By resurrecting a proposal to allow trophy hunters to shoot 250 hippos annually, Zambia stirs controversy.
The hippo really? Thats the common response when tour guides in Africa tantalize travelers with this question: Whats the most dangerous animal on the continent? Lion? Rhino? Elephant? No, no, no. Eventually, the tour guide delivers the answer with a twinkle in their eye: the hippo, yes, that water-loving, one-tonne mammalian oddity. Despite their hefty and somnolent appearance, hippos are fast and aggressive a dangerous mix and may kill several hundred people a year (of course the most dangerous animal in Africa is not really the hippo at all, its the mosquito but no one likes a know-it-all).
Despite being one of the most unusual animals on the planet their closest relatives are whales and dolphins hippos dont get a lot of love. They tend to be overshadowed by the continents other remarkable mega-mammals. Who can compete with elephants and giraffe and lion? Perhaps, thats why its not exactly surprising that the announcement of a hippo cull in Zambia didnt exactly make global news.
But the proposal of a cull of hippos conducted by trophy hunters on the Luangwa River in Zambia raises a number of conservation questions, from population dynamics, to whether or not trophy hunting is a good conservation strategy in such cases, and even to something called shifting baselines syndrome.
In 2016, Zambia proposed a large-program scale cull of its hippo population, but soon rolled back the idea after backlash by environmental and animal rights groups. Now, the idea is back: Zambia has proposed a cull of 250 hippos annually for the foreseeable future. The government says there are simply too many hippos and fears an outbreak of anthrax that could spread to other animals.
A South African outfitter, Umlilo Safaris, has begun advertising to the chance to kill five hippos per trophy hunter.
Not surprisingly, some animal rights and conservation groups immediately cried foul.
The negative consequences for thousands of hippo and Zambias reputation as a wildlife tourism destination the proposed cull site can be seen from the internationally-renowned Chichele Lodge cannot be under-estimated, said Will Travers, head of Born Free Foundation, last month.
The pushback has put the government on the defensive. Charles Banda, Tourism Minister, has confirmed that a final decision has not been made.
The matter is under discussion in Cabinet and a decision will be announced soon, he said.
Is a cull necessary?
The hippo population on the Luangwa River is currently the largest in the world. The IUCN estimates that around 25,000 hippopotamus are living in the Luangwa River and notes that there may be as many as 42 hippos per square kilometer on the river at its highest density. In fact, around 20 percent of the worlds surviving hippos are found in this single river a remarkable conservation achievement by Zambia.