This press statement was issued by UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema
Last week, Hon. Jean Kapata, the Minister of Tourism and Arts, made an announcement that her Government had lifted the ban on hunting of lions and leopards. This is a direct reversal of their January 2013 position when they introduced the ban.
The move has understandably sparked concern because the ban was introduced for a reason; namely to protect our wildlife and the diminishing populations of big cats. The reversal is the latest sign of the desperation of the PF Government to try and cover gaps in the fiscal position that have resulted from its own poor planning and budgeting. It is also another classic reversal of one of their own policies.
These are endangered species of wild cats that are on the brink of extinction. Government figures claim we are privileged host to approximately 4,000 lions and 8,000 leopards. However, even these numbers are hard to substantiate if you compare them with a 2012 study conducted by researchers from Duke University using high-resolution imagery. The study found 4 lions in the Liuwa Plains, less than 50 in Sioma Ngwezi, 386 in the Kafue National Park, less than 50 in Nsumbu and 575 in the Luangwa area sharing borders with Malawi. This translates to about 1,100 lions in the whole country, 3,000 less than the official figure. Numbers for these cats used to be much higher.
There are several reasons for the decline. They range from poaching, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, to ill-advised government decisions such as the one Hon. Kapata has just made. But let us for a minute suppose the figures the Government is giving us are correct. Does that justify government-licensed killing of these animals? Is there a study that has been conducted that these animals need cropping? Have the issues that were raised by Hon. Sylvia Masebo, the Minister of Tourism and Arts at the time the ban was introduced, been addressed? The answer to all these questions is ‘NO’.
In 2013, the PF Government made a decision to ban the killing of the big cats. The reasons they stated then were that the killing of these animals was not benefitting local tourism. At the time we were doing this, Botswana also banned the hunting of the big cats, a decision that was applauded by most conservationists. It was proved that Zambia and its southern neighbour make more money from photographers that follow these animals, than from hunters. It is not rocket science to know that a lion or leopard can be shot by a camera a million times, while it just needs one shot from a gun and it will be dead.
There is great value in promoting tourism using our God-given comparative advantage. Any decision to mortgage our wildlife for immediate financial gain is short-sighted. Our emerging tourism sector is one of our greatest hopes for the future of our nation and, if properly managed, could create thousands of good quality jobs and earn this country billions of dollars. In the Seychelles, 15 % of the formal workforce is directly employed by the tourism industry. The contribution to that country’s GDP from tourism is about 50%. Mauritius, earned $1.35 billion form tourism in 2013 and nearer home, 12% of the $36 billion GDP in Botswana comes from tourism. The potential to grow our tourism industry is great. What we lack is political will and a realization that tourism could actually earn us more money than the mines. A lot more of our people could participate in a tourism-led economy because unlike mining, it requires less specialized personnel and equipment.
These big cats attract tourists into Zambia in addition to the spectacular and magnificent Victoria Falls. A tourist’s concern when choosing a destination is value for money. Value for money means a tourist who pays the same airfare to country X as they would to come to Zambia will look at what they can get from both countries. This is the advantage Zambia has; we possess unique attractions such as wildlife in its natural habitat, which you cannot find elsewhere. Lions, elephants, leopards, cheetahs and other animals contribute to that uniqueness. These are the animals Hon. Kapata wants dead.
The first step in creating a viable and sustainable tourism industry in Zambia is protecting our wildlife and preserving our natural resources. If we allow the proposal from Hon. Jean Kapata of licensing killing of our game to go ahead we have to ask ourselves what will our children and grandchildren think of us when their only opportunity to see lions and leopards will be on video and pictures? Posterity is less of a problem, the question is why these drastic measures and change of heart? The reason is simple: this Government is broke, they are scrounging for money from anywhere to meet their obligations after having borrowed heavily.
Hon. Kapata wants us to believe that the Ministry of Tourism and Arts developed a mechanism that will help identify frail and elderly animals to be killed, that is laughable. She represents a government that fails to do stock taking for drugs in hospitals meant for humans, how will they effectively monitor the vast areas in the wilderness and determine which animals to kill? How are they going to guarantee that poachers with fake hunting licenses will not abuse the system? What about the corruption that Hon. Masebo mentioned when she banned the hunting in 2013? Has the legal framework been amended? These are questions Hon. Kapata needs to answer.
It is our belief that the animals in the game park belong to all Zambians. As such, the benefits accrued from revenue generated from proper game management should be spread to all Zambians, living and yet to be born. We also place great value on the potential for opening the tourism sector up to create much need jobs and revenues.
When in government, the UPND will, among other things:
1. Encourage wildlife conservation. The aim of this will be to protect animals and their habitat for posterity. One of the ways to discourage poaching is to offer people alternative livelihoods, as has been done by COMACO who have effectively addressed the issue of poaching in South Luangwa.
2. Open up the tourism sector as a priority, through a combination of regulatory reforms, tax incentives and training initiatives, such as reduced or zero-rated VAT.
3. Review visa requirements so as to encourage more tourist arrivals. We have prohibitive and unpredictable visa requirements for tourists in this country and that discourages patronage.
4. Enhance training and research in ecosystems. Our training institutions are not very diverse in as far as the environment is concerned.
5. Incentivize institutions of higher learning that will teach degree courses in Tourism and Hospitality. Zambians are known for being very hospitable people; all we need now is to convert our natural gift into a vocation and business advantage.
Compatriots, let us protect that which God has given us. We know that PF has borrowed heavily and they barely have breathing space. They are desperate for get money from any possible source, this is the reason they are going after poor tenants with their withholding tax, lifting bans even without addressing the cause of the ban in the first place, because they want to lay their hands on every Ngwee before they can take a revised budget to parliament. The truth of the matter is that the Zambian Government is broke, not because there is no money in the country but because of mismanagement.