Revisiting the Zambia hunting debate in light of Cecil’s slaughter

The sad and, more importantly, unlawful killing of one of Africa’s best-known lions, Cecil, in neighbouring Zimbabwe has taken social media by storm in the last few days and has done serious damage to the “cause” of the pro trophy hunting community.

But while Cecil’s death has prompted considerable reevaluation and debate about the role of hunting today across various parts of the African continent, so far the recent decision to lift the big cat hunting ban just across the border in Zambia has not, to my knowledge, been directly brought into the conversation, despite its renewed relevance.

As with Cecil’s death, the decision by Jean Kapata to lift the big cat hunting ban was met with considerable outcry and vehemence across social media. As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, a number of commenters said they would now boycott Zambia. This sentiment was later supported by an online vote on the decision which showed that a large majority of voters would boycott Zambia so long as the decision stood, despite my attempts to persuade readers that this was a short-sighted approach that would potentially only further afflict the same wildlife that the prospective boycotters claim to care so much about.

Either way, with the Cecil storm raging I’d wager that now even more prospective visitors will be boycotting African countries that allow trophy hunting.

My previous post also tried to somewhat dismantle the stock hunter’s defense that hunting is in fact good for conservation and/or for local communities and can help prevent poaching.

I went on to say that although there is some credible evidence that with proper management and administration controlled hunting could indeed benefit wildlife conservation for certain species, bad administration and management and the scourge of corruption mean that in practice it is often a very different story, as has been made so glaringly obvious by the whole Cecil debacle.

This is something that has been overlooked by pro-hunting commenters, some of whom have, bizarrely, tried to capitalize on Cecil’s death to try to draw attention once again to the apparent validity of trophy hunting, seemingly without seeing what a self-defeating approach this is.

Whatever the claims made by the hunters, there is no denying that trophy hunting’s reputation must be at an all-time low in light of Cecil’s death.

There is also no denying that wild lion numbers have declined drastically in the past few decades, primarily due to loss of habitat and human wildlife conflict, but also either because of or in spite of hunting, depending on which way you want to look at it. Current estimates count around 30,000 wild lions left across the whole African continent, though some say it might actually be much less than that.

Returning to Zambia, LionAid co-founder Pieter Kat has noted that no proper lion count was conducted in Zambia before the recent decision to lift the big cat hunting ban, with “rough” lion population estimates varying wildly, from somewhere in the vicinity of 8,000 to ZAWA’s more realistic “guess” of  around 1,800.

Kat went on to say:

“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.”

None of this is going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time and lots of diligence and hard work from all the different stakeholders, otherwise there is a good chance we are only going to end up with more Cecils on our hands.

Let’s hope then that the furor around Cecil’s death might encourage a change of direction by the Zambian government. The country’s reputation can ill-afford its own version of the Cecil tragedy. Perversely, if the Zambian government sticks to its guns (pun intended) and such an incident were to happen, the already cash-strapped wildlife administration may well have to put even more emphasis on hunting revenue to fill the void left by the ever-increasing number of “antis”, which would then continue to deplete the country’s lion numbers which would then bring more boycotts and so on and so on ad infinitum.

If the lifting of the hunting ban remains in place, at present only the hunters stand to gain, and as I said last time, as far as I’m concerned they’ve had their day.

 

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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