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Zambia’s Hunting “Bans”—Shedding Light on a Complicated History

By Katarzyna Nowak On August 21, Zambia was reported to have “lifted its hunting ban,” announcing that a ban on hunting big cats—leopards and lions—would remain. One week later, an addendum was issued by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), clarifying that the hunting ban would remain in effect for elephants too. However, confusion endures in...

By Katarzyna Nowak

On August 21, Zambia was reported to have “lifted its hunting ban,” announcing that a ban on hunting big cats—leopards and lions—would remain. One week later, an addendum was issued by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), clarifying that the hunting ban would remain in effect for elephants too.

However, confusion endures in the media, such as in a September 9 article on Mongabay: “Zambia ends trophy hunting ban, elephants fair game.”

Was there ever a hunting ban in Zambia, has Zambia resumed hunting, and will elephants be hunted?  

“To my knowledge, a ban on the hunting of elephant was included in the same document signed by the Honorable Minister of Tourism when lion and leopard were taken off quota at the beginning of last year,” says Roland Norton of the Professional Hunters’ Association of Zambia (PHAZ). Norton is referring to January 2013, when Zambia was lauded for banning hunting two months after Botswana.

“But despite popular press,” says a professional hunter based in Zambia, “there never had been a comprehensive hunting ban. Instead, Zambian authorities halted the issuance of leases, but a few prime areas had unexpired leases, and in secondary areas, hunting continued.”

As Ian Michler highlighted in an Africa Geographic article at the time, there was confusion about the period of time that the suspension would last, with reports of one year, and up to five years, to “allow a review of the hunting industry and its role in Zambia.”

The primary reason for the suspension was alleged corruption in awarding hunting concessions and not “animal ethics”, although Sylvia Masebo, Zambia’s tourism minister (at the time), acknowledged declines in lions and leopards (an estimated 55 cats were being sport-hunted annually).

ZAWA’s communications and public relations representative, Readith Muliyunda, said on September 4 that Zambia, even before the ban was ratified, in January 2013, “had never been a pro-hunting nation,” and that elephants were hunted in only two areas, where conflict between people and elephants is rife.

However, back in 2005 the Zambian government was described as “feeling strongly that trophy hunting of elephants would pay for the cost of conservation in the range areas…and that elephant conservation could no longer be subsidized by the government.” 

While the actual ban was—and is—limited to lions, leopards, and elephants, for elephants it has been anything but unwavering.

Zambia’s Elephant Hunts

Zambia’s hunting ban on elephants goes way back—to 1982. ZAWA undertook—successfully—to undermine it in 2005, despite disputes from the Tourism Council of Zambia (TCZ) and also from PHAZ. The move was no surprise to those aware that in 1998 the Zambia Wildlife Act, through an “enforcement clause,” empowered ZAWA to act as an independent authority with supervisory powers of enforcement, including of sports hunting regulations. 

The statistics adduced by ZAWA in 2005 were not evidence that hunting should resume—quite the opposite—and at previous meetings of the TCZ, there was unequivocal opposition to the reintroduction of elephant hunting in the way that ZAWA was proposing.

Concerned individuals of the South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS) compiled their arguments against the reintroduction of elephant hunting in a comprehensive report that described the situation in stark contrast to ZAWA’s rendering. SLCS cited elephant declines, irregularities in the classification of ivory stockpiles, lax law enforcement, as well as investigations leading to arrests of members of ZAWA for ivory trafficking (akin to EIA’s Back in Business, released in 2002). 

Their opposition was ignored, and August 2005 until January 2013, Zambia permitted hunting elephants initially in four Game Management Areas (GMAs).

“In my view,” says a professional hunter based in Zambia, “that was wrong, and we should either have given the option of one animal per GMA to be taken at the discretion of the safari operator (in which case very few would have taken even one), or none at all. The operators controlling those four areas were advantaged unreasonably.”

The four areas originally given a quota for safari hunting of elephant were Rufunsa, Lower Lupande, Upper Lupande, and Nyampala.

“The private sector in Zambia was not officially consulted at all,” Norton adds. “If they had been, there would have been either no quota or a better understanding of the rationale behind the lifting of the very old ban. Elephants have never been fair game to the safari industry in Zambia, with most operators being very uncomfortable with having them placed on quota.”

So why did ZAWA reintroduce elephant hunting in 2005, after seemingly maintaining an elephant hunting ban for more than 20 years?

Rachel McRobb of SLCS says, “I think it’s due to a combination of economic losses, poaching pressures in GMAs, pressure from hunters themselves, and pressure from the community.”

 

Elephants crossing the dry bed of the Luangwa River at sunset in South Luangwa National Park. By Rachel McRobb, SLCS
Elephants crossing the dry bed of the Luangwa River at sunset in South Luangwa National Park. By Rachel McRobb, SLCS

 

Elephant Sport Hunting to Control Problem Animals?

While Zambia’s Elephant Sport Hunting Regulations (2005, and revised in 2010) dictated that elephants not be hunted to control “problem animals,” human-elephant conflict was recently used by Muliyunda to justify hunts between 2005 and 2013.

“Muliyunda is well-intentioned and was off target. Human-elephant conflict is not the reason to shoot old bulls. Generally, troublemakers are younger, and problem animal control is done by ZAWA and not by safari hunters,” says a professional hunter in Zambia.

However in 2007, according to a thesis written at the University of Zambia, ZAWA expressed a desire to change regulations and allow the shooting of elephants for sport as a means to protect crops.

“Instead of ZAWA destroying PAC elephant and getting nothing back for them,” Norton says, “we would have been able to sell them into the safari industry, and offer a return to ZAWA and the meat to the community. Leaving the issue of mature bulls aside.”

Zambia and CITES

In 2010, when Zambia petitioned CITES to sell its accumulated 24 tons of ivory, a Panel of Experts (PoE) evaluated the proposal and noted a worrying reduction in trophy tusk sizes.

“An analysis of ZAWA records showed a steady decline in average tusk weight from 23.1 kilograms in 2005 to 19.6 kilograms in 2009. It is of some concern that 2009 trophies are the smallest on record in terms of maximum weight, average weight, and length, despite being above (on average) the minimum legal requirements.”

This observation was akin to that famously described by John Whitfield in Nature in 2003 with regards to big-horn sheep. “Sheep horns downsized by hunters’ taste for trophies” warned that the taking out of the most impressive rams meant imminent harm to the species’ gene pool.

“Elephant numbers are suffering from poaching. There are very few large bulls, and these should be left for breeding. There were also problems with hunters taking tusks that did not meet the minimum criteria—too small, basically,” says a professional hunter in Zambia.

Nevertheless, as recently as 2012, Zambia’s CITES-sanctioned annual export quota for elephants was 160 tusks (some 80 elephants). Why CITES, despite warning signs of a reduction in trophy bulls’ tusk size, expressed by its own CITES-selected PoE, agreed to quadruple Zambia’s export quota from 40 tusks (20 elephants) in 2009-2010 to 160 tusks (80 elephants) in 2011-2012 is a mystery.

Perhaps it was to soften the blow of CITES rejection of Zambia’s 2010 petition to sell its stockpile.

CITES sanctions sport hunting quotas that are, or are less than, 0.5 percent of the standing population guideline.

Elephant Declines and Corruption

In Kafue National Park, Zambia’s largest elephant population declined from 6,306 in 2004 to 3,549 in 2011—years during which elephants were also hunted. Hunting resumed in 2005 amid PIKE levels of up to 0.65 between 2002 and 2004 in the country’s sole MIKE site, South Luangwa National Park, contiguous with areas where hunting was to be allowed. Between 2005 and 2013, PIKE inside the park ranged from 0.25 (in 2005) to 0.88 (in 2008) with a mean PIKE of >0.5 suggesting net population decline. 

It should be noted that Kafue was losing elephants before the re-opening of elephant hunting—more than 3,000 in the period up to 2002. 

Law enforcement has been lax. Last year, Zambian watchdog reported three attempts to smuggle out the same tusks, first by defense minister Geoffrey Mwamba, then by army commander general Paul Mihova, and then by Chinese diplomats. Sylvia Masebo spoke out.

Masebo was fired in March 2014 by President Michael Sata, whom she had informed of corruption within ZAWA—specifically, with respect to suspect issuance of 19 safari hunting concessions. ZAWA was then dissolved, but later reformed when Sata denied having ordered Masebo to dismiss ZAWA directors and its board.

What Now?

What resumption of hunting (of animals other than cats and elephants) will do for curbing corruption, for supporting local communities, and for helping the conservation sector (and the plight of elephants) remains to be seen—amid claims that hunting in Zambia is a key driver of its economy and enabler of conservation efforts.

In Norton’s view, “The failure to allocate licenses after two long years will have an effect on populations of all game, including the elephant, as the biggest asset of each and every hunting area in terms of conservation—the operator or outfitter—was absent. There are those who will tell you that the operators made the lives of the poachers so difficult that they moved away to where their activities were less closely observed. One of the obvious choices was the national parks. This is why the elephant populations have continued to decline. I would encourage those who are most outspoken to support anti-poaching programs in our national parks.”

PHAZ was never pro-elephant hunting, but perhaps felt pressurized by Safari Club International (SCI), for which “hunting in Zambia is important.” SCI has paired with ZAWA to conduct meetings and workshops under the auspices of the Lusaka Task Force. This task force was established in 1999, following an initial meeting in 1992 in Lusaka of eight eastern and southern African countries.

The meeting culminated in the Lusaka Agreement, whose chief objective is law enforcement. SCI appears to play an “unofficial” role in this task force, and may have played a part in convincing ZAWA to reopen elephant hunting in 2005 on the basis that it would help curb poaching.

“The one thing everyone agrees on is that the poaching in the closed concessions is out of control,” writes Barbara Crown in The Hunting Report about Zambia’s hunting lull.  

But Zambia’s elephant hunting ban was on hiatus during years of widespread poaching from 2005 to 2013. The consequences this has had for Zambia’s elephants are likely still to be unfolding, following removal of bulls of breeding age by both hunters and poachers.

Michler thinks that, “A concern with hunting as a land-use option is that most hunters are only involved with conservation as long as they can shoot wildlife. If they are not hunting, the conservation and anti-poaching duties fall away significantly. This leads to photographic ecotourism being a far more effective way of deterring poaching in general as camps/lodges typically operate for 12 months a year and not just the six of the hunting industry.”

As noted in a previous post, in countries like Tanzania, it’s in hunting concessions that elephants have suffered the most precipitous declines in recent years. It is hoped that ZAWA will maintain its “old” elephant hunting ban, and that laws regulating sport hunting of elephants in other countries will at a minimum be tightened. Bryan Christy aptly wrote in The Lizard King, “Wildlife is disappearing forever because no one will push old law to stop new threats.”

Dr. Katarzyna Nowak is a research fellow in anthropology at Durham University (UK) and a research associate in zoology at the University of the Free State Qwaqwa (RSA). She works on primates and elephants in Tanzania and South Africa. Follow her on twitter @katzyna.

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Meet the Author

Katarzyna Nowak
Katarzyna Nowak is a conservation scientist affiliated with the Zoology Department at the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa. She has spent fifteen years researching and writing about the behavior and conservation of wild monkeys and elephants, and human-wildlife interactions. She helped establish and advises the Southern Tanzania Elephant Program. She's currently based in Colorado's Front Range. Photo credit: Trevor Jones