Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

FOTHIn what, despite any amount of cynicism, can only be interpreted as a victory for conservation, Zambia has suspended all Safari Hunting (SH) in Game Management Areas (GMA’s) for 2013 and has placed an indefinite ban on the SH of Lion and Leopard.


At the end of December 2012, scant hours before the results of the SH Concession Tender were to be publicly announced, Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia T. Masebo, surprised the industry by swooping in and cancelling the tender procedure and firing five top ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) executives including Edwin Matokwane, the Director General, over allegations of corruption. Reports in the press which suggested that Mrs. Masebo’s actions were illegal and unconstitutional and born of PF’s failure to have their own best interests and favoured applicants chosen have been dismissed by the Minister and the Vice President as everything from “Mafia style” to simply a “smear campaign”. At the Consultative Workshop on SH called on the 9th January to clarify the Minister’s actions and find a way forward she stated that the cancellation of the tender process was not illegal since no tenders had been awarded and no contracts signed and that furthermore she had allowed the tender process to proceed only until she was satisfied that it “was not inclusive, not transparent and was corrupt”. One rumoured explanation for the action is that one applicant whose tenders were unsuccessful divulged corrupt practices between another applicant and the DG of ZAWA to the VP and that is why the tender was suspended.


At the consultative workshop on the 9th it was made very clear by the VP and Minister that there was nothing to be gained by pointing fingers or questioning the legality of, or motives for, cancelling the tender and that PF was not interested in running an “antiquated colonial wildlife system in order to rip it off”. The VP said that PF had promised jobs and income to ordinary people and asked the question in relation to Safari Hunting (SH) “What’s in it for the people of Nabwalya’s area?”


Presentations were made by representatives from the Professional Hunters Association of Zambia, The Safari Hunters and Outfitters Association of Zambia, the Hunters Association of Zambia (resident hunters) and Black Indigenous Zambians in the SH Industry. All these were in favour of SH being reinstated and espoused the industry’s positive effects of generating income for the economy and for local communities pointing out that USD$3 million a year is earned through SH of which 50% (plus 50% of the meat harvested) goes directly to local communities where the industry also provides employment and an informal law enforcement presence in areas where ZAWA is often ineffective. This is the theory, but as the VP noted, most Village Scouts in remote areas are not paid for months at a time and ZAWA owes the CRB’s a great deal of money.


Zambian Wildlife Producers Association noted that SH complements ranch hunting which itself is a viable, sustainable and profitable form of consumptive wildlife utilisation more easily controlled and regulated than hunting wild animals and which in South Africa generates enormous economic benefits and ensures a growing wildlife resource.


These arguments were countered by several speakers including James Chungu of the Lusenga Trust, an oft quoted wildlife activist who had organised an anti-hunting, pro-photographic demonstration outside the meeting and who made a credible appeal denouncing the lack of solid data on actual wildlife numbers which negates any quotas that ZAWA issues as viable. He did display (in my opinion) great naïveté in suggesting that in any vacuum created by the destabilisation of ZAWA, the army could be sent into GMA’s and Parks to protect the wildlife estate. If ZAWA does not have the manpower or technical skills to protect the wildlife resource, why assume that the armed forces do?


Many speakers both for and against SH were united in the opinion that one of the industry’s biggest flaws was the lack of participation by indigenous Zambians at an ownership and management level. This is a complaint often levelled at the Photographic Tourism industry as well which is habitually accused of being run by an elite of foreigners. Sadly this argument, however popular, ignores the fact that for almost half a century there has been no hurdle other than willingness and competence preventing any Zambian from participating in either of these industries. Historically, the profit margins have never been high enough to attract those indigenous businessman possessing the expertise and funds required to enter an industry that has always been more of a lifestyle choice than the golden-egg-laying goose that it is perceived as.

In the last decade SH and tourism have undeniably become more profitable, with Zambia’s position as a safari destination finally bearing the fruit of decades of marketing. Now the wildlife industries are seen as a cornucopia, and despite the fact that there have been no bureaucratic barriers preventing indigenous involvement, those now wishing to jump on what they see as a gravy train want the playing field not to be level but to be sloped precipitously in their favour, even if in a transparent comparison of suitability they may not yet be the best men for the job. Certainly PPP’s with communities and an increased indigenous equity in both SH and Photographic operations are the way forward as both these will build capacity in an eager pool of rightful stakeholders, who through no fault of the existing operators have not taken much interest in being players in the game until now.


However many facts are presented to support hunting as one of the most useful tools in the wildlife management arsenal, it relies for its effectiveness on a stable, surplus producing and well managed wildlife resource. All agree that ZAWA has lost the plot and that as a nation we have no idea of what our wildlife inventory is, and therefore are unwise to be selling it off to the highest bidder. What was not discussed with sufficient vigour is that the illegal off-take and loss of wildlife (especially the iconic species that put Zambia on the map as a destination for both consumptive and non-consumptive tourism) and habitat at the hands of indigenous people and foreigners alike, will seal the fate of wildlife in the Parks and GMA’s in a few years, regardless of stopping the relatively small off-take by licensed hunters of any colour. Stopping licensed lion hunting and removing from remote GMA’s the very people who have a fiscal interest in them (however callous and self-serving that might be) and NOT replacing them with a well trained, well paid and motivated law enforcement presence (until such time as communities are willing and able to protect their own resources) will lead to many more lions falling to the poachers as by-catch to snares or for body parts to buyers from the Far East. As more disposable income is available in Zambia the trade in bushmeat, which is considered a cultural birthright, escalates. Ivory poaching is resurging to never before experienced levels in countries like Kenya where SH is long banished and it is happening in the Parks, despite the KWS having an annual budget of around USD$20M from central government. What chance does our wildlife have with ZAWA managing 30% of the country’s land area on a budget of less than USD$1M from treasury? I stand to be corrected, but I do not know of a single National Park Authority in the world that is entirely self funding and does not rely, at least in part, on a budget from central government. Why do we imagine that Zambia will be the first and only one to do this when it doesn’t work, even in countries with a longer history of sustainable wildlife utilisation? Raising photographic and hunting concession fees to a level where we are priced out of the market just to bankroll ZAWA’s exorbitant requirements is not the answer.


A technical committee was formed at the end of the Consultative Workshop and the following day it was announced in addition to the ban on hunting cats, a suspension of hunting of any kind except in fenced game farms for at least one year and not before inventory of the wildlife is taken upon which long term management decisions may be taken. Ministry of Finance has approved with immediacy extra money to pay CRB’s and scouts in GMA’s so conservation activity will continue.”


The VP said attempts to interpret GRZ policy are “futile” so let us assume that the suspension of safari hunting in Zambia and the banning of hunting lion and leopard has been implemented for the best possible reasons and is motivated by sound conservation ethics. Let us assume that despite the absence of the long promised wildlife tourism management plan, the flawed tender process forced GRZ to make this decision in haste. And let us hope that now, hailed as the new heroine of African wildlife conservation, Mrs. Masebo hunts down donors to provide enough money to payroll the reformation and rebuilding of the nation’s wildlife managers and policies and to bridge the yawning gap in law enforcement needs and available funds to curb the real threat to Zambia wildlife; poaching and loss of habitat.


“Nature abhors a vacuum” – Aristotle.

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