LUSAKA, Zambia, June 10, 2018 (ENS) – In a move that the Zambian government had tried to keep secret, fee-paying trophy hunters will be allowed to kill up to 2,000 hippos over the next five years. This new policy is no longer a secret; it has been confirmed in a statement by Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda.
Banda said the government has given the go-ahead to a safari hunting company to cull hippos in the Luangwa Valley, even though in 2016, the Zambian government suspended the culling of hippos in this valley through 2021.
Zambia’s government claims that the hippo cull, on the Luangwa River bordering Zambia’s premier safari tourism destination, South Luangwa National Park, is a bid to control numbers.
Although exact cull numbers have yet to be confirmed, the authorities have said they plan to allow at least 250 hippos a year to be killed, starting in 2018.
Banda said that the number of hippos to be culled will be determined year by year after conducting a hippo census.
A South African safari hunting company, Umlilo Safaris, has begun offering trophy hunters the chance to kill up to five hippos each on a hunting trip to Zambia. Each hunter will be charged up to $14,000 for five hippos, potentially netting millions of dollars, according to Umlilo Safari’s Facebook site.
Born Free, which led efforts to stop the slaughter of hippos in 2016, is calling on Zambian officials to urgently reconsider and discard the agreement because it benefits only private safari hunting companies and trophy hunters.
Will Travers OBE, president and co-founder of the British nonprofit Born Free Foundation, said, “Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts Charles Banda is using much of the same flawed rationale for the proposed slaughter that the Zambian authorities used to try and justify the aborted 2016 cull. This was quickly dropped due to the strength of opposition from conservation organizations and both the national and international community, who challenged their justification for such drastic action.”
“History is repeating itself because, once again, the Zambian authorities have failed to provide any scientific evidence showing an overpopulation of hippos in the Luangwa River, or to make public any data that, at least in their mind, could justify a cull,” said Travers.
“On the contrary, published scientific research, conducted by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) itself, clearly shows that previous culls of hippo in the Luangwa River did not significantly affect population size and density,” he said.
“Put simply, temporarily leaving to one side the serious moral and ethical considerations associated with the killing of thousands of hippo, culling has not worked as a way of controlling the hippo population in Luangwa,” Travers said.
As Professor Richard Kock, professor of wildlife health at the Royal Veterinary College, UK, said on June 6, the Zambian government needs to provide robust scientific data in order to try and justify the cull.
But the most authoritative research on culling hippos in the Luangwa Valley shows just the oppositie.
A study on factors affecting the Luangwa hippo population, published by Dr. Chansa Chomba in the “International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation” in 2013 when he headed the Department of Research, Planning, Information and Veterinary Services for ZAWA, concluded that culls were not effective in controlling the hippo population.
In this research, Chomba, who is now a senior lecturer in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Mulungushi University in Zambia, reported that ZAWA had conducted hippo culling and cropping schemes since the 1960s, until the last culling program commencing in 2005 that set out to cull more than 1,500 hippos over eight years.
Chomba’s research, conducted on behalf of ZAWA, aimed to assess the main factors regulating the Luangwa hippo population size over the period 1976 to 2008, particularly the impact of culling over this 32-year period.
Chomba reported that previous efforts by ZAWA to regulate the hippo population in Luangwa using culling had not been properly assessed, so the main factors regulating the hippo population are still unknown. He says that data on the number of specimens culled, age structure and sex ratios from previous culling exercises had not been properly analyzed.
His findings show that all culling programs conducted in Luangwa since the 1960s, which were aimed at reducing the size of the hippo population, had failed because the population quickly recovered after a cull.
Chomba confirmed a pattern well-documented in the scientific literature – that the act of culling removes excess male hippos, freeing up resources for the remaining females and leading to an increased, not reduced, birth rate.
Chomba reported that, over the study period of 32 years, the hippo population in Luangwa oscillated upwards and downwards in four cycles of about eight years each, with natural environmental factors collectively forming environmental resistance or limitations.
This ensured that the hippo population remained within the carrying capacity band for the entire period, 1976-2008, but not because of culling.
Dr. Chomba concluded that hippo culling actually stimulates hippo population growth.
In view of this scientific research, Born Free calls on the Zambian government to abandon plans for the cull which, some suggest seems more akin to a money-making exercise than an effective, scientifically-validated animal management strategy.