Zambia’s tourism minister has announced a partial ban on the hunting of lions and leopards. She warns their numbers may be too low to allow safari hunting to continue for now. What’s more, there’ll be a study of the lucrative industry following reports of corruption and lack of compensation for the government and local communities.
Tourism Minister Sylvia Masebo said the government is breaking from the past and is “putting conservation at the core” of its management policies. She said that Zambia has not fully benefitted from allowing safari hunting to take place. According to Masebo, Zambia needs to conserve and control its wildlife resources.
“We are concerned as government in that our stock levels, especially in as far as the cats are concerned, we were not very sure what was on the ground. And we felt that there was a need for us to review our policies to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the overall management and direction of this industry,” she said.
Estimates of the number of lions in Zambia’s national parks have ranged from about 2,500 to more than 4,600.
“Zambia has a number of national parks and game management areas, which in the past two or three decades have been leased out to a number of operators, safari operators, who have been managing these areas. And recently government did advertise 19 game management areas for safari hunting. Unfortunately, the process was marred with corruption,” she said.
The hunting ban covers those 19 areas where leases were just about to be put out to bid. There are other areas where hunting continues because the leases have not expired. Masebo says hunting is also permitted on private game ranches that have valid permits and are fenced in.
“As a new government, we undertake to ensure that this industry would take into account the participation of the ordinary citizens in these areas where these hunting safari operators are operating," she said. "We’ve seen as a government that our communities have not been benefitting. And therefore we felt it was necessary also to look at issues of conservation as opposed to just making money.”
The tourism minister said Zambian law requires local communities be consulted about hunting operations. This is done, she says, through community resource boards.
“We need to ensure that the people that come from these areas must benefit. The government itself must benefit. The animals themselves must be protected. Unfortunately, the kind of money that we have raised as a country cannot be compared to this loss of the animals. And so between protecting the animals and losing the money we chose to lose the money for now,” she said.
Masebo said that breaking from the past is not easy. Without naming names, she says the hunting industry has been controlled by what she described as big cartels.
Gavin Robinson is chairman of the Professional Hunters Association of Zambia. Its members are employed by registered safari companies that negotiate leases with the government. He reacted to the minister’s decision.
“She suspended the awarding and the contractual process for the tender documents because they had been brought to her attention – flawed manners and matters within the tender process and that. And she took action as she saw fit as the honorable minister of tourism and that’s what led us to this current debate now over these 19 areas,” she said.
Robinson said after several meetings on the matter a decision was made.
“Due to the late nature of the year and marketing issues and everything like that, there would be one year of no hunting in those 19 areas,” he said.
As for the tourism minister’s concerns about low numbers of lions in Zambia, Robinson said, “As professional hunters, we can comment on this last 10-year lease period. We feel the quota numbers were sufficient. And for the last 10 years we have successfully harvested our lion here in Zambia. And we have always looked after the remaining lion to ensure that we have lion for the following year. We as professional hunters are very involved conservation.”
As for leopards, he said that most agree their numbers have never been an issue of concern. He says hunters are given a yearly quota on leopards – a quota he added they never reach.
Robinson said that the hunting ban in 19 areas means fewer jobs for professional hunters in Zambia this year.