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.