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Alba Iulia
Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Zambia’s Big Cats Belong in the Wild; Not on a Wall

Columns Zambia’s Big Cats Belong in the Wild; Not on a Wall

US  Ambassador to Zambia Erick Schultz (left) and his wife (right) at Victoria Falls in Livingstone
US Ambassador to Zambia Erick Schultz (left) and his wife (right)
at Victoria Falls in Livingstone

By US Ambassador Eric Schultz

Earlier this month my family and I traveled to one of the jewels of Zambia’s National Park system – South Luangwa. What an amazing park! In the span of a few short days we saw lions and leopards and elephants and really everything save rhinos and wild dogs — the last my younger son’s favorite, guaranteeing another trip to the park in the near future.

In addition to seeing the park and its animals we also met with the park officials, NGOs, community leaders and lodge owners committed to conserving the park and its precious wildlife. And in that regard, frankly speaking, the trip had its sobering moments.
The fate of Luangwa’s rhinos is perhaps instructive. Once numerous, they were hunted to extinction in the 1980s for their horns.

One of the arguments many hunters make is that hunting is conservation. We have heard that especially since the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe last month. While that can be true, especially when hunting concessions are sold transparently to responsible professional hunters, the fate of Zambia’s rhinos tells us that there is a different story possible as well – that when hunting is neither ethical nor sustainable nor given to responsible hunters it is really no different than poaching and puts at risk the survival of a species.

Take lions: only males are supposed to be hunted but the death of a male lion often as not also leads to the death of its male cubs. Moreover, every male that’s killed reduces the gene diversity of the surviving lions and – as we saw in Zimbabwe – trophy hunters don’t want just any lion – they want the most dominant males. The result is a weakening of the ability of the lions as a whole to ward off disease.

Moreover, lions and leopards are not easy to count – especially by air – and there is no agreement among stakeholders on how many big cats there are in Zambia. The best way is probably by statistical sampling and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles with heat imaging capability. With those capabilities, we can better estimate the number of big cats left in Zambia. However, without such a reliable estimate, it is to my mind courting disaster to reinstate the hunting of big cats as the government and ZAWA have proposed.

Or for elephants for that matter, whose populations are also in dispute, with many stakeholders noting declining populations and increased poaching, as I noted a few months ago in an article about a trip to Kafue National Park (http://zambia.usembassy.gov/op-ed-04222015.html).

What happens to Zambia’s tourism industry, already the source of so many jobs and with so much potential to drive future growth, if the big cats or elephants go the way of Zambia’s rhinos? In that regard, it was gratifying to see that State House is seized with Zambia’s poaching crisis and considering drastic action.

While poaching must be eradicated, hunting can be a part of Zambia’s tourism industry going forward; albeit a small part. Photographic safaris on the other hand are the backbone of Zambia’s tourism industry. At one point my family and I came across two young male lions basking in the late afternoon sun. This is what the tourists come for and within minutes there were a dozen vehicles and a hundred tourists observing and photographing these magnificent animals. At hundreds of dollars a night, it doesn’t take much to figure out the economic value of Zambia’s lions. Over the course of their lives they are worth millions of dollars in tourism revenue.

By contrast, they are worth $4500 to the Zambian Government and ZAWA. That’s the price of a license to kill a lion, which the Government means to allow once more in 2016, when two lions per concession (and there are 22 concessions) are to be killed. That’s 44 lions, most of whom will be young males like the two we saw on the banks of the Luangwa River.

The community leaders whom I met, many former poachers, told me in no uncertain terms that hunting has done nothing for their communities. The bulk of the money made for the killing of a lion, or any other of Zambia’s wildlife, accrues to the safari operator. They will make tens of thousands of dollars from the hunt but even that is still much less than the value of the animal over time for photographic safaris. Moreover, the “hunt” is often nothing more than luring a lion with bait so the American tourist (and yes, sadly, the bulk of these trophy hunters are American) can kill it.

At a minimum, we would like to see the Zambian Government and the communities near the parks and the GMAs make the bulk of the money from hunting. Why not auction off the licenses? The market value for such a license is almost certainly worth a lot more than $4500 – and if that money is used transparently to further wildlife conservation, then hunting would be contributing to the future of Zambia’s tourism industry — and the communities that depend increasingly on it for jobs — instead of becoming a cover for poaching.

And also at a minimum, couldn’t the Zambian Government insist on ethical hunting and an end to baiting? Baiting is not sport and requires no skill – it’s just slaughter. In that regard, Americans were outraged by the death of Cecil and public pressure has already led American airlines to ban shipment of trophies; can a general ban be far behind if such unethical hunting practices continue?

August 10 was World Lion Day and August 12 World Elephant Day and my family, and I felt privileged to be able to view these most majestic of God’s creatures here in Zambia, one of the few places left where African wildlife can roam free.
Let’s work together to keep it that way so that future generations of Zambians, of Americans, indeed of all nations can also admire the majesty of Zambia’s wildlife.

Let’s keep the ban on hunting big cats and elephants in place until we are sure the numbers support a resumption of hunting – and then by all means let’s charge the hunters an arm and a leg for their (trophy) heads.


  1. This is the same as the discussions from a young Zambian degree student in tourism management. She educates people on the negative impacts of Trophy Hunting on her Facebook page. She also makes valuable contributions on ZAWA’s Facebook page. Unfortunately they don’t seem to listen.

  2. You will never see a Zambian Politician writing like this…The problem we have in Zambia is that we have given too much power to politicians who are ill educated, ill informed, easily corrupted take the example of Jean Kapata, the lady is a retired nurse. The woman has not got the patience or faculties to read such an article, she would rather be chanting political slogans at the next by election campaign outing.
    ZAWA only acted after it came to public attention that 30 elephants have been poached in a game reserve..it took a Presidential aid to visit the area…people who stay near the area hear gun fire everyday. No one has been sacked its business as normal.

    • It could be that you hate reading what HH writes or that for your own reasons, you hate sites that report about HH. When the ban on big cat hunting was lifted by PF months ago, HH wrote a very interesting article opposing the move by the Government. And just because it was HH who wrote it, lots of Zambians commented that they hated HH more for opposing everything coming from PF. In part here is what HH had said: “These are endangered species of wild cats that are on the brink of extinction. Government figures claim we are privileged host to approximately 4,000 lions and 8,000 leopards. However, even these numbers are hard to substantiate if you compare them with a 2012 study conducted by researchers from Duke University using high-resolution imagery. The study found 4 lions in the Liuwa…

    • …….Plains, less than 50 in Sioma Ngwezi, 386 in the Kafue National Park, less than 50 in Nsumbu and 575 in the Luangwa area sharing borders with Malawi. This translates to about 1,100 lions in the whole country, 3,000 less than the official figure.”

  3. In church settings, this would be answered to by a massive AMEN! It is a very sobering article. To a larger degree it shows the difference that exists between different mind-sets. Choose the right one.

  4. This guy is a bit dull… To whom does he suppose the profits from photographic safaris accrue, if that’s indeed the problem with hunting safaris? He should try not to just regurgitate the fireside gin & tonic anecdotes of the safari operators he holidays with. The position of the US Ambassador is supposed to be a professional and considered one, not off-the-cuff

    • You truly miss your Storella cadre huh, why are PF cadres allergic to truth. You get such an itchy horrible rash when it touches you. Personally I am really starting to like this guy soooo refreshing after that partizan Storella

    • Its bad enough people are suffering let someone speak for the animals, you dont care because you say animals dont vote te

  5. It takes an American to point out the downside of Trophy Hunting. Where are Zambians? Why are the politicians so dumb. I recently visited Kasane, Botswana and saw a ‘wild’ warthog at Spar supermarket, at someone’s household. Elephants and buffaloes right in the heart of a town co-existing with man. I asked the taxi driver how possible that was. His response was simple “our government has strict rules, just stopping and pointing at wild animal you go to prison. Killing attracts a life sentence in prison”. That’s how serious Ian Khama’s regime is. Our government, Si Vintu!

    • The problem in Zambia is unless its about conserving a bucket of Chibuku, which our President loves, no one pays attention to serious issues like the above article.

  6. @Mishanga Boy. My advise to you is to desist from name calling when serious matters are being discussed. The ambassador has written a well balanced article, weighing all aspects of Zambian tourism in terms of pros and cons in the short and long term perspectives. I wouldn’t describe his remarks as an off-the-cuff comments when he has ably quoted and contrasted from existing and authentic data. The issue of who profits from photographic safaris as you say can be easily met by in built charges in the nominal fees. Try to be analytical and balanced in your future criticism as this could help in stimulating useful dialogue.

    • Judy I am entitled to find the article shallow and lacking in the very balance you are talking about – what are the constructive suggestions here? I’m against hunting cats as well. However did the Ambassador ask those communities if they receive anything from photographic safaris, to provide balance? I’m sure the answer to that question would also have been “no” since I know the range of complaints in the area quite well. If he had asked them if they receive anything from copper mining (which generates hundreds of times more income for the country than the still barely existent tourism industry) I’m sure the answer would also have been “no”. Have you never come across the concept of someone telling you exactly what you want to hear? Also perhaps you can share the figures that…

  7. …share the data that you are talking about. It’s not a question of whether local communities CAN profit, it’s a question of whether they DO profit. The proof of the pudding is in eating it, not being told that it is coming soon. People have been told this for decades and it still hasn’t arrived…

  8. As long as those managing tourism in Zambia are being paid is all they care. Look up two people who have the in’s and out’s in tourism and conservation. Jonas Kunda of Luanshya owns Green Initiative Zambia. His friend in Canada a Zambian has a diploma and degree in tourism management. They discuss tourism related issues on Facebook. I believe her name is Clara who mentioned she forwards articles to ZAWA, the ministry of tourism and even the president but never gets a response. She teaches students hospitality law. Check Jonas’s Facebook page, you’ll find her. You will be blown away by her knowledge in this industry. The Jean Kapata’s can’t compete and the reason they won’t listen. Scared to lose their jobs! I read Clara is visiting Zambia next year to checkout the tourism industry.

  9. @Mishanga Boy no where in my reply did I question your entitlement to comment. I was simply advising you on civility. In simpler terms not to call people DULL. As to the rest of your reply, I can only say: there you go again.

    • Civility? OK sorry, but civility is partly what leads to the country getting exploited without any consequences. And general laziness e.g. to simply provide any data…

  10. @Mishanga Boys you really are one. You amuse me. What kind of sorry is this with a ‘but’? Are you suggesting that we all go vulgar about the exploitation taking place in order to win?

  11. Sorry but… I can’t be sorry to someone I don’t even know! Anyway here are some constructive suggestions from my armchair that I am lazing in. Instead of vaguely bemoaning the state of affairs, why can’t the US Embassy:

    – Provide some of their surplus of military-trained and intelligence personnel currently sitting on their hands in Lusaka to train scouts or even help out with non-lethal policing?
    – Lend us one or two drones or even some other modern technology like satellite-based surveillance to help police the areas concerned and the routes to market for the poached products?

  12. I believe it should start with ourselves in getting and gaining experience in this field. Many people’s concern’s are having a tourism minister with no back ground or education in this field. Even if we are to get help from the US, we still need skilled management in this sector. Only way forward is in hiring people with the educational back ground and a person who can make informed decisions. We don’t quite understand how someone with a nursing back ground can run such a project. There is economics, social cultural and environmental related issues plus ethics and the whole back ground of tourism from how it started, where it is headed, developmental millennium goals to essentials of tourism etc. Does Ms. Kapata know all of this to enable her contributions and understanding in this…

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