Monday, May 14, 2007

Lionscam in Livingstone… by I.P.A. Manning

Livingstone, Zambia, was recently the battle site of some hard-headed developers and pragmatic conservationists. The developers came filled with the hubris of political power, laying their foundation stone before a shot was fired, attacking and imperiously claiming 220 ha. of land for their 18 hole golfing and housing estate in the Mosi-oa Tunya National Park – itself contained in the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site. But, standing in their way, were a few conservationists – mere individuals and mainly Zambians, and the rule of law and, we had hoped, the government departments responsible for natural resources protection whose genesis lies in the forestry and game departments of Magna Carta, bequeathed to us all of 792 years ago. That we stopped the golf course scheme was remarkable, testament, I suppose, to blog power and the encouragement and support of the one-time Warden of Mosi, Barry Shenton, who died on his farm in Mkushi not long after our victory.

Now, so it seems, history repeats itself: once more we must suffer the absurd and corrupt, the dangerous and scientifically gimcrack - suitably clothed of course as it always is in the garments of bogus good reason, of conservation and villager development claptrap, of greed and fulfillment at any cost. I allude here to a plan to remove lion cubs from their incarcerated mothers at the age of three weeks, to begin training them at six weeks of age to walk with humans in the Mosi oa Tunya NP, allowing them, if you can believe it, the opportunity until about 18 months old to hunt whatever beastie there they may encounter on their man led perambulations. This we are told in the briefest of rationales put out by Envsol consultants, on behalf of their client - some NGO called The African Lion & Environmental Trust, supported by a business going by the name of African Encounter, all now embraced under the name Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited, will then advance to stage two where the lion will be confined in a 500 acre enclosure, now devoid of further human contact, so that they may develop into stable prides, and then be released into ‘managed ecosystems’ of around 10,000 acres devoid of other lion or humans, but, we are assured, where there will be much for them to hunt - though they will be in competition with other predators. Then, as the breathless document intones, cubs that result from these large free-ranging areas, will ‘develop skills that will enable their re-introduction into appropriate National parks and reserves across the African continent’ either as complete self-sustaining prides, or ‘female only prides’ that can be integrated with existing wild prides. And, of course, all of this will do this and that for all and sundry; the usual poorly defined, anti-climactic grabbing-at-straws ending to what will be a jolly old King of Beasts, money tingling romp after all. Perhaps it will also help global warming.

It is difficult to know whether to fall about with some temporary self-induced fit, or to just burst into tears. Certainly, anger, in our harvester assailed land, is no longer an option.

This scheme has been hanging around for some time. Various attempts to talk to some of the central characters came to nought, the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) admitted that no EIA had been done, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) said that they wanted ‘cats’ in the Mosi, the bush telegraph said the ‘walking with lions’ chappies had been given the go-ahead and were actually building enclosures. Now we hear that ZAWA has given these people a Tourism Concession Agreement (TCA) in the Mosi , that the Forestry Department (both part of the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources) has given them a Forestry Concession Agreement (FCA) in the adjoining Dambwa Local Forest. So, clearly, they think the scheme is fine. Did not this happen before with the Legacy project? Perhaps we should be thankful that we and the local community are being ‘consulted’ here, for other forests – at least one National Forest, has simply been sold off for a pittance to ‘investors’ – without regard to the fact that the areas had originally been given to the Government for conservation purposes by the traditional owners of the land.

There are many questions, in no particular order: what happened to the moratorium placed by the Chairman of the ZAWA Board on all new developments in Mosi until such time as the IUCN development plan for the heritage site had been debated; what happened to the IUCN plan and, more importantly, to UNESCO itself – supposedly the legal guardian of the site; how be it possible for a scheme without a shred of conservation value - indeed, the complete reverse, being allowed to see the light of day; why was ZAWA’s own appointed lion researcher, Dr Paula White, not consulted by them prior to the issue of a concession being awarded in the Park; and why were Dr’s Anderson and Attwell – currently writing up a lion status study for Zambia on behalf of ZAWA, not asked to give their views.

This lion ‘four stage rehabilitation plan’ will almost certainly result in some of the following: distress to lion mothers; mayhem in the Mosi oa Tunya NP as young lion start their hunting careers under the tutelage of humans, confusing tourists on njingas (bicycles) and strolling Livingstone residents with other game, fair game, and allowing the immediate escape, by accident of course, of a member of this new lion cocktail set – they being a genetic Heinz variety of genes drawn from other parts of Africa, from zoos and so on; then allowing large numbers of these animals out into the wild, these semi-habituated lion-human Heinz varieties without fear and, like the villagers, permanently hungry, leading inevitably to death of one or the other and the pollution of our lion gene pool. And we will see canned lion hunting enter Zambia by stealth.

But there will be other effects, the law of unintended consequence once more raising its trident aloft to drive it into the holistic dumb ass. Following so closely on the heels of the Legacy imbroglio, this scheme, were it to come to fruition, would fan the coals of a tourism boycott of Livingstone and Zambia - the very industry on which efforts to allay poverty is based. And already in this country, we are assailed by industrial pollution, unhindered commercial game and elephant poaching, the destruction of our fish stocks by the endless mosquitoe nets parachuted in by muddle-headed donors, policies which promote the ivory trade despite the elephant carnage, the alienation to 99 year leases of National Forests, and so, on and on goes the list. And of course, an unwelcome result of this opposition to highly dodgy development in a developing democracy - already reeling from corruption, poverty and the lowest life expectancy rate in the world, is the misuse of the state machinery against the few individuals who dare to oppose and expose corruption and incompetence. Already, because of this, we have lost, and are losing, the sort of people and their families who guide society forward. This is the true and lasting impact of what is happening.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Livingstone lion project scoping meeting...


Dear all
As Secretary of the Livingstone Branch of the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia I received this letter to attend a Scoping Meeting for the Lion Encounter and Dambwa Forest Lion Rehabilitation Project, to be held on 17th March at 09:00 hours at Zambezi Sun Hotel.
The letter:
ENVSOL CONSULT; Environmental Solutions Consultants, POSTNET BOX5, E891 Lusaka Tel: 096 450218
Invitation to a scoping meeting for the Lion Encounter and Dambwa Forest Lion Rehabilitation Project

The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), supported by African Encounter, under the trading name of Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited is bringing a lion rehabilitation & release into the wild program to Zambia.  The program has been operating in Gweru, in Zimbabwe, since 1999 and in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, since 2005.  We are now planning to extend our operations to Livingstone, Zambia.

ALERT has secured a Forest Concession Agreement (FCA) on a section of the Dambwa Forest from the Zambian Government.  Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited has secured a Tourism Concession Agreement (TCA) with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).
The operation will be run from a site within the Mosi O Tunya National Park for stage one (see attached information sheet) and within the Dambwa Forest for stages two and three. Envsol Consult has been engaged as consultants to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).  An important part of this assessment is stakeholder consultations.  A scoping meeting will be held prior to commencing the environmental studies in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation of 1997.  The purpose of this meeting is to get views and concerns of stakeholders so that they can be taken into account within the EIA. As one of the key stakeholders your views over this project and support would be valuable to the successful implementation of this lion rehabilitation program.  In this regard, you are cordially invited to attend a scoping meeting on 17th May 2007 at 09:00hrs at Zambezi Sun, Livingstone. Your presence at this meeting is highly valued. Please indicate by return email your participation and names of participants to facilitate travel and accommodation arrangements for those traveling from outside Livingstone. Please address all correspondence to
Thank you and regards
Kenneth Nyundu
Envsol Consult

 This is a project whereby lions are to be bred in captivity in cages within the Mosi-o-tunya National Park, just south of Livingstone.  The young will then be taken from their mothers at the age of 3 weeks to provide tourism in the form of "walking with lions".  When the lions are too old to be safe to walk with tourists, they will be released into an enclosure in a leased part of Dambwa Forest Reserve, on the north edge of Livingstone City.  They will then be allowed to breed again and the next generation are to be transported elsewhere and released into the wild.

In order to provide food, the young lions within Mosi-o-tunya National Park will be allowed to hunt antelope.  When they are released into Dambwa Forest Reserve prey animals and competitors such as hyaenas will be added to give them a more natural environment.

For more information on the project from the consultants, please see attached Information Sheet.

The Society has been aware of this project for some time and correspondence has been passed around among some members and other concerned individuals.  It is quite a controversial project in terms of lion ethics, as well as human safety around Livingstone and elsewhere.  Some of the questions raised include:

i)    How ethical is it to breed lions in captivity, separate them from their mothers at a very early age, and train them to walk with humans in order to provide tourism income?
ii)    How safe will it be to release them into Dambwa Forest Reserve, which is so close to Livingstone City and surrounding villages?
iii)    Will it be possible for these lions to be released into the wild successfully, without the risk of them becoming man-eaters?
iv)    Is there a possibility that some of them will eventually be used for canned hunting, an activity which has recently been banned in South Africa for ethical reasons?
For more information on the controversies and issues involved please look up
I need your comments, proposals, suggestions, opinions, professional advice, on this issue for whoever is to attend this meeting on behalf of the Society. Please keep in mind that this is a Scoping Meeting in preparation for an Environmental Impact Assessment.  As is mentioned in the letter, the main purpose of the meeting is to get views and concerns of the stakeholders so they can be taken into account within the EIA.  We need to consider all the possible environmental concerns and issues that should be looked into and alert the consultants who are carrying out the EIA. As can be seen below, the letter is addressed to the Society and we are to confirm the names of participants (number not stated).  If you are a member of the Society and would like to attend this meeting, please let me know as soon as possible (agenda attached).

The consultants would also like to meet some members of the Society on the 15th or 16th of May (before the meeting) while they are in Livingstone.  Is anyone available? Please let me know when, so I can get back to the consultants.

Yours in conservation

Clare Mateke
Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ)
Livingstone Branch

Information Sheet for the
Lion Encounter and Dambwa Forest Lion Rehabilitation Project

Historically, lions were widespread throughout Africa however their range has been severely reduced in recent years.

Over 200,000 lions roamed the continent as recently as 1975 but in 2002 two surveys provided evidence of a dramatic decline estimating that only 23 to 39,000 remain with the lowest estimate being just 16,500. This represents an extremely worrying 80 to 90% population drop in less than 30 years, and it is widely accepted that the population has continued to decline.

The African lion has been placed on the list of “vulnerable” species, but the alarming speed of the crash in lion populations has led many to call for the species to be upgraded to “endangered”.

The Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program.

The reintroduction of lions into their natural habitat is very difficult, and previous attempts have had limited success. The reasons for this are suggested that:

 firstly the lions had no experience of their natural environment
 that their reliance on humans wasn’t sufficiently removed
 thirdly, they were released as individuals with very little social organization,
 and finally they had no experience of predatory and competitive species.

The program was developed in 1999 at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. We are seeking to solve those previous problems by using a four stage rehabilitation program.

In stage one, lions born in our breeding centres, are removed from their mothers at three weeks old. This allows us to train them only to the point that they’re safe for us to walk with them in the African Bush. When the cubs are six weeks old they’re taken out into their natural environment on walks. They’re accompanied by experienced handlers and volunteer workers who act as dominant members of the lions’ pride. As their experience grows over the following months they’re introduced to the game species in the Park, and by 18 months they’re quite capable of stalking and taking down some of the smaller prey here in the Park. By 2 years old they’re seasoned hunters, and we give them every opportunity to hone their hunting skills.

In stage two the lions have the opportunity to develop a natural pride social system in a minimum 500 acre enclosure. They have plenty of game to hunt, and are monitored closely. Importantly, all human contact is removed. The lions will remain in stage 2 until we’re happy that they have a fully self-sustaining and socially stable pride.

In stage three the lions will be radio collared and translocated as a pride into a managed ecosystem of around 10,000 acres or more,
• There will be no other lions, no resident human beings
• They’ll have a broad range of prey species to hunt
• but they’ll also have competitive species such as hyena

The lions in Stage 3 will give birth to cubs that will be raised by the pride in the managed ecosystem, very close to their natural environment. These cubs will develop skills that will enable their re-introduction into appropriate National Parks and reserves across the African continent.

In stage four the lions born in stage three can be released into the wild where their numbers have been most diminished. We‘re able to provide complete, self-sustaining prides; or female only groups that can be integrated with existing wild prides. We can also provide male only coalitions which can add a natural gene flow to an existing population.

All four stages of the rehabilitation & release into the wild program have the potential to generate much needed income for the lion project as well as funding research, conservation and community programs. Hence, the lions themselves are also a fundraising ambassador for Africa’s wildlife and its people.

The Conservation Centre for Wild Africa (CCWA) conducts research & conservation activities, not only for lions, but for a diversity of Africa’s wildlife that will provide a comprehensive body of work to assist in the preparation of sound management plans in order to conserve a Wild Africa for future generations.

The ALERT Communities Trust (ACT) is our way of giving back to the communities bordering conservation areas so that they receive benefits for supporting those conservation programs. A primary element of this is our community education and awareness program to further understanding of the importance and relevance of sound conservation practice. Local communities are involved in eco-tourism ventures related to the programs, and money generated goes back into community development schemes agreed as priorities with the local community, such as building schools or providing medical supplies.


1. Registration
2. Introductions
3. Opening remarks
4. Outline of scoping meeting objectives
5. Developer presentation
6. Plenary discussion
7. EIA consultant presentation
8. Plenary discussion
9. Concluding remarks