World Lion Day: When banning hunting drives poaching

10 August 2015 is World Lion Day. But the truth is, to save the King of the Jungle we’re going to have to save the humans first. #WorldLionDay #SolvingPovertySavesWildlife – Get updated from Saving the Wild on Twitter.

By Jamie Joseph
Current mission: Solving poverty saves wildlife.
Assignment 1: Matusadona, Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe. Blog 4 in the series.
Read blog 1: Now this is what I call Africa
Read blog 2: Nine lions close in on Matusadona camp site
Read blog 3: R & R at Lake Kariba’s Rhino Safari Lodge
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With the exception of swatting those nasty mosquitoes that nearly killed me a few years back, I could never kill any creature. I think it’s barbaric that humans getting their kicks from shooting an endangered lion, elephant or rhino, and then mounting it’s head on the wall. I find it barbaric. But even more horrific than this is when poachers hack off the face and eyes of an elephant with machetes, and then ten excruciating hours later this magnificent bull takes his final breath. This is just one of many frontline stories I have to deal with on a regular basis.
I’m currently on assignment in Matusadona, on the valley floor of Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba. I spent Friday morning shadowing Rae Kokes, Principle Researcher for the Matusadona Lion Project. I watched Ivory, a beautiful 130kg collared lioness, drag an 80kg waterbuck up a slope and into the shade of a tree. A half hour later she was joined by her sister Kanjedza and her two adorable cubs. Rae has been obsessed with lions ever since she was a little girl, and we spent hours talking about their behaviour and the future of lions in Africa, if there is to be a future.
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Says Rae, “I just wish those on social media that are suddenly so consumed by the killing of Cecil the Lion would redirect some of their energy to reporting on the bigger picture. The fact is trophy hunting is the least of our worries. Habitat loss and human wildlife conflict kills far more lions than trophy hunting. So how do we deal with that? How do we tackle poverty and get rural communities on the side of wildlife?”

I haven’t spoken with any hunters yet, but another argument I keep hearing from conservationists in the Matusadona region, where hunting concessions border the boundaries of the National Park, is that if the hunters go away there will suddenly be a surge of poaching; elephant for ivory, rhino for the horn, lion for their bones, and bush meat for subsistence.

“There will be no reason to protect the animals anymore,” says wildlife film maker Don Percival. “And the presence of hunters and their scouts acts as a deterrent to poachers who have to cross their concessions to get into the National Park. So if these hunting concessions are shut down, who are the NGOs and philanthropists that are going to come in and invest in bulking up the anti poaching operations?”

This story is not unique to Matusadona. It is a catch 22 right across Africa. Zimbabwe tourism has declined dramatically over the years due to political instability, and with a pittance of support from government, private stakeholders (that have nothing to do with trophy hunting) are struggling desperately to pay the bills. Unlike places like Botswana, which bring in enough money through photographic tourism and has enough boots on the ground, in many places across Africa rangers don’t even have boots. The Matusadona parks rangers based at Tashinga Camp even operate without wheels, and it is only because of privately funded MAPP: Matusadona Anti Poaching Project – that they have access to their two MAPP vehicles, sometimes. MAPP are doing outstanding work, but they are very under resourced and need all the support they deserve.
Hooray for the airlines banning the transport of trophy hunting, and hooray for countries banning trophy hunting, but the media is failing to communicate the full story. If a contingency plan is not put in place when the hunters are driven away, there will be a lot more bloodshed in many of these wildlife areas than there already is currently.
Where is the money going to come from to protect these animals? My suggestion is that with every ban put in place a contingency plan needs to immediately follow. These two things cannot be separate.
In the end, too many roads lead back to poverty, the reason why I am back in Africa on a 14 week mission, ‘Solving poverty saves wildlife.’ Until the neighbouring communities that border on wildlife areas have a stake in protecting these animals, the killing will continue – it is only the speed of killing that will vary.
After Zimbabwe I’ll be heading to South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania, where I will be gathering stories and a knowledge base of some of the most successful community conservation projects on the continent. There is hope. It can be done.
We can save the wild, one village at a time.

Jamie Joseph is currently based across various locations in Africa on a 14 week mission ‘solving poverty saves wildlife’. Follow the journey on Facebook and Twitter.

All photos by Jamie Joseph. Location: Matusadona, Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe.
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