The government wants to reverse the trend of dwindling wildlife numbers
Zambia has recently banned lion and leopard hunting to protect rapidly decreasing feline numbers for a burgeoning safari industry, despite criticism that it will drive tourists away.
"We do not have enough cats for hunting purposes, especially if we have to save our national resources," tourism minister Sylvia Masebo said. "No amount of convincing from any sector or group will convince me otherwise," Masebo said. "The cats are gone."
The southern African country, which draws tourists to the world famous Victoria Falls, hopes to develop wildlife tourism, which has long been a mainstay of the economies in neighbouring countries.
"Although there is evidence that safari hunting and wildlife record income for the country, there was a need to weigh the benefits against the fast-depleting species of some animals," said Masebo.
But the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) said the ban would be bad for the tourist industry.
"The population of cats in Zambia is around 3,400 to 3,500 and with the ban on safari hunting for cats we are likely to lose on revenue. It is these cats that make Zambia's safari hunting competitive in the region," said ZAWA head of research Chuma Simukonda. Only 55 felines were hunted a year, he said, though the income from the sport was unknown.
ZAWA and the government are in a spat after authorities temporarily closed the agency's offices pending investigations into graft.
Its director and senior officials were fired last month for alleged corruption in the awarding of safari hunting concessions.
The country's hunting community however sees the move as political meddling. "This is painting a bad picture about Zambia to the outside world. Blood sport is more beneficial to this country than game viewing," said Gavin Robinson of the Professional Hunters Association.
"People from Europe and America wish to hunt here but they will now move elsewhere, meaning all the clients will leave Zambia," he added.
On the other hand conservationist James Chungu welcomed the minister's announcement.
"If you feel there are areas where animals are overpopulated and you need to crop them why don't you get those animals to other parks which have been depleted so that they produce?" he suggested.AFP
"We need to have the correct numbers, and if anything the people benefiting from hunting are not indigenous Zambians. Zambians benefit from game viewing," he said.