


The Cyrtobagous salviniae, also known as the Salvinia beetle, is a natural enemy of Salvinia molesta (Kariba weed), a free-floating fern. The adult Cyrtobagous salviniae (weevils) are small, about 2mm in length and black. Newly emerged adults are light brown on emergence and then turn black (Calder and Sands 1985).

Life Cycle

Adults can live for several months. On Salvinia, they are found on or near the growth tips or amongst the roots. Eggs are deposited singly on Salvinia in cavities chewed by the female in unopened buds or amongst roots. Eggs hatch in about 10 days. Females lay 2-5 eggs per day over 60 days. On average the white crescentic larvae complete three instars (stages) in 23 days before pupating in a cocoon. The cocoon is spun beneath the water surface in close contact with or amongst the roots. The prepupae and pupal stage is completed in 10-15 days. The total life cycle, dependent on temperature, is completed in 31-68 days. Dispersal of adults is mostly by the weevils walking or dispersed with their free-floating host plant (Mitchell, 1980).

Feeding Damage

Young larvae feed on the buds (growth tips) and roots while older larvae tunnel into the rhizomes causing leaves to darken and drop off. Adult feeding damages the growth tips and young leaves. Damaged plants become waterlogged and sink. The presence of damaged growth tips is the most characteristic indicator of the presence of the weevils (Forno et al., 1983).

Effect on Salvinia molesta (Kariba weed)

Cyrtobagous salviniae is a very effective agent for the control of Salvinia molesta. Weevil damage causes the plants to turn brown and eventually sink and rot. Depending on climate and extent of the Salvinia infestation, mats sink within 1-3 years. Calder and Sands 1985).

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Current Activities

2200 weevils were imported from Edgecombe mass rearing facility in Durban, South Africa in October 2018. 2100 were released on 11 geo-referenced sites and 100 retained for rearing at the BWZ office in troughs. 3/11 sites closest to the harbour have undergone human and animal disturbance as a result of a reduced water level in the swamp. Currently (March 2019) the extent of spread of the weevil is at an average of 9m from the point of release in October 2018. This has transitioned from 1.5m to 5m in November and December respectively. These results are obtained from monitoring activities that focus on observing the extent of weevil spread, the browning score of the weeds and closely observing any effect of the weevil of Salvinia molesta associated plants.

Five control points (Non-weevil release sites) have been selected and georeferenced. These are for the purpose of comparison with the weevil release sites. Both intervention and non-intervention sites will be monitored for comparison.

Weevil mass rearing has been up scaled. At present, weevils are being reared in two troughs at the BirdWatch Office, two troughs in Chilwa and two concrete ponds in Waya. The mass rearing is done so as to increase the weevil population prior to introduction into additional sites in the swamp.

Awareness raising to stakeholders and the local community remains a vital aspect of this project. The target group is the fishermen, traders, pupils and traditional leaders. We have so far reached a total of 521 people. These talks are centred on discussing the Dos and Don’ts with regards to good weevil management. These are usually interactive talks with visual awareness raising materials.


Collaborating Technology Partner

MEDEEM Zambia is a social impact organization that specializes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Image Processing.  Utilizing a decade of Satellite Imagery, MEDEEM developed a situational dynamic GIS application for the project; enabling the project team to perform comparative analysis using satellite imagery.

MEDEEM has a fleet of in-house software solutions for geo-data (GPS/GIS), socio-data and bio-data collection; constantly looking for collaboration opportunities in conservation, wildlife, land management, and industries that require rapid attribute data collection.

Results from Initial Project Mapping Exercise (Satellite Image Analysis) statistics

Project Update

  • March 2019 – Quarterly Project Steering Committee meeting, invasive species talk at Rusangu University, Participation at the invasive species symposium in Gaborone, Botswana.
  • February 2019 – Weevil monitoring activities, awareness raising
    talks, pond managers training, weevil introduction into troughs in
    Chilwa and in pond 2 in Waya.
  • January 2019 –  Construction works on Pond 2, completion of weevil
    Introduction and weevil monitoring reports.
  • December 2018 – Weevil introduction into Pond 1, Weevil monitoring activities.
  • November 2018 –Weevil monitoring activities, weevil mass rearing pond construction, steering committee meeting and site visit.
  • October 2018 – Weevil shipment received, Weevil introduction
  • September 2018 – Pond management training, Selection of weevil introduction sites
  • August 2018 – Weevil importation procedures
  • July 2018 – EPB approved
  • June 2018 – ZEMA site inspection, Post baseline survey
  • May 2018 – Courtesy call on traditional leaders
  • April 2018 – Submission of final EPB report
  • March 2018- Inception meeting for Monitoring and Evaluation Steering Committee.
  • February 2018- Traditional leaders courtesy call
  • January 2018- Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) report reviews
  • December 2017- Environmental Project Brief (EPB) activities
  • November 2017- Baseline survey
  • October 2017- Project inception meeting