Zambia to allow trophy hunters to kill more than a thousand hippos
Lusaka, June 6, 2018, (AltAfrika) – Trophy hunters are to be be allowed to kill more than a thousand hippos over the next five years in Zambia.
The cull, in the Luangwa River region, is a bid to control numbers and stop the spread of anthrax, the country’s government insists.
Authorities plan to allow 250 hippos a year to be killed, with one safari company already offering tourists the chance to kill up to five of the animals each.
Zambia’s department of national parks has argued the cull will help prevent anthraxoutbreaks in an area overpopulated with hippos, and that the issue has been compounded by unusually low rainfall, which risks making outbreaks worse, according to animal conservation charity Born Free.
Anthrax is a potentially deadly disease caused by bacteria living in the soil. Hippos are susceptible to the infection, and can pass it to humans who eat infected meat.
Zambia initially suspended a planned cull in 2016 following pressure from activists, but Born Free has accused the government of “secretly” overturning the decision and “promoting the cull to trophy hunters”.
Will Travers, chief executive of the charity, told The Independent the authorities have failed to provide enough evidence showing an overpopulation of hippos in the Luangwa River, or to make public any data that justifies the cull.
“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,” he said.
“They also appear not to have informed key stakeholders in the Luangwa Valley… The negative consequences for thousands of hippo and Zambia’s reputation as a wildlife tourism destination cannot be underestimated.”
Umlilo Safaris, a South African trophy hunting company, last month began offering customers a five-day “hippo management hunt” in the Laungwa Valley for £10,500 each.
The organisation’s Facebook page says hunters can shoot five hippos per trip and keep the animals’ tusks.
Richard Kock, professor of wildlife health at the Royal Veterinary College, told us the government needed to provide data to justify the cull.
“There’s no doubt that hippos can build up numbers until there really are probably too many for the ecosystem,” he said. “And so I think the anthrax may well be a factor in controlling their populations, and it may benefit the environment because they will consume large quantities of herbage, and obviously that will affect other species.
“I’m also very sensitive to the fact people use these things as excuses for nefarious behaviour. So I would say you need good data and you need good evidence and it should be the scientific authorities who should back up any sort of criteria on culling. And it should be justified.”
In a statement, Zambia’s ministry of tourism said the culling was to maintain a “suitable habitat for aquatic species and wildlife in general”, noting that similar culls had taken place before.
“The hippos are causing considerable damage to the riverbanks and continue to threaten the sustainability of the river system,” a spokesperson said.
The move comes months after more than 100 hippos died from a suspected anthrax outbreak in Namibia.