South African hunting outfitters are eagerly awaiting the end of the Zambian rainy season in April to start a killing spree of up to 1,250 hippopotamuses living in the world-renowned Luangwa Valley.
The controversial hunt was approved again by Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). The ‘cull’ has been suspended a number of times since 2015, as not only international conservation authorities but also Zambia’s own scientific research both advise against it, noting that previous culls have only served to increase the population growth rate.
Opposition also comes from chiefs and the local community where the cull is due to take place, as well as local safari operators who fear a tourism backlash against the impending mass-slaughter. Yet the Zambian government persists in rationalizing the killing spree afresh each year.
“The justifications for this cull – which is being openly marketed to paying trophy hunters – are like a sea of shifting sand,” says Born Free president, Will Travers. “Originally, it was to prevent an outbreak of anthrax. Then it was because the water levels in the Luangwa River were precariously low. Now it is because there is a perceived hippo over-population. None of these ‘justifications’ stand up to scrutiny.”
Financial gain remains the biggest motivation for the so-called cull, Travers says. “Hippo lives are on the line in order to line the pockets of a few hunting operators and government officials.”
A South African hunting outfitter is offering Luangwa hippo packages at 200,000 rand [14,270 United States dollars] for 5 hippos per hunter. The cull could generate upwards of 45 million rand for hunters and the Zambian government.
The slaughter could have far-reaching consequences for Zambia as a developing country if aid from the United Kingdom is reconsidered. Last year, UK taxpayers sent 45 million pounds [about 58,700,000 US dollars]to Zambia to assist with poverty relief, education and school meals.
Born Free Foundation have already engaged with the UK government, asking them to use their influence to seek a commitment from Zambia to call off the cull, a move likely to be welcomed by the 158 members of the UK parliament who signed the Early Day Motion 1829, calling on the UK government to end the import of hunting trophies.
The Zambian government’s relentless push for the hunt to take place is an attempted cover-up for an alleged contract-gone-wrong. In 2015, the now-defunct Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) signed a culling contract with a South African hunting outfitter, Mabwe Adventures Limited. The contract is shrouded in secrecy and did not go through a public tendering process. Yet Zambian Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda confirmed last year that it was somehow still valid.
Hippos are currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and populations are far from stable, with only approximately 130,000 left in the wild. Over 7,300 kilograms of hippo tusks and teeth were internationally traded in 2018 alone, a 64-fold increase since 2007.
Featured image: A hunter stands over a dead hippo. Image via Conservation Action Trust.