Pieter Kat on the lifting of the big cat hunting ban

The following was written as a response to Christopher Clark’s recent post, ‘Lifting the big cat hunting ban: Some thoughts and a call’ after it was republished on Untold Africa.

Pieter Kat is a trustee and co-founder of LionAid. He has a PHD in ecology and evolution from John Hopkins University in the USA. He worked in the field in Kenya for ten years before he was invited by the Government of Botswana to study lion populations and to make recommendations for their conservation. He has authored more than 70 academic papers to date.

Hi Chris:

Your article falls short of understanding the real issues involved, but you do reach some good conclusions.

Let me explain.

LionAid visited Zambia in June 2013, and we had discussions with many stakeholders about the lion hunting issue – that was then subject to a moratorium. We spoke with the then Board of ZAWA, the then Minister of Tourism and Arts (Sylvia Masebo), the Permanent Secretary of Tourism and Arts, trophy hunters, various NGOs, the heads of tourism organizations etc.

We later spoke with two Zambian High Commissioners in London in 2013 and 2014. LionAid continues to be in close contact with a number of Zambian NGOs and some highly placed politicians in the country.

The results of all our discussions were as follows.

1. Sylvia Masebo promised an independently monitored lion population survey in Zambia before there was going to be any discussion of resumption of trophy hunting in Zambia. She also ordered the ZAWA Board to meet with us. At the ZAWA meeting we were told that lion hunting would resume “soon” regardless of what the Minister said and the complete absence of any national lion management plan. As you point out, ZAWA is broke – not only because they do not have reasonable income streams, but also because a number of foreign donors (like Norway) had withdrawn all funding because of “financial irregularities”. Also, ZAWA had made a big mistake in past years to derive income largely from consumptive tourism (trophy hunting) while not seeking to expand and facilitate the photographic industry.

2. The lion population count was never undertaken. Indeed, current Minsiter Jean Kapata invented some numbers based on a nonexistent “aerial survey” to indicate that there were 4,000 lions and 8,000 leopards remaining in Zambia. Embarrassingly, ZAWA had to correct the Minister to say that basically, they had no real idea of how many lions there were in Zambia, but “estimated” about 1,800. Also embarrassing was that even that number is not based on any real counts. The President of the major Opposition party, Hakainde Hichilema took the Minister to task in the national press about the decision to rescind the moratorium by caving in to the professional hunting lobby.

3. Meanwhile, Minister Kapata indicated that she would allocate a Zambian quota of 46 adult males in 2016. Based on zero information about the source population in hunting concessions that is supposed to “sustainably” support this annual offtake – it is our opinion that to be able to “supply” this number of trophy lions, Minister Kapata would need to make deals with South African lion breeders to import a very high percentage of this proposed quota.

4. Also meanwhile, Zambia has done very little to broaden their tourism base and the income stream to ZAWA. Both London High Commissioners we talked to said they did not have a single member of staff dealing with promotion of Zambia’s highly underutilized tourism potential. Well over 90% of Zambia’s foreign tourists now head for Victoria Falls – and for their “wildlife” experience have to cross into Chobe National Park in Botswana.

5. I agree with you that a boycott of Zambian tourism is not going to be constructive. But meanwhile Zambia must devolve from the rather exclusive dependency of ZAWA’s income from trophy hunting concessions. The same Economists at Large report you refer to indicates that 67% of Zambia’s hunting concessions are already commercially non-viable. An earlier report by the IUCN indicated that the yearly income from hunting concessions to communities was $6 per square kilometer annually to use their land. This is the LEAST commercially viable income for any land use in the world. Meanwhile Zambia continues to set aside over 21% of her land for hunting concessions.

6. Before resuming the status quo of hunting lions and leopards, Zambia needs to engage in proper population counts and a real plan to diversify the tourism industry. Clinging to failed formulas will not work. And that’s where the Government needs to seek assistance to improve tourism infrastructure and begin to realize Zambia’s enormous potential.

Much needs to be done in Zambia and it is possible with the right people and political will.

We want to hear from you. Do you think lifting the big cat hunting ban is a good or bad move for Zambia? Will it effect your desire to visit the country? Tick a box below and we will do our best to ensure that the Minister of Tourism, the Zambian Tourism Board, Zambia Wildlife Authority and any other parties concerned in this decision know about it. We want to be at the forefront of promoting ethical and inclusive tourism in Zambia and your input is invaluable in this regard. Thank you.

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