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Zambian Director of National Parks and Wildlife Appeals to Connecticut Legislators: Import Ban Will Hurt, Not Save, Wildlife

Editor’s Note: In previous a news post, we inform members about the current effort in the State of Connecticut to ban the importation of hunting trophies of various African species. Among the voices from Africa raised against this effort is that of Zambia’s director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Following is the op-ed he wrote and that was published in several Connecticut newspapers taking lawmakers to task for their patronizing views of African countries and their successful efforts in managing their wildlife.

As the Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife under the Ministry of Tourism and Arts for the Republic of Zambia, I oversee the management of our wildlife resources and help ensure that our ecosystems and beautiful species are effectively conserved. In Zambia we are successfully mitigating a number of threats including poaching, human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss and climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and even misguided anti-hunting legislation in our partner countries.

Connecticut’s Senate Bill 925 is one example of this detrimental legislation. If passed, it would ban the import and possession of the parts and products of six different African species – including elephant, lion, and leopard – even though these species are successfully managed in Zambia. Increasingly, American lawmakers take up such legislation under the guise of wildlife protection and ethics, without consulting or even informing African officials and community leaders.

It is unfortunate that such efforts promoted in the name of African species lack any input from Africans and are grounded on a protectionist mentality contrary to the sustainable-use model that has proven so successful in Zambia and much of southern Africa. Zambia’s wildlife is already stable without such ill-informed legislation. Our wildlife management system is based on science, adaptation, and community empowerment. But state bills like SB 925 are based on a false narrative. They ignore science and disrespect our national sovereignty as well as the rights of our rural people to develop sustainably.

Zambia has species based National Management Plans that ensure that our iconic species are conserved for the benefit of current and future generations. Our hunting program is based on scientific surveys and stringent national regulations, including age-based protocols for the harvest of lions and leopards.

The species covered by SB 925 are also regulated under our national CITES program. Their harvest and export must confirm to international quotas, permitting and oversight from this Convention of 183 Parties. Under this system, Zambia has maintained stable or increasing populations of elephant, lion, leopard, and many more species, both covered by SB 925 and not. As the head of the agency charged with implementing these robust safeguards, I can attest to the success of our wildlife management – and I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary. Absent any such evidence, I struggle to see why the lawmakers of Connecticut feel the need to govern Zambia’s conservation management.

Over the last generations we witnessed high levels of poaching that gave way to a remarkable recovery in our elephant populations and other wildlife. The tangible benefits from regulated hunting have been important to this transition. In fact, the benefits of regulated hunting are crucial to maintaining rural community support for growing populations of dangerous game like elephants, lions, and leopards.

Our wildlife is not fenced in national parksrather, these animals are free-ranging, and some of Zambia’s poorest communities bear the greatest impact of crop-raiding elephants and attacks on livestock from lions and leopards. But these communities tolerate the wildlife largely because they derive income, social services, and much-needed game meat from regulated hunting. Yet the leaders of these communities have certainly not been consulted when states like Connecticut consider import bans.

Last year, international travel bans meant to contain the spread of COVID-19 had severe negative implications for our revenue generation and thus for Zambia’s ability to manage and fund crucial conservation initiatives. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt and have eliminated or reduced incentives for using land for wildlife and hunting as opposed to livestock or agriculture. Navigating these economic challenges is our immediate concern, but hunting will be an irreplaceable factor in our tourism sector’s recovery.

Though we lost most of 2020’s hunting season due to COVID-19, we look forward to a bigger and better season in 2021 and beyond. That is, unless American administrative bodies or legislatures implement domestic laws that would limit or completely ban the import of legally harvested wildlife. Such laws would disincentivize U.S. hunters from visiting Zambia and investing in hunts of those species covered by SB 925. Yet these species are crucial to our conservation success because they generate the highest revenues and can also provide significant benefits for vulnerable local communities. 

With all the successes that Zambia and other wildlife authorities across southern Africa have seen thanks to legal and regulated hunting, I hope that lawmakers like those behind Senate Bill 925 will not lean on their own emotions. Instead, look to the concrete results we have been able to achieve and the views of our affected communities before making up your minds. I invite you to observe Zambia’s effective management before you take a position that cuts against science, equity, and comity.

By Dr. Chuma Simukonda is the Managing Director of Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife

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