Opportunities through Wildlife Protection

by United States Ambassador to Zambia Eric Schultz

Zambia is experiencing difficult economic times at the moment and yet to my mind the country’s long-term economic potential remains strong. One area that I have long argued has great promise is tourism, which can be an important source of employment, economic growth, and foreign exchange. Now, when the country is experiencing an economic downturn, is the time to diversify away from an overreliance on mining in general and copper in particular and toward sectors like tourism. However, Zambia’s tourism is inextricably linked with its conservation of its wildlife; which is what the tourists come to see. And in that regard, there is reason for optimism given recent developments.

New Developments

A lot of exciting developments have happened in Zambia’s wildlife sector over the past few months. Behind the scenes, the government, scientists, and NGOs have been working tirelessly together to refine the draft of a new national wildlife policy. In addition, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) was dissolved and became the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (NPW), directly under the Ministry of Tourism and Arts. New faces are here now to guide Zambia’s wildlife management decisions, and I look forward to seeing the first results of their work.

There have also been changes in the United States. Last December, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the counterpart of the NPW, listed the Eastern and Southern African lion as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The U.S. threatened species listing will help ensure that the United States, by prohibiting the import of lion trophies and the commercial trade in lion parts, will not contribute to the further decline of lion populations, including those in Zambia. This will have a big impact, as the United States is the primary market for African hunting trophies. Lion trophy imports into the United States will now only be allowed from countries that prove hunting in the country of origin enhances the survival of lions in the wild.

A Chance to Diversify

This ESA listing of lions, paired with the global outrage over the killing of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the Lion by an American hunter, will likely result in a decline in revenues from hunting in African countries. Declining revenues from hunting are an opportunity for African countries such as Zambia to capitalize instead on different wildlife products.

Moreover, trophy hunting in reality generates only a small amount of income for local communities, while virtually no revenue goes to land protection where hunting occurs. I believe there are more effective ways to bring revenue to a local community through wildlife. And, in my opinion, there is no better time to diversify into other revenue-generating activities than now, when the economy needs new sources of growth and when hunting is on the decline.

A Supermarket Scene of the Future: Kudu Next to Beef and Pork

One wildlife sector that deserves more attention is the game ranching industry. It is undisputed that the demand for bushmeat is on the rise in both urban and rural areas. Bushmeat consumption is both culturally and nutritionally important for Zambians. Unfortunately, most of bushmeat consumed is illegally hunted, creating negative health and conservation impacts. Snaring is the most common illegal hunting method used to obtain bushmeat and poses one of the most severe threats to wildlife. Snares are indiscriminate and cause a fast decline in wildlife populations as all kinds of animals, including elephants and lions, are caught in them.

Moreover, most people who hunt wildlife illegally do so because of lack of alternative income sources. It is much too easy to set a cheap snare, often made out of stolen or found fence wires or electrical cables. When the only opportunity to benefit from wildlife is to hunt it illegally, people will continue to do so. The local communities who continue to feel their only option to benefit from wildlife is illegal hunting need to have alternative income sources and be more involved in sustainable wildlife use.

Zambia has the opportunity to strengthen the production and sale of legal bushmeat through new legislation, providing a better way for communities to earn income and at the same time helping to preserve the country’s wildlife. Further, health organizations continuously warn about the health risks associated with eating illegal bushmeat, which does not adhere to food safety regulations. A legal bushmeat market will allow for regulation, ending this health threat as well.

For the legal bushmeat trade to flourish, Zambia needs strong incentives for private investment in Game Management Areas, such as longer-term leases and private ownership of wildlife, which will allow the game ranching industry scope to grow. The new Wildlife Policy currently under stakeholder review has the potential to allow for legalized game ranching that can create jobs, foster Zambia’s economic development, and preserve key wildlife species necessary for Zambia’s tourism sector to also grow. When bushmeat becomes legally available in sufficient quantities at markets, prices will fall, and demand for illegal bushmeat will decline.

Count Your Valuables

The upcoming release of results of Microsoft executive Paul Allen’s Great Elephant Census, the largest wildlife census in history, will present another opportunity for change. Since 2014, the project’s census teams flew over breathtaking parks all over Africa to count elephants. At the end of the count, the teams had flown a distance that would circle the globe eleven and a half times. I had the chance to join one of these flights over Zambia’s Kafue National Park: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/30/aerial-survey-provides-birds-eye-view-of-plight-of-elephants-in-zambia/

The field work is now complete, and conservationists, governments, scientists – and you and I –are awaiting the results. Whatever they may be, these numbers represent an opportunity to base wildlife management decisions on accurate, reliable, and up-to-date data.

The Elephant in the Room

Zambia’s ivory stockpile is the proverbial elephant in the room by now. It is large, growing, and can never be legally sold. Many African countries, namely Kenya, Gabon, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Mozambique — as well as the UAE, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, France, Belgium, Sri Lanka and the United States – have chosen to destroy their ivory stockpiles sending an important signal that trade in ivory will not be tolerated or allowed to resume.

Destroying ivory is a powerful tool. These governments’ willingness to act shows their commitment to fight wildlife crimes. It also brings global attention and goodwill – and tourists who want to spend their money in country’s that respect nature and that have a reputation for protecting their wildlife. I urge Zambia to join its global neighbors in taking this affirming step of destroying its ivory stockpile to loudly tell the world that Zambia’s elephants are a precious resource to be treasured, not slaughtered.

Prioritize for Zambia’s Economic Future

Finally, I am looking forward to the changes that will take place now that the new NPW is under the Ministry of Tourism and Arts. My hope is that smart wildlife management decisions will ensure that all Zambians, and especially those living near the protected areas, will benefit – and profit – from wildlife management through legal means.

I especially hope that Zambian politicians and decision makers will start prioritizing tourism and ask themselves this question: What does Zambia have that most countries worldwide do not? The answer is Victoria Falls – and wildlife. Why then does Zambia only get 150,000 or so holiday tourists yearly with tourism contributing just 2.5 percent of GDP? By contrast, many of Zambia’s neighbors attract millions of tourists annually to see their wildlife and the sector contributes more than twice as much of GDP in these neighboring countries. My hope is that when entrepreneurs and investors discuss economic diversification opportunities for this country, they explore the tourism sector together with other promising sectors such agriculture and power. Zambia’s wildlife is a unique natural resource. It is time Zambians start to capitalize on this resource in a sustainable manner, so Zambians for generations to come can reap the benefits.

In closing, I would like to hear from you. What is your vision for the future of Zambia’s wildlife? Let’s work together to ensure that more Zambians – including especially the country’s future generations – can benefit from Zambia’s extraordinary wildlife populations.