A month before the controversy over the killing of Cecil in Zimbabwe last June, Zambia announced the government was lifting the ban on big cat hunting. The Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) posted a statement on their Facebook page (of all places) to clarify the decision to resume hunting of lion and leopard in Zambia:
“The Authority has noted the many statements issued by uninformed members of the public through social media and other avenues most of which have been misleading. According to ground surveys conducted by ZAWA, there are basically three big cat clusters in Zambia namely Luangwa Valley, Kafue and Lower Zambezi ecological systems.
The decision by government to lift the ban on hunting was guarded by wealthy information on the status and how utilization would not be harmful to the resource, but that it contributes to conservation. It is important to note that big cats are never counted in the same manner as antelopes or any other larger mammals. Cats by nature are secretive and are not usually found in very large prides like impalas or Zebras. Their estimates are based on long term monitoring. Different scholars have given lion estimates in Zambia depending on the extent of their observations. ZAWA is taking a cautionary approach to the lion population and currently estimates that in all these 3 clusters there are between 1500 to 2500 Lions and about 4000 leopards as the worst case scenario. Just yesterday, Chief Nyawa of Southern province came personally at Chilanga to complain to ZAWA that a pride of 10 lions have killed 11 cattle belonging to his subject. A similar occurrence was also reported from Chief Kaindu’s area in Mumbwa district where two prides have killed 16 cattle and generally terrorizing livestock. This is also an indication that lion population has increased in Zambia. Zambia is at the moment ranked highly in-terms of its big cat population in the sub-region after Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana.
The African Cats Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CSG IUCN) considers Zambia’s lion population to be medium with a stable population status trend. With this current population, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has listed Zambia’s Lion population in Appendix II. This implies that from a global perspective, Zambia’s lion population could be hunted and trophies derived from the hunts and can be exported to other CITES member states. ZAWA subscribes to the concept of sustainable utilisation of natural resources in line with internationally accepted best practices.
Therefore, a number of factors are considered when deciding a hunting quota among them, the animal’s age-sex structure, distribution, human wildlife conflict and availability of prey. There is nowhere in the world were legal lion-hunting has contributed to the extinction of any lion population. Guidelines regulating lion hunting have been developed. These guidelines prescribe hunting of male lions aged six years and above and these male lions should not be associated with any pride. This implies that these lions being hunted are old and are no longer breeding, thus have a diminished biological function. Further, since these lions have been pushed out of prides and have difficulty to hunt wild prey, they pose a danger to human life and domestic animals which are easy prey especially in the rural areas.
Therefore, it makes conservation and economic sense to harvest such lions so that rural communities living with the wildlife also benefit from the resources they live with, while at the same time raising funds to finance conservation programs. It is regrettable that certain sections of the public endeavor to deprive poor local communities to benefit from wildlife by advocating for the ban on trade in lion trophies. Such calls can also frustrate conservation efforts and programs that seek to protect the very wildlife resources they claim to care about. Hunting of big cats contributes to the local and the national economy through job creation, income from tourism, and ultimately, through income generated, contributes significantly to conservation of wildlife resources. ZAWA is working in consultation with local and international experts in monitoring the big cats population and hunting.”
Further statements from government officials posted online including:
“Government has lifted the ban on the hunting of lions and other big cats. Tourism Minister Jean Kapata announced the lifting of the ban which was effected two years ago. Ms. Kapata said this at press briefing in Lusaka on Friday. She says government has put conditions on the lifting of the ban. Ms. Kapata says Lion hunting will only resume in the 2016/2017 hunting season while for the Leopard’s will resume in the 2015/2016 hunting season with cautionary quotas. Government banned the hunting of Lion and other cats in January 2013 due to weak regulatory systems. The ban was triggered by declining lion populations, over-harvesting, hunting underage lions and depletion of habitats for the Lion. The Zambia Wildlife Authority -ZAWA- has crafted a document that describes the status of Lion in Zambia and prescribes guidelines that will be used to regulate cat hunting in Zambia.”
Green Party president, Peter Sinkamba expressed concerned over the decision by the Government to lift the ban on big cat hunting in the country, calling it simply wrong. “We all know that the number of lions and other big cat species in Zambia’s major parks are depleted and limited due to poaching and other anthropogenic activities. The total population of lions in the country as at 2013 was estimated to be between 2,500 and 4,700. These were unreliable estimates since successive governments after UNIP have not sustained a continuous wildlife consensus system. He urged the government to find other revenue generating schemes and reverse lifting the ban.”
We are still conducting research on the ZAWA’s new hunting guidelines, regulatory controls, economic projections and big cat population studies.