leopardFrom : Tourismupdate.co.za

18 January 2013

By : Sue van Winsen

From hunting bans to the dismissal of senior wildlife authority executives, the new Zambian Tourism and Arts Minister, Sylvia Masebo has taken bold and controversial action in a bid to root out corruption and lay down a solid foundation for the growth of wildlife-based tourism in Zambia.
In the past, safari hunting in Zambia occurred in Zambia’s Game Management Areas (GMAs) – communal lands that encircle the National Parks. Zambian-based lodge owner, guide and conservationist, Grant Cumings, explains that, theoretically, these GMAs should have served as buffer zones by maintaining the hunting, settlement and agriculture in these lands at sustainable levels, while at the same time rewarding the community for engaging in conservation activity through tripartite agreements between the communities, Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and the safari hunting companies.
But mismanagement has resulted in an underfunded ZAWA and failure to set sustainable hunting quotas in the GMAs. It is also believed that the communities have not yet received their full share of the monies from ZAWA.
“As a consequence, in many GMAs there has been over hunting and the communities were under remunerated,” says Cumings. This, in turn, has led to poaching and encroaching in the GMAs and on to the boundaries of the national parks over the years.
The leases for most of the GMAs expired at the end of 2012 and, during the tender process for new leases, these anomalies became apparent to government and, in particular, the dire conservation status of lion in the country.
In December, Masebo sacked five senior officials from ZAWA, including the Director General, Edwin Matokwani. Then in January, during a stakeholders’ meeting, Masebo announced a ban on the hunting of lion and leopard with immediate effect, as well as the suspension of all hunting activities outside of fenced game farms in 19 GMAs for 2013.
 According to a press statement issued by Masebo, during this time government has committed to funding conservation activity in the GMAs while conducting a wildlife census on Zambia’s entire game area estate to establish current stock levels, as well as a review of the structures responsible for wildlife management.
Many members of the Zambian tourism industry believe Masebo’s actions are a step in the right in the direction and could eventually result in tourism growth for the country.Stakeholders have also expressed hopes that opportunities in photographic tourism, which can earn many multiples more revenue and create more jobs than hunting can, will be explored.
Cumings says the success of the country’s wildlife industry now hinges on several key factors, particularly the instatement of comprehensive land use plans for all Zambia’s wildlife areas. “These plans need to realise that each GMA is distinct in location, habitat, community dynamics, wildlife populations, forestry and other resources, and hence requires a distinct management plan to ensure long-term sustainability. Some GMAs might be found suitable for photographic tourism and some not but all deserve investors or partners with long-term views and conservation at the core.
“Government also needs to release the monies it has committed to replace those lost from hunting, and then some to ensure that the GMAs are not further compromised while a new way forward is charted,” says Cumings.
Adrian Coley, Chairman of the Luangwa Safari Association and owner of Flatdogs Camp, says he believes Zambia also needs investors with long-term conservation objectives to commit to projects in the country’s rural tourism areas for Zambia to reap major benefits. “In and around South Luangwa there have been huge benefits to local people from photographic tourism with projects such as Project Luangwa raising and spending around $400 000 in the education sector last year on top of jobs and other business opportunities presented by a successful tourism industry,” says Coley. He hopes successful projects such as this can be replicated elsewhere in Zambia.
He says the success of Project Luangwa is based on the natural resources in South Luangwa, which may be lacking in other areas. “This is why we need to protect and invest in other areas of Zambia so that in five to 10 years we can boast of many well-stocked national parks and many more Zambians benefiting from tourism, and therefore having a vested interest in protecting the resource.”