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Towards the end of last week Zambian wildlife authorities suspended the tender process for hunting concessions and cancelled all hunting licences for the foreseeable future.

According to sources and local news reports, Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo has based her decision on corruption and malpractices between the hunting companies and various government departments. She also fired the Director-General of the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), Edwin Matokwani, as well as a number of other officials, and has instigated an in-depth criminal investigation of ZAWA and other wildlife bodies.

Sable antelope in Zambia © Ian Michler

According to the Minister, she has received widespread support for her actions.

There seems to be confusion about the time period involved, with some sources stating that the suspension is only for a year. Others have suggested that the cancellation may be extended to five years in order to allow a thorough review of the hunting industry and the role it plays in Zambia. Sources have also indicated that the authorities are in serious discussions with outside wildlife bodies, with a view to them playing a more significant role in managing Zambia’s parks and reserves.

These actions come just 14 months after the previous board of ZAWA was dissolved by the newly elected president, Michael Sata, and indicate that Zambia has still not rid itself of the cartels that are rumoured to have dominated hunting in that country for decades.

I would certainly encourage the Zambian authorities to use this opportunity to take a closer look at the Botswana model that has recently stopped trophy hunting altogether. In the long term, photographic options offer far superior benefits at every level.

These developments are no doubt linked to confirmation earlier in the week that Zambian authorities have also established that foreign-registered light aircraft are involved in smuggling wildlife out of the country. Using small landing strips, these flights also violate Zambian airspace as they are being undertaken without authorised flight plans.

Readers of Africa Geographic magazine will recall my article, Sable Shenanigans (February 2012) on the 200-plus sable, owned by a South African wildlife breeding and hunting consortium, that still remain corralled outside Lusaka. In that piece, I mentioned the possibility of illegal flights taking young sable calves out of the country as the syndicate was desperate to start making money on their investment in the animals. The sable deal has direct links to the trophy hunting industry – the primary motivation for South African breeders to be involved is to supply sables with longer horns so that hunters will pay higher prices for their kills.

Given these developments, and the recent changes to the hunting laws in Botswana, it is perhaps appropriate to address the attitude recently expressed by the Vice-Chairman of the Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa. In early December, reports in South African newspapers quoted him on the ‘misconceptions’ the public has of the image of the hunting industry. He went on to state that these are pedalled by ‘fringe elements, animal rightist elements’ and that ‘animal rightists play on emotion’.

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Firstly, how does the Vice-Chairman reconcile his comments on misconceptions with the reality of what is taking place in Zambia right now – and the role of South African operators in Zambia’s wildlife affairs for that matter? The articles also quoted him as suggesting that ‘a lot could be done to educate the urban public to the reality of hunting’. It is my experience Mr Vice-Chairman that much of the public opinion is based on facts such as those coming from Zambia. If education needs to take place, may I suggest it also include hunters and their clients?

Which leads into my second point. The Vice-Chairman and the hunting fraternity at large need to start accepting that there is a growing opposition to the practices of trophy hunting, and this is based on a variety of legitimate concerns that cover science and ecology as well as issues involving philosophies, principles and ethics. These are not going to go away – in fact, the questions and opposition will continue to grow.

And finally, if this type of puerile and reactionary drivel put forward by the Vice-Chairman is going to remain the standard response from so many within the hunting fraternity to legitimate questions on what they do and how they do it, then we will see the end of trophy hunting far sooner than those that pull the triggers would wish.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, is has been reported by The Times of Zambia that the Tourism Minister has banned hunting in 19 Game Management Areas for one year, but not in some other Game management Areas, nor on privately-owned game ranches. Leopard, lion and elephant hunting is closed everywhere.

For further reading on the Trophy Hunting debate, have a look at these posts too:

Botswana will not issue anymore hunting licenses!

Botswana Kills Trophy Hunting – Ian Michler reflects

If it Stays it Pays: The Real Commercial Value of the Big Five

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Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

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