Animal rights activists have issued a stern warning about the suspected slaughter of up to 2000 hippos taking place along the Luangwa River in Zambia.
The news has met with outrage. It is alleged that the “professional hunter” in question is a South African.
The outrage follows the leaking of images showing the hunter, Theo De Marillac, of De Marillac Safaris standing over the body of a slain hippo. De Marillac Safaris has a website at www.demarillacsafaris.co.za.
Although De Marillac could not be reached for comment, images on the website show the hippo being shot as it enters the water on a stretch of the Luangwa River. Other images show villagers skinning dead hippos, and two severed hippo heads.
The images were posted by a whistle-blower referred to as a “Friend of Wildlife”, who had downloaded the images from the Facebook page of Kamisa Malipita, an employee of Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DPNW). Information shows that the employee took part in a culling programme on May 31.
The culling/trophy hunting licence was awarded by Zambian authorities to the hunter for a period of five years. Information on the DPNW website indicates that the contract was awarded last year as part of a programme to cull the hippo population along the southern Luangwa River.
Meanwhile, African News Agency (ANA) has established that the Facebook page is an authentic source of the graphic images.
However, activists have consistently opposed the programme and described it as a disguised trophy hunting exercise.
“There is an urgent situation arising in the South Luangwa region of Zambia. Hippo hunting licences have been awarded to a foreign Professional Hunter (PH) with large bag limits of up to 2 000 over the next 5 years under the guise of animal management,” the whistle-blower said in a message sent to ANA from Lusaka.
“Presently, the (South African) professional hunter is busy selling hippo trophy hunts to other foreign nationals,” the whiste-blower told ANA.
The message stated that at least six hippo have been killed since the ongoing programme began on May 22, and that real questions existed as to the legality of the issuing of the licences.
“There were questions raised by the new director of DNPW that the licences may not have been legal and were arranged under the now defunct wildlife authority last year. Despite this, DNPW have forged ahead with the contract and killing has commenced,” the message said.
The whistle-blower said that since May the Department of National Parks and Wildlife have held meetings with six community resource boards (CRBs), where communities were informed that whole herds of hippos, including pregnant and suckling females and their calves, would be killed.
The whiste-blower warned that indiscriminate killings would wipe out hippo populations along the river and be a contravention of the Zambia Wildlife Act because foreign hunters were involved.
“To the best of my knowledge no environmental impact assessment has been prepared or submitted. Local professional hunters and safari outfitters were up in arms. The foreign hunter will bag 400 hippos per year,” the whistle-blower alleged.
The message went on to warn that a significant proportion of the hippo population in the Luangwa Valley would be wiped out in the course of the hunting season’s duration of four months.
The whistle-blower alleged that local safari operators who were initially unhappy with the issuing of trophy hunts to a foreign company were now allowing foreign clients to hunt hippos on their concessions in return for financial benefits.
Meanwhile, DPNW director Paul Zyambo has confirmed to ANA that there was an ongoing hippo culling programme in the south Luangwa region.
However, Zyambo declined to comment on the legality of the programme, which he said had been planned by the Zambia wildlife authority sometime last year, well before it was reconstituted and rebranded as the Zambian new DPNW which he heads, early this year.