There was an increase in hunters to Zimbabwe as Zambia and Botswana suspended hunting. However, revenue is way below target. There is growing concern in Zimbabwe that locals are not being given the opportunity to participate in the safari and conservancy business while corrupt players are stashing the profits abroad. Trophy hunting remains brisk business in Zimbabwe
Proceeds from the country’s current hunting season, which began in April and is set to close at the end of this month, are expected to drop below the set target of US$55 million to US$45 million – despite a 10 percent growth in hunters – due to myriad challenges that include poaching and the smuggling of trophies.
An estimated US$30 million was generated in the comparable period a year earlier. Hunting and photographic safari are considered major revenue generators in the wildlife business.
Growing tourist arrivals over the past three years have raised hope of increased revenue generation from the sector.
Safari Operators’ Association of Zimbabwe (Soaz) chairman Mr Emmanuel Fundira indicated that though the sector had registered relative revenue growth from a year ago, safari operators could have easily attracted more business if poaching and conservancy disputes had been addressed.
Soaz is the only registered safari operators’ representative body in the country. “Things were progressing well, but almost US$10 million has been taken away from us. Our initial target at the beginning of year was to generate US$55 million. However, we have since revised the figure downwards to around US$45 million.
“A number of factors that include increased poaching, the sale of elephant ration quota hunts in national parks and lack of activity at the Save Conservancy have contributed to this development. There should be no discord in conservancies since this promotes poaching,” he said.
Even though revenues dropped, the country managed to register an increase in the number of hunters as Botswana and Zambia had suspended the sport.
“The country realised a growth of between 10 to 15 percent in terms of the number of hunters that came to this country during the 2013 hunting season. This was due to the fact that Botswana suspended hunting and enthusiasts of the game that prefer Southern African countries came this side,” he noted.
Zambia recently came down hard against hunting after tourism minister Mrs Sylvia Masebo stopped lion and leopard hunting and suspended 19 hunting concessions.
She also fired top management at the Zambia Wildlife Authority on allegations of corruption.
Apart from announcing a suspension of the sale of trophy hunting permits to visitors, she also intimated that the sport may be banned altogether.
Experts believe that Zambia now has fewer than 4 500 lions left in the wild.
It is estimated that a total of 3 807 animals were killed in Zambia under resident hunting permits last year, while 2 468 were hunted under non-resident permits.
The Zambian government also accused resident hunters of reselling their licences to foreigners for more money, thereby prejudicing the authorities of revenue.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that the total number of wild African lions now ranges between 15 000 and 30 000.
Lion populations have been falling to such an extent that British-based LionAid believe that they have been extirpated from 25 African countries, and have nearly been exterminated in 10 more.
Zambia has not been receiving meaningful revenues from hunting, with a meagre US$3 million – constituting 3 percent of total tourism revenues – realised from hunting licence sales.
Similarly, this year Botswana officially banned hunting except for plains game on game ranches and a few elephants auctioned outside the wilderness area in the cattle areas on suspicion that hunting was fuelling poaching and preventing sustainable growth in tourism.
It is believed that Gaborone will, however, ban sport hunting from 2014. Botswana previously suspended lion hunting from 2001 to 2005, but the suspension was lifted after pleas that were made by former United States president George W. Bush on behalf of Safari Club International.
Subsequently, it was suspended again after 2007.
In Zimbabwe, concerns have also been raised over the way the safari business has been conducted.
A number of players in the sector have been accused of externalising proceeds paid for hunts.
Some of the hunters have also been accused of smuggling trophies out of the country through unofficial channels.
A fortnight ago, President Mugabe called for transparency and accountability in the allocation of hunting licences in the country’s conservancies.
He said the allocation of the licences and operations of the conservancies seemed to be shrouded in secrecy.
“We do not know what is happening there, we do not know the activities taking place, less still we do not know how much money they are getting and how that money is accounted for. The way people come in and out seems to be done in secrecy.
“We do not know what the boers are doing in the forests,” explained President Mugabe.
He tasked Environment, Water and Climate Minister Mr Saviour Kasukuwere to ensure that everything that happens in the country’s conservancies was open to public scrutiny, including the revenue that is realised from the wildlife sanctuary.
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a non-profit organisation that focuses on conservation and preservation of wildlife in Zimbabwe, also recently alleged that there were individuals whose operations were not benefiting the country, and accused some operations of deliberately straying into breeding areas in national parks and hunting there.
ZCTF believes that the country would be served better if it revokes hunting licences and instead promote more sightseeing and photographic tours.
However, Soaz opines that the existing regulations where hunting permits, better known as the Tourism Return Form 2 (TR2), which are issued prior to hunting and signed and stamped by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, made it difficult for safari players to operate outside the book.
The TR2 permit, which is the “authority to hunt’’, is submitted with a declaration of what is harvested during the hunt, a banking form and an export application permit. It carries the name of the professional hunter and the safari operator.
Added Mr Fundira: “Anyone who conducts unregulated activities within their conservancies will be doing illegal activities and should be punished. Our receipts are accounted for using a water-tight system. For every transaction, a TR2 form, which comes with five copies, is used. This makes it easy for the relevant authority (ies) to account for the overall tourism receipts. It also makes it difficult for poachers to smuggle out trophies.
“The copies have to be sent to the central bank, Parks, Soaz, while the operator and the hunter keep one copy each. Failure to observe these procedures render the whole hunting activity illegal.”
There has been growing interest from locals to invest in conservancies, as highlighted by the recent dispute in the Save Conservancy, regarded as the richest and largest private wildlife sanctuary in the world, where indigenous Zimbabweans sought to stake their claim in the business. Despite chiefs having signed partnership agreements with operators for their communities to jointly assume control of the wildlife-rich conservancy, traditional leaders in the area are still complaining that nothing has materialised.
Zimbabwe remains a popular destination for hunters seeking affordable and adventurous game hunting.
Besides the United States, which contributes immensely to the country’s safari activities, major growth has been registered from the Middle East, Russia, Serbia, Hungary, Germany and Spain (which focuses on soft skin animals). Trophy hunters mainly covet the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo.
In Zimbabwe lion hunting, either by baiting or spot-and-stalk, is available year-round.
There is also a wide variety of sport hunting areas and options within Zimbabwe, from private ranches and communal land concessions to national hunting areas of the Zambezi Valley and Matabeleland; from bird shooting and plains game.
Bow and handgun hunting are permitted on an experimental basis, but require special permits. Black powder is legal, provided the weapon complies with the requirements of the Third Schedule of the Firearms Act. This also applies to handguns.
Zimbabwe is targeting to generate US$60 million in the 2014 hunting season