Zambia lifts ban on big cat trophy hunting

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia has lifted the ban on the hunting of leopards and will allow lion hunting next year after it established that the population of the big cats was higher than previously thought, its tourism minister said on Wednesday.

Zambia in 2013 banned the hunting of lions and other endangered wild cats such as leopards, saying the big cat numbers in the southern African country were too low to have a sustainable hunting industry.

The trophy hunting would not be done indiscriminately as the government was mindful of the fact that many tourists visited Zambia to see the big cats, Tourism Minister Jean Kapata said.

“We have lifted the hunting ban for leopards starting this 2015/2016 season, which begins in July and we are going to allow lion hunting starting next year,” Kapata told Reuters.

“We did an aerial survey and established that we have more than 4,000 lions and leopards are in excess of 8,000.”

The hunters would only be allowed to target old male big cats and those cast away by their families, she said.

“We have always hunted lions and leopards but what we are doing now is to hunt in a more controlled manner. We have reduced the number of big cats to be hunted per block,” Kapata said, referring to 23 hunting zones set aside for hunting.

Lions and leopards are the feline pair of the so-called “Big Five” group of African wild animals coveted by trophy hunters. The others are elephant, rhino and buffalo.

There are concerns about Africa’s big animals in the face of a surge in poaching where well-armed criminal gangs have killed elephants for their ivory tusks and rhinos for horns that are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.

Editing by James Macharia