Two thousand of Africa’s increasingly rare hippo, living in the wildlife haven of Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, face the renewed threat of terror and death, following a meeting held in Lusaka on Wednesday 22nd June.
Will Travers, president and CEO of Born Free Foundation, states: “Leaving aside the moral and ethical arguments and Born Free’s consistent opposition to culling, we are asking for urgent clarification on a number of key issues and the publication of all scientific evidence that might support such drastic measures.”
international and Zambian opposition to the cull has been widely reported in the media.
A temporary suspension of the cull, announced on 14th June, was, according to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), to allow for “extensive consultation”. However, following the brief meeting in Lusaka on Wednesday 22nd June it now appears the hiatus is over and the cull is set to resume.
This “invitation-only” meeting was called by Stephen Mwansa, permanent secretary of the ministry of tourism and arts, and Paul Zyambo, director of DNPW. The company contracted by DNPW to carry out the cull, Mabwe Adventures, was in attendance, along with only one local stakeholder, the Luangwa Safari Association – representing safari camps and lodges in South Luangwa National Park.
Information from Zambia indicates that DNPW is now poised to push ahead with the cull of 2 000 hippos over five years using paying trophy hunters, as was recently promoted on Theo De Marillac Safaris’ website.
Why this decision has been taken, and on what basis, remains shrouded in secrecy. In light of this, Born Free Foundation wrote to the President of Zambia, His Excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu, on 27 June, requesting the cull be abandoned and that key information pertaining to DNPW’s justifications for the cull to be made publically available. To date, no response has been forthcoming.
Born Free Foundation, together with other wildlife conservation and animal protection organisations, believe that five critical issues still need to be addressed:
* DNPW has, to date, failed to provide robust, scientific evidence demonstrating that there is an overpopulation of hippos in the Luangwa River, or to make public the Government of the Republic of Zambia report that they have cited in their justification.
* DNPW has failed to provide robust, scientific evidence clearly demonstrating that previous hippo culls in the Luangwa Valley have been successful in reducing the population over the long-term and that the culling methodology that has been proposed – targeting whole pods of hippos in the water – is humane.
* DNPW has failed to provide rainfall and river level data showing that river levels and water flow in the Luangwa River are abnormally low and cannot sustain the current hippo population.
* DNPW has failed to provide credible, scientific evidence to show that such an indiscriminate hippo cull would prevent a future outbreak of anthrax – not prevent the spread of an existing outbreak – as there isn’t one.
* DNPW has failed to provide categorical evidence that an approved and transparent tendering process took place in awarding the culling contract to Mabwe Adventures, of which an ex-Zambia Wildlife Authority employee, Flavian Mupemo, is a shareholder and beneficiary.
Given the highly contentious nature of culling; the unanswered questions raised above; the possible conflict of interest; and the concerns about the lack of transparency of the tendering process, Born Free Foundation is calling for the planned cull to be abandoned and for the matter to be investigated at the highest possible level by an independent inquiry, established under the auspices of The Office of The President.
Travers adds: “The longer these vitally important issues go unanswered, the more the authorities come up with different and, as yet, unsubstantiated justifications for the cull, the more Zambia – one of Africa’s great wildlife strongholds – will suffer lasting reputational and potentially economic damage.
“The independent inquiry, called for by Born Free, seems to me the only way to establish the truth and determine whether any of the claimed justifications for the cull – a measure which could see 2 000 wild hippo lose their lives – can withstand the scrutiny they deserve.”