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Born Free calls on Zambian government to call off cull of 1,250 hippo

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International wildlife charity, Born Free, has warned 1,250 of Africa’s increasingly rare hippopotamus, living in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, face terror and death following the Zambian government’s decision to approve a controversial ‘cull’, due to begin in a few weeks’ time.

Born Free President & Co-Founder, Will Travers OBE, stated: “The justifications for this cull – which is being openly marketed to paying trophy hunters – are like a sea of shifting sand. Originally, it was to prevent an outbreak of anthrax. Then it was because the water levels in the Luangwa River were precariously low. Now it is because there is a perceived hippo over-population. Yet none of these ‘justifications’ stand up to scrutiny. The Zambian government’s own research shows that previous culls have served only to increase the population growth rate, not reduce it. However, the killing of 1,250 hippos over five years could generate upwards of £2.6m for trophy hunting outfitters and the Zambian government. Hippo lives are on the line in order to line the pockets of a few hunting operators and government officials.”

Hippos are under increasing threat from poaching, wildlife trade and sport hunting.

  • There are only approximately 130,000 wild hippos remaining.
  • Over 7,300kgs of hippo tusks and teeth were internationally traded in 2018 alone – a 64-fold increase since 2007.
  • Between 2004 and 2014, Hong Kong (SAR) reported imports of 60 tonnes of hippo teeth.

Opposition to the cull includes Chiefs and people from the local community where the cull is due to take place, as well as local and international conservationists and safari operators who fear a tourism backlash against the impending mass slaughter.

However, Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) is now poised to push ahead with the cull using paying trophy hunters to carry out the killing. The awarding of the culling contract is shrouded in secrecy and did not follow an open tendering process as is required in Zambia.

Travers commented: “Along with many others, Born Free is deeply concerned that the real reason behind the cull is financial gain. South African hunting outfit, Siluwe Hunting, is offering Luangwa hippo/trophy cull packages that involve killing two Luangwa hippo for £4,350, three for £7,850 and 5 for £11,360.”

 

Travers concluded: “There is a still hope and we must persuade the Zambian government and President Lungu himself to intervene to stop this carnage once and for all. Given the highly contentious nature of the cull; the unsubstantiated claims about anthrax, water levels and population control; the plight of hippo in the wild and the increasing impact of trade, Born Free is calling for the planned cull to be abandoned. This matter needs to be resolved quickly and permanently, and the threat of a cull taken off the table. If not, then Zambia – one of Africa’s great wildlife strongholds – is likely to suffer lasting reputational and economic damage as international tourists seek other, more benign safari destinations.”

In October 2018, Chief Government spokesperson, Dora Siliya, revealed that the Cabinet had decided to uphold the contested contract between the now defunct Zambia Wildlife Authority and Mabwe Adventures Limited and allow hippo culling along the Luangwa River. However, the original contract between government and Mabwe is shrouded in secrecy and did not go through an open, public tendering process.

Population control through culling:

Ms Siliya claimed that the current population of hippos along the 270km stretch of the Luangwa River is at 13,000, beyond the carrying capacity, which she claims is 9,000. She asserts that this has caused considerable damage to the environment and the riverbanks and continues to threaten the sustainability of the river system.

However, 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. Indeed, research published by the Zambian authorities indicates that culling is not an effective long-term population control measure.

Anthrax control:

DNPW has failed to provide credible, scientific evidence to show that an indiscriminate, mass hippo cull would prevent a future outbreak of anthrax – not prevent the spread of an existing outbreak ¬ as there isn’t one.

Rainfall data:

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.

However, data obtained by Born Free indicates that the rainfall in the rainy season in the Luangwa Valley (where the cull is intended to take place) has been normal.

Between 2002/3 and 2018/19 rainy season data ranges from a low of 678mm per annum to a high of 1,360mm. The annual average is 945mm.

The 2018/19 rainy season figure – which represents the minimum rainfall for the area – is 935mm, almost exactly the 17 year average.