A controversial contract to hunt at least 1 250 hippos under the pretext of culling in Zambia's world-renowned Luangwa Valley has been cancelled following global criticism and opposition from local communities.
“We are happy that the government of Zambia have listened to its people on the need to have this cancelled permanently,” says Zambia's National Community Resource Boards Association (ZCRBA) coordinator Isaac Banda. “We ask the government not to repeat the same mistake of decision-making without consulting the necessary stakeholders in the sector of conservation,” he says.
The courage of the communities has played a significant role in this outcome, says Mark Jones of the BornFree Foundation. "The communities have stood resolutely against the slaughter, which would have seen their precious wildlife plundered by foreign hunters with little or no local benefits.”
The hunt meant a mass-slaughter of the region’s hippos by trophy hunters, led by South African outfitters. However, it has failed to materialise previously, as feeble attempts at justifying the cull fell short.
"It is clear to the community that this cull was a thinly disguised money-making venture, dressed up as a wildlife management tool," Banda says. "Our hippos, in terms of economic value, are worth more alive than dead, and the impact of this cull on tourism in Zambia would have had significant long-term effects."
The controversial contract had been awarded to Mabwe Adventures Zambia Limited under suspicious circumstances. Mabwe owner Leon Joubert confirmed the cancellation in May: "Official communication from the government stated that they have bowed to pressure and have, therefore, reversed the decision to cull hippos in the Luangwa Valley."
He feels, however, that Zambian Government still holds the contract as valid and considers the cancellation "a temporary setback, but not the end of the road."
Since the signing of the contract in 2015, and with the annual cancellations that followed, Joubert has tried various routes to implement his hunting contract. This time, he stated again that, "Alternatives are on the cards".
According to local community representatives in Luangwa, Joubert visited the local chiefs stating that, in future, the Zambian government would compensate them by considering them for a hunting block. Should this occur, Mabwe Adventures will again be able to tender for hunting rights in the Luangwa Valley.
Requests for comment from the Zambian Government on the matter have gone unanswered.Hippos are currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with only approximately 130 000 left in the wild. The Luangwa Valley is one of the few remaining hippo hotspots in the world.