South African professional hunter Theo De Marillac stands over the carcass of a hippo he shot on the South Luangwa River. File picture: Kamisa Malipita
South African hunters will take part in the slaughter of 2 000 hippos in the pristine Luangwa Valley in Zambia. This follows a shock move by the Zambian government, which overturned a 2016 decision to suspend the supposed cull. The killing is due to start next month and is being marketed by a South African hunting outfitter. It is being labelled by conservationists as barbaric.  

Any involvement from local hunters will add to already considerable reputational damage on an international front. Two South African hunting associations that embrace canned lion hunting – the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) and Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa (CHASA) – recently lost an appeal to retain their membership to Europe's top hunting organisation and were thrown out of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) for breach of policy. 

In the United States, a South African trophy hunting outfitter, Hanno van Rensburg, was charged with leading and participating in the illegal hunt of an African elephant in Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park. His client, Paul Ross Jackson, a former vice president of Dallas Safari Club, pleaded guilty and was fined $25 000 for violating the Endangered Species Act in connection with the same hunt. 

No scientific basis for the hippo hunt

Born Free Foundation, which led efforts to stop the slaughter back in 2016, is calling for the authorities to urgently re-consider the cull. According to its President, Will Travers, ‘they are, apparently, using the same flawed rationale for the slaughter as last time – a preventative measure to avoid a future outbreak of anthrax, combined with an assertion that low rainfall will exacerbate the situation. They also appear not to have informed key stakeholders in the Luangwa Valley, including the Luangwa Safari Association and the District Commissioner.’

The hunt or ‘cull’

According to Born Free, Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife has failed to provide evidence demonstrating that there is overpopulation. It says no information has been provided to show that river levels and water flow in the Luangwa River are abnormally low and that there is no scientific evidence to show that a hippo cull would prevent an outbreak of anthrax.

According to a post on africahunting.com, Umlilo Safaris is offering five hippos per hunter. The hunts will run from June until the end of October and are due to continue until 2022. According to Umlilo, ‘The count that we were given was that in a stretch of 250km, over 16 000 hippo were counted. If you have been there in the dry season, it does not take a lot of research to tell you that the system is overpopulated.’ 

‘Culling of wildlife is not an option. It is a primitive wildlife conservation strategy,’ Zambian Green Party President Peter Sinkamba told Lusaka Times  . ‘What is more appalling is that the Luangwa Valley is not overpopulated as they claim. The hippo population in that conservation area has dwindled by about 14-20% in the last 20 years, motivated by mainly poor conservation policies, strategies and allocation of financial and human resources. The culling policy is motivated by pure greed.’

Hippos are listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of just 115-130 000 animals. Population declines continue to be reported in many countries. As efforts increase to end the trade in elephant ivory, hippos are increasingly being targeted for their teeth.