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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Earth

Jun 08, 2018

URGENT: Zambia Plans Slaughter of 2,000 Hippos in Luangwa National Park

In a shocking move, the Zambian government has apparently given a South African trophy hunting company an exclusive license to 'cull' this threatened species.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

There is an urgent situation arising in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and surrounds.

In a shocking move the Zambian Government have apparently overturned a 2016 decision to suspend a proposed hippo ‘cull’ and South African hunters have allegedly been given the go-ahead to slaughter up to 2,000 hippos in the area. Currently on the ‘Red List’ of threatened species, and categorised as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

A South African professional trophy hunting company, Umlilo Safaris, has been awarded a hunting license allowing for up to 2,000 hippos to be killed over a 5 year period.

“Culling of wildlife is not an option. It is a primitive wildlife conservation strategy…”

These licenses have been granted under the guise of ‘animal management’. The Umlilo Safaris company are already offering a five day ‘hippo management hunt’ in the Luangwa Valley, and according to a post on africahunting.com and the company’s own Facebook page, they say their clients can shoot five hippos per trip and keep the animals tusks. Apparently the hunts will run from June until the end of October and are due to continue until 2022

Find the Umlilo Safaris Facebook post for yourself here.

The Department of National Parks has argued that a ‘cull’ in the Luangwa River region, is a bid to control overpopulation and stop the spread of anthrax. A statement by Zambia’s Ministry of Tourism said the culling was to maintain a “suitable habitat for aquatic species and wildlife in general… the hippos are causing considerable damage to the riverbanks and continue to threaten the sustainability of the river system”. However the killing has been labelled barbaric by conservationists, who are citing no scientific basis for the hippo hunt.

Zambia initially suspended a planned cull in 2016 following pressure from activists, but Born Free Foundation has accused the government of “secretly” overturning the decision, with no consultation process. Born Free says that no information has been provided to show river levels or 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. Will Travers, chief executive of Born Free, believes that the government has failed to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate any 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… 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.”

In a statement to Zambia’s Lusaka Times, Peter Sinkamba, President of the Zambian Green Party, said “Culling of wildlife is not an option. It is a primitive wildlife conservation strategy… 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.”

Richard Kock, professor of wildlife health at the Royal Veterinary College, speaking to speaking to UK’s The Independent newspaper, believes the Zambian government have yet to provide adequate 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… and so I think 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… 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.”

On the ground stakeholders in Luangwa are inclined to be of the opinion that the ‘cull’ and issuing of permits is

“quite clearly a money making venture on the part of the people who signed the initial deal.”

They believe that the reason the hunting contract was so attractive for Umlilo to run their hippo hunts, is that the area covered by their license is in the main tourism area of South Luangwa, an area easily accessed by air and road for clients to come in and shoot, and to get the hippo meat out. But operators point out this ease of access and convenience is due to photographic tourism investment and development created by safari lodges, operators, NGOs, charities and other stakeholders. “Now these people are going to come and take advantage of that, and in the process threaten the survival of the very industry that created the nice environment for them! If photo tourists see this they will boycott the area and our businesses… leaving the people and wildlife they support under threat.” Operators also question why, of the approximately US$3,000,000 raised annually by the South Luangwa National Park, only a tiny fraction ($60,000 in 2017) is sent back to the park to facilitate park management and infrastructure.

Another issue raised by the ground operators is how the hunters will cure the hippo meat. This apparently will be done by drying it using the traditional method of fires made with mopane wood. Trees that it would appear, Umlilo have been given permission to fell around their hunting camp. Operators say “we have a continuous battle here trying to save the forests and habitat that supports such amazing wildlife and in turn earns the government around US$3m a year in revenues from this amazing national park. Local people are not allowed to cut these trees, why should this company? And all apparently without having to buy a licence from the Forestry Department or Community Resource Board.”

Operators say… “If culling for meat and revenue could be done without affecting that product and the revenues it earns, and the hippo population would not be jeopardised, many of us here would support it, as it could provide protein and revenues for local people… and that would help to secure the future of conservation. But the reality is that this ‘culling’ will impact on the photo safari business and tourism as a whole to Zambia.” They go on to say “you cannot have unskilled trophy hunters shooting hippo in the river opposite the busiest game viewing area in Zambia without it impacting the industry and park earnings. For them to shoot two hippos a day every day for 5 months is going to be carnage. If you had professional culling companies, shooting at night with silenced rifles and harvesting the hippos from dry land, then maybe. But killing a hippo in the water, (which we have evidence often takes 6 or 7 shots) then letting it sink, waiting for it to float to the surface, hooking it, dragging it to the shore line, then butchering it and drying it on drying racks, is going to have a massive impact.”

Safari operators also worry that a by-product of the cull will be that “predators will be dragged out of the park by the smell of dead hippo, and become ‘fair game’ for the other hunting company who have the concession that Umlilo are operating in. These legally chosen concessionaires are also not happy to have these fly by night, canned hunters, operating in what they were promised was their exclusive hunting area. The real hunters have the good sense to stay away from the photo tourism areas most of the time, and conduct their hunts away from the river and the park.” In fact tender process for allocation of the license to Umlilo appears to be less than transparent, operators say it was a “behind closed doors deal,” and are questioning why if a licence was going to be granted it wasn’t offered to one of the existing hunters in the area.

Culling does not work as a population control. In fact evidence suggest that culling actually stimulates population growth. Indeed in a 2012 Research Paper by Chansa Chomba for the Zambian Wildlife Authority and Zambian Department of Parks and Wildlife entitled “Factors affecting the Luangwa (Zambia) hippo population dynamics within its carrying capacity band – Insights for better management”, the author states “This study has established that along the 165 km stretch of the Luangwa River, Zambia, the amount of food produced (grass biomass) regulated hippo population size within the carrying capacity band” he went on to say “The amount of food (biomass) influenced the population size and density within the carrying capacity band” and that “Culling, trophy hunting, problem animal control, poaching, and disease, did not significantly affect population size and density.” Chomba’s conclusion in his study was that “In fact it has been documented that the act of culling removes excess males and frees resources for the remaining female individuals, leading to increased births and facilitating rather than suppressing population growth rate.” Whilst this report could be construed as an argument to support the ‘cull’, by claiming it will not negatively affect numbers, it does also clearly indicate that a ‘cull’ will be of no effect in population control, which contradicts the Zambian Government stance on the matter.

Clearly this is an emotive issue, but the fact remains that on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) ‘Red List’ of threatened species, which is reknowned as the world’s most comprehensive inventory of biological species, hippos are listed as “vulnerable” with an estimated population of just 115-130 000 animals and with population declines continuing to be reported. Whatever steps are taken next need to be well thought through, transparent and with reliable scientific data to back up any decisions made.

In Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park a hippo stands on the water’s edge, with a poacher’s snare cutting deep into its neck. In normal situation like this, a task force would mobilise to rescue the hippo, dart it, remove the snare and give it the medical attention it needs to aid recovery, but as one operator says… “It is ludicrous to dart a snared hippo when the government is planning on shooting 2,000, the cost of darting and the risk is extremely high.”

What can you do? If you’re against this cull, sign the petition now.

In issue 14 of The Outdoor Journal, we reviewed South Luangwa National Park as a safari destination. Subscribe to the magazine now.

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Environment

Sep 17, 2019

India Must Stop Deforesting its Mountains if it Wants to Fight Floods.

During floods and landslides in August 2019, two villages were completely destroyed killing several people, while a year earlier Kerala saw its worst floods in a century.

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WRITTEN BY

Gayathri D Naik

Floods are now an annual nightmare in many parts of southern and western India. Valleys in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala that weren’t considered flood-prone until recently are at risk.

These floods appear to be getting more severe. Climate change is causing stronger and more erratic rainfall with recurrent floods in low-lying areas while population growth is putting more people in risky areas. And another problem comes from deforestation in the mountain range where much of the water first fell: the Western Ghats.

More than 500 people died in severe flooding in Kerala in 2018.
AJP / shutterstock

The Western Ghats run for 1,600km in parallel with India’s west coast, from Gujarat right down to Tamil Nadu at the tip of the subcontinent. It is – or was – a picturesque landscape of serene valleys, steep gorges and virgin forests. Yet recurring floods and landslides in the mountains, hills and areas downstream (between the Ghats and the sea) show that India must rethink its environmental law to balance the needs of nature and humans.

The Western Ghats follow India’s western coast.
Nichalp / wiki, CC BY-SA

The mountains are teeming with life. Though they cover only a small part of India’s total land area, the Ghats are home to more than 30% of the country’s species of plants, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals, including both wild elephants and tigers. Its combination of unique species and habitat loss means Unesco has recognised it as one of eight global “hottest hotspots” of biodiversity.

Climate change is already having an obvious impact, with unprecedented rains in monsoon seasons and severe drought and dry rivers in summer. And as the human population has grown, people have chopped down the forests and replaced them with spice, tea, coffee and rubber plantations. Thousands of illegal stone quarries now also operate in the Ghats, where mountainsides are demolished to generate stones and sand for the construction industry. Deforestation and the use of highly destructive explosives mean these areas are prone to increased seismic tremors and landslides.

Large dams on major rivers offer renewable energy yet also raise another set of environmental problems. In Kerala, many are located in eco-sensitive parts of the Western Ghats, with some dating back to British rule. As demand for energy increases, India plans to build more dams which in turn could lead to massive deforestation and ecosystem destruction. All this makes flooding more severe, as deforestation in the catchment area of a river reduces the land’s ability to retain water.

Tea plantation on deforested land near Munnar, Kerala, in the Western Ghats.
Mazur Travel / shutterstock

Whether triggered by damming, deforestation, or exacerbated by climate change, human-induced natural disasters in the region have pointed to a need for stronger environmental protection laws.

How to protect the Western Ghats

India’s 1950 constitution claims that protection of environment is a fundamental duty of every citizen, and though it does not explicitly contain a right to a clean environment, legal authority for environmental lawmaking is derived from the document.

Over the years, the country’s central government has enacted various laws that are applicable to the Western Ghats: the Environment Protection Act 1986, the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2002 and so on. However, these laws are not implemented efficiently, which makes me wonder if areas like the Himalayas and the Western Ghats – internationally significant ecosystems and biosphere reserves – need their own special laws.

The endangered Boulenger’s tree frog is found in the Western Ghats – and nowhere else.
lensalot / shutterstock

Additionally, India’s water laws are inadequate. Existing legislation primarily focuses on pollution control, meaning the law has little to say about preventing or even managing floods which result from mismanagement of dams or too much riverside development.

The problem is enhanced in case of rivers that flow across state boundaries. Some of the major floods in the past couple years happened after dams at or near full capacity in one district or state were opened, letting water flow downstream into another area. Recently, a draft dam safety bill has been proposed to address these problems.

Similarly, discussions over climate change and environmental lawmaking should involve more grassroot level participation. For most people, poverty and earnings still matter more than climate mitigation or adaptation. Hence people’s perception should be moulded to recognise and realise how deforestation or climate change impacts their daily life.

The Western Ghats are south India’s lifeline, with millions dependent on the range either directly or indirectly. These mountains need protection. However, while new development in the region continues to be human-centric, the entire concept of nature preservation is relegated. To protect the Western Ghats, what we require is an attitude that recognises the significance of these mountains, and that will involve specific laws.The Conversation

Gayathri D Naik, Research Scholar, School of Law, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover Photo: Mountains above Munnar, a hill town in Kerala, India. Santhosh Varghese / Shutterstock

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