OnSafari: Sand Rivers

OnSafari: Sand Rivers

Rufiji.selous.aerialOnSafari: Going into the bush, again! A wonderful small group of people, and joined for part of the time by the most important person in the world, my wife!

We’re truly heading off the beaten track to the sand rivers of central Tanzania and Zambia. How will this differ from a more traditional safari in East or southern Africa?

First of all we’re likely to encounter fewer animals overall, but more kinds (species) of animals. This is because we’ll be far removed from the popular and heavily used game parks that abut newly developing areas in northern Tanzania and Kenya, and the eastern “Transvaal” of South Africa.

That human/wildlife conflict that flares so often on the periphery of the great, traditional parks buffers wildness from seeping into the human populated areas. When wild animals and their habitat is more seriously confined, they tend to accelerate their own survival behaviors and this increases the ecosystem tensions.

What this has meant in places like the Serengeti or the Kruger area is that herbivore populations are exploding. In Kruger they cull. In East Africa they do nothing, but in both cases it tends to put at serious disadvantage many smaller animals and animals with fewer numbers to begin with.

I think several species of antelope provide the example. Both sable, roan and oryx were once seen regularly in the big parks, but they are no longer. This in part is because the exploding populations of the more common antelope like wildebeest and partner species like zebra have simply squeezed out these more specialized antelope. I hope to see some of these on our safari, now.

Now don’t jump to too many conclusions! The Serengeti is still my favorite place in the world. It is normally these big, popular parks that a first safari should choose to visit.

But many factors should be considered in deciding where to go, and where we’re going is little seen, very very wild and with great biodiversity. Perhaps most importantly of all, it is a cohesive group of friends with similar hopes and anticipations.

We start in The Selous which vies with Etosha Pan of Namibia to be the largest wildlife park on earth, exceeding 20,000 sq. miles. This is the same size as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware combined!

The Selous is mostly a giant wetlands, defined by great rivers which become sand rivers as they stretch away from the coast. What is particularly urgent about visiting The Selous is that one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects is being built here. The great Rufiji River will be dammed up. No one is sure how this will effect this massive wilderness.

We then go into the center of Tanzania to the great Ruaha National Park, another massive wilderness with the lowest density of tourists in any of Tanzania’s major big game parks.

We’ll then have an exciting stint in Zanzibar before going to Zambia and visiting it’s most important wilderness, the great South Luangwa.

Stay tuned! I’ll blog as often as wifi allows.

Tribalism Exploding

Tribalism Exploding

VicFallsTrblFor the moment, there is no part of Victoria Falls comfortable for tourists. The Zimbabwean side of Africa’s greatest tourist attraction is ready to explode as President Mugabe’s health fails. Livingstone on the Zambian side Tuesday was filled with the smoke of burning tires and tear gas.

Britain issued new travel advice for Zambia this morning, but it was hardly severe urging its citizens simply to stay abreast of current news. The U.S. currently has travel warnings issued for 39 countries and “Europe as a Whole” but nothing this morning for Zambia.

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Click or Bang

Click or Bang

NorthLuangwaThe tug between conservation and hunting has reached a crescendo in Zambia where 30 years of effort by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is in jeopardy.

The vast wilderness of eastern Zambia is divided into two great reserves, North & South Luangwa. Like the Serengeti some of the land at the periphery of the these national parks is used for sports hunting.

But unlike the Serengeti Luangwa can well nigh afford hunting. While it contains the richest biomass in Zambia, it’s scant compared to the Serengeti. So as tourism demand increased over the last thirty years Zambian officials correctly reduced leases for hunting.

But in the last 4-5 years tourism has declined continent-wide while there has been a marked increase in demand for sports hunting. So Zambian officials are reversing themselves and allowing more and more hunting.

The most dramatic reversal came in August, 2014.

There was an outcry from the public. This remark taken off the Zambia National Park’s Facebook page is representative:

“Trophy hunting for rich foreigners will not bring tourists to Zambia, it will deter them from coming… I can assure you, I will not visit any country which squanders its wildlife for the pleasure of a few disturbed individuals.”

Immediately the parks authority reversed the reversal, but immediately after that the umbrella state agency above tourism reversed back to the original reversal. The state of confusion has never been resolved.

I see two obvious forces at work here: The first is that sports hunting is on the increase, particularly from Russia and the United States, with very strong increases from a number of South American countries like Argentina. The revenue lost from tourism hurts. From a business point of view, it makes sense to increase capacity in response to increased demand.

But second is probably more significant: the rank confusion reigning between Zambia’s various authorities suggests corruption is rampant. Hunters tend to be quite rich and professional hunting guides are the government pay masters.

Three weeks ago the German embassy hosted a party in Lusaka to celebrate three decades of partnership between FZS and the Zambian government conserving North Luangwa.

A recent elephant survey showed that North Luangwa has the densest elephant population in the country and the most promising black rhino programs.

“I think it is fair to say that 20 years ago no one would have anticipated this development,” the project leader, Ed Sayer, told the guests.

In fairness one of the reasons North Luangwa’s elephant population is the most dense is because there has been so much poaching in the country’s other reserves.

According to Katarzyna Nowak, a South African elephant researcher, Zambia’s Kafue reserve lost almost half its elephant population to poaching since 2004.

North Luangwa is the most remote of Zambia’s reserves. That applies equally to tourists, hunters and poachers. Kafue is much more accessible.

Moreover, hunters themselves are disparaging of Zambia’s reduced game:

“…the quality [of lion and leopard hunting in Zambia] is on the decline due to hunting pressure and one needs a good deal of time to be sure of a good trophy,” writes safariBwana.com which labels itself “The African Hunting Authority.”

Last year neighboring Botswana banned all hunting, and until then it had been a significant hunting destination.

Scraping the old barrel to get the last bit of honey out of it might just crack the barrel.

No Vote Can Change This

No Vote Can Change This

AfricaDroughtWeather events – like football – keep getting nastier, and the more we comment on them the less attention we pay.

El Nino is flooding away America, but it’s also drying to a crisp much of southern Africa. That’s what severe weather is all about: When part of the world burns up another part freezes solid.

FEWS, the world’s early famine warning system, issued a severe drought alert last week for portions of eastern southern Africa. FEWS is not a weather forecaster per se, but an organization that anticipates what the weather will do:

In this case, a “food security crisis … is considered likely in the latter half of 2016 and early 2017.” ‘Food Security Crisis’ is just a step above “famine.”

Absolutely the world’s best forecaster globally is America’s own and proud NOAA. (That’s only since the Obama administration, by the way. Previous Republican administrations had eviscerated its funding.)

NOAA predicts a moisture deficit crisis for all of Zimbabwe, more than half of Mozambique, much of Zambia, some Botswana and nearly the entire eastern half of South Africa.

NOAA’s predictions further out suggest a return to normal. From FEWS perspective, though, that’s not good, because starting in March “normal” in southern Africa is the start of a long dry season.

Combined with the failure of rains in the past rainy season because of El Nino, food production will be lost over much of the area.

Tourism may also be effected. Earlier this year a number of Okavango Delta camps suspended their water-based activities because the water levels were so low.

There’s been some improvement, but not enough according to the University of Botswana:

“Tourism activities have so far become the first casualties of the on-going drought as water levels go down in the Okavango Delta,” a professor of tourism from the university warned last week.

My own sources suggest it’s not quite that bad yet, but water-based activities are being assessed on a daily basis.

More critical to the wildernesses of southern Africa, though, antelope populations like sassaby, wildebeest, hartebeest and zebra are declining. These great herds are less adaptable to drought conditions than other ungulates like giraffe and buffalo. (From a tourist point of view, by the way, dry conditions usually mean better predator encounters.)

Further east, though, including the great Kruger National Park, its equally famous surrounding private reserves like Sabi Sands, and almost all of Zambia’s reserves could face real trouble next year. When elephants start dying tourism isn’t exactly boosted up.

Humans can’t handle a drought as well as animals.

“Now that the drought has become even more severe, [food] production has nosedived,” the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board announced a couple weeks ago.

South Africa’s third largest city, Durban, began water rationing last July, and the situation has worsened considerably. By November publicly provided water systems were cut back 50% to both residences, businesses and farmers.

Sunday Durban began distributing bottled water to more than 2 million residents.

Compared to those in the South we in the North handle climate change pretty well, at least so far. Despite the headline news of apartments in mudslides, entire cities flooding down the river and beachfront eroding away, we aren’t starving and we aren’t likely to.

That’s not the case in the South. South Africa is the exception, although the climate situation there is so severe that it’s likely to put the country into a recession. But even that academic economic term carries a certainty that while dinners-out will be fewer, dinners-in will still happen.

Elsewhere in Africa’s south, that’s not the case. With each new climate change event there is greater hurt put on the world. Building walls might prevent the pain from getting to us right now, but someday it’s just going to get too severe.

Freedoms Crumbling

Freedoms Crumbling

VaderPilatoNo wonder that stability may trump Africa’s expanding democracies. Just look at Mosul or the Boko Haram held areas of Nigeria.

Today a popular rap singer was arraigned by a Lusaka magistrate for “defaming the president” of Zambia even though such a specific law doesn’t exist.

Pilato’s rap depicts the president as an oaf who spends much of his time drinking.

Pilato is very popular, very political and shows a definite sophistication of complex issues. This rap, for example, berates a political merger between two previously antagonistic political parties.

But the hook which gave his rap such a wide audience was the accusation of drunkenness. Drunken old men in rural Africa are the bane of their families, a condition closely associated with dementia.

It’s understood that age and dementia are not willful situations but nonetheless divine the good old men from the bad old men: prosecutor, judge and jury be damned.

So prosecutor, judge and jury respond, waging their own powers in equally questionable ways. A judge arraigned Pilato, today, but who knows for what. A prosecutor will now have to trump up charges, and a jury may assert its legitimacy by adjudicating violations of nonexistent laws.

From my untrained ears, Pilato doesn’t seem to be a specially powerful artist. Acting as if he’s a threat to society, makes him one and only because of that.

Last week at the inauguration of the new president in Nigeria, local journalists so accosted President Mugabe of Zimbabwe that his office later called them Boko Haram.

The video of the SaharaReporters’ encounter is particularly illustrative.

In my view, the so-called journalists were offensive. I’m hardly a supporter of Mugabe, who I consider one of the most devilish leaders Africa has ever seen.

I believe there are times when journalism should work with politics. I remain a devotee of Angela Davis and Herbert Marcuse. But this incident in Nigeria is not one of them.

These reporters had little interest beyond making headlines of themselves. “There is no democracy in Zimbabwe!” the woman journalist yells after persistently being unable to get Mugabe to answer her question, “Is there democracy in Zimbabwe?”

So with Pilato, no there’s not “too much” freedom of speech. But with the Nigerian journalists, yes they exercised “too much” freedom of speech.

There are ignorant rich, and there are ignorant poor, and technology is thrusting them backwards into the age old irresolvable battles between religions and tribes.

Neither side understands the facts, yet the IT technologies of iPads and iPhones present them constantly with situations requiring immediate reactions.

There is a reason that ISIS bans most technology. It wants to control the culture and the first step in controlling anything is to neutralize or pacify it. Many in Mosul as in the Boko Haram areas of Nigeria actually prefer such pacification to confrontation. My father did.

Democracy doesn’t exist without confrontation. Open societies need it. But when it reaches the level that technology brings it to, today, it’s like fusion. It expands under its own power and becomes uncontrollable and unpredictable.

When confrontation is such that it provokes a yearning for less freedom than more, when stability becomes society’s first priority, Darth Vader arises again.

Oiling The Works

Oiling The Works

MondayinLusakaZambia, copper giant and Zambezi River namesake, is fraying at the seams, torn by a global recession manipulated by Sandia Arabia and an educated society intoxicated by democracy.

What’s happening in Zambia today is a preview of the trouble hanging over much of developing Africa, and Zambia is in the focus just unluckily because of the unexpected death of its leader.

At 77, popular Michael Sata was right around the age of many African leaders and his health was OK. His death in October came as a surprise.

If Sata had died a year earlier before copper prices had tumbled and oil began to decline and the Eurozone started to fray, again, I doubt anything unusual would have happened. The country was doing well.

But Sata didn’t die a year earlier, he died in the early preview to a new global recession caused by the forced decline in oil prices, which has triggered a decline in commodity prices of all sorts including copper, Zambia’s one and only and very important resource.

I wrote earlier about the peculiar transition of power to a transitional government Sata’s death abroad caused: A white man, Guy Scott, became acting president but was barred from becoming president even as he oversaw the process for new elections.

Immediately fissures began in all political alliances, and yesterday violence peaked with car bombings and sporadic gun fire in the capital. Read the comments to the brief article to see how high tensions are.

This would not have happened a year ago. Yesterday alone copper prices tumbled and are now almost 10% below a year ago. The Canadian stock market sank miserably, because of copper.

“Copper [has] an uncanny ability to predict turning points in the global economy,” a Dubai asset manager wrote recently.

It isn’t that the people exploding cars or throwing rocks or issuing threats in Zambia understand the economics of global commodities, just as the new disaffection with Nairobi university students doesn’t mean every single one of them understands the mechanisms that provoked Chinese companies to stop drilling for oil in Kenya.

But everything is so intricately linked, that disaffection spreads like a virus. In Africa’s small if previously vibrant economies, a wrinkle in future outlook is a tsunami of potential misery.

President Zata died unexpectedly as the storm clouds that were gathering began to rumble. The event alone was socially disruptive to be sure, but in normal times it would not have led to the violence in the streets of Lusaka currently seen.

Zambia is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s better educated countries, and though it’s struggled with an above average amount of corruption, it should have been able to make the current power transition pretty easily.

But Sandia Arabia opened the spigots. We’re told the reason is to force America out of the top spot in world oil production. The ramifications are startling and severe.

Combined with an untimely power transition in developing Africa, it creates a maelstrom of discontent and unease.

The Zambian election process begins in earnest in a week. As copper is a barometer of the global economy, what happens in Zambia next week will foreshadow much of Africa for next year.

ZimZam OldNew BlackWhite

ZimZam OldNew BlackWhite

ZambiaTurbulenceThis morning two countries just above South Africa are suddenly and surprisingly tense. There is potential for serious violence in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Other than that both countries begin with the letter “Z” there’s little else at first glance that seems similar about them beyond sharing the Zambezi river as a common border. But I think the sudden climate in each reflects a connection between them we didn’t realize before.

In a nutshell the problem in Zambia is the sudden death of its unusually popular president and the ensuing power struggle that includes the completely unexpected if remote possibility that a white man will come out on top.

In Zimbabwe nothing can be explained without Robert Mugabe, and the old and clearly sick dictator is being besieged from all sides: his party, an ever resurgent opposition and … even his wife.

Both situations have resulted in near lock-downs of their capitols. Clearly, violence is developing.

“Violence will never be the answer,” was the lead editorial in Zim’s ruling party newspaper Friday. Which, of course, means it will be.

In fact, the ruling party stoked the flames a few paragraphs later by stating, “…violence in crisis areas is not pushed by ideological pundits, but criminals hiding under a political or religious umbrella.”

Convoluted as usual by a lack of proper diction and reason in equal measure, it’s still quite clear that Zim’s ruling elite is getting a call to arms.

“Lusaka is in lockdown mode as most roads are closed today and tomorrow” ostensibly for the funeral of the recently dead president.

‘Who Cares?’ the first comment following that report today in one of Zambia’s main newspaper goes on to ask, pointing out that what really matters is “what is happening at the parliament gates,” i.e., the succession fight.

The sudden death of a popular and powerful leader in Zambia, and the apparent final demise of a decrepit and very sick old dictator right next door, are happening in tandem. Is this just all coincidence?

Well, probably, but I’ll tell you my imagination might not be completely to blame here. The current Acting President of Zambia is Guy Scott, a white man. Click here to read my first blog about his coming to power.

Like similar situations in democracies throughout the modern era, Scott as Vice President was a know-nothing, powerless figurehead who accompanied international missions mostly for needed amusement. George Bush refused to believe he was an official when a Zambian delegation visited the White House.

As Acting President he normally has no more power than an Acting Anything, which as we all well know in politics or business is a stand-in for the real thing expected sometime soon.

And so it seemed with Scott. Until last week. Here’s how that changed:

“… suddenly there was an announcement on national television that, Acting President, Guy Scott had dismissed PF Secretary General, Edgar Lungu from his position…[and]… replaced Lungu with Chipili Member of Parliament, Davies Mwila.

“The announcement was greeted with spontaneous riots and protests … and a thick nationwide atmosphere of disaffection.

“Diplomats quickly revised Zambia’s security rating from ‘peaceful transition to crisis.’”

The chess game that is always African politics is seen as some simply as Scott’s attempt to keep his opponents out of contention, the most important of which is the late president’s son.

But I think he’s setting himself up as a compromise candidate. He’s stoking the flames to become the hero who puts out the fire.

How does this parallel with Zimbabwe?

A once little known fact that has received wide attention recently is that Scott is actually a friend and vital supporter of the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, who among all of his most vicious detractors was hated most by the white farmer he displaced.

Mugabe is clearly on the descent, certainly physically but I think at last politically. When your wife challenges you in public, beware.

But if Scott prevails, then so might Mugabe’s dreams for succession?

Would you ever have thought the survival of the black demon Mugabe depended upon a once little known white man next door?

Between Black & White

Between Black & White

NotYetScottWhite fear of black in America is profound but black fear of white in Africa is even more profound.

Currently of Africa’s 53 countries, only one is being led by a white man, and that came as a great surprise to most in the world, and in fact, to him.

Or did it?

Guy Scott was a close friend for many years of the president of Zambia, Michael Sata, who died early yesterday morning in a London hospital.

Scott’s Ph.D. in agriculture, his birth in Livingstone and his outspoken dedication to remaining essentially unmeaningful except as a symbol gave the former president all sorts of political hedges and foreign notice.

So Sata’s rise to power was never without Scott at his side, and much of Zambia saw this very unusually blended team as just what the country needed four years ago. And so it proved so.

Not because of what Scott brought to the team, but specifically because what he didn’t.

Many vice presidents around the world have no power. It’s a peculiar anomaly of the executive type of democracy that the man designated to replace the dead leader has so little to do or say until that tragic moment comes.

Yet it comes quite often. Presidents of democracies have a very high fatality rate, and not just from assassination. Many don’t achieve the position until they’re quite old and sick. That was the case with Sata, and many wonder if certain Zambians allowed Scott to be put on the ticket as vice president for that very reason.

African executive democracies are almost all much more executive than in America. Each time Sata left the country, he had the power to appoint an acting president, and it was never the white face.

In the last several years Zambia like many African countries has been actively implementing piece by piece a new constitution. Zambia moved faster and faster as Sata got sicker and sicker, but Tuesday the race ended with Sata’s death.

One of the pieces currently up for consideration would eliminate the requirement of the old constitution that limits the president only to persons whose parents were born in Zambia.

Among the reasons this is so contested is because Michael Sata’s son, the very popular current mayor of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, was born to a Sata wife from Malawi.

The mayor, known commonly only by his first name Mulenga (just to avoid muddying the waters), is technically no more eligible than Scott to run for president, but he commands a very powerful political wedge in current Zambian politics.

Scott was born in Zambia in 1944, but his parents were born in Scotland. The Sata/Scott team headed a very popular political party in Zambia, brought to power in no small part because of anti-Chinese sentiment that swept over this fairly industrialized country the last few years.

Chinese investment in Zambia is as intense as anywhere in Africa, but the Chinese ran into hurdle after obstacle when trying to quell the power of Zambian unions.

In his recognized lack of power, Scott often remarked disparagingly about the Chinese as the perfect mouthpiece for his powerful boss. What Scott said was presumed to be what Sata believed, even as Sata negotiated more and more Chinese investment.

They were a perfect team.

The moment Sata died and Scott was confirmed the interim president yesterday, Zambia’s incessant talk of coups heated up:

“…it is a period for the people of Zambia to reflect as to whether this is the kind of constitution we want [or one] that could provide a different scenario all together,” Scott’s African lawyer told the press yesterday in what many consider setting the stage for a herculean political battle.

Sata loved Scott but not so much his son, Mulenga, who hates Scott. The political opposition hates them all, and their leader has already announced he will run for the president.

In my opinion Scott isn’t qualified to be any country’s leader. His crass remarks about Chinese and his oft-stated support for the neighboring and ruthless dictator, Robert Mugabe, disqualify him in my view. He served a cute purpose for a while.

But also in my opinion a white face couldn’t make it yet in any African country. This is where America stands above Africa: Obama may be facing some of the most racist obstacles to governing of any man alive, but he did ascend to highest office.

In Africa, not yet.

On Safari: Africa’s Magnificent Falls!

On Safari: Africa’s Magnificent Falls!

vicfalls.highflood.538.apr11.jimLike Iguassu, Niagra and Angel, Victoria Falls is a stunning creation of nature, a Disney production of Mother Earth, commercialized to be sure yet still a pure wonder.

Imagine an alien world where there is so much water and so many water falls that the prize of a holiday is a piece of highveld Montana. But for us earthlings, sheaves of water tumbling from high rock is so rare that it’s beauty incarnate.

And Victoria Falls couldn’t better fit the description, because it’s likely that visitors here have spent a good amount of their vacation in flat near desert, as we did in the Makgadikgadi and as many others do in the Kalahari, where an errant stream or evaporating pan represents paradise.

devils.vicfallsThen, suddenly, you find yourself standing in front of a mile of tumbling water! We’re here at high flow. That means well over 100,000 cubic feet of water/second, the most of any falls on earth.

It is neither the highest (that’s Angel) or widest (that’s Iguassu), but because it’s a single curtain of water just over a mile wide and 350′ high it’s usually considered “the biggest.” To be sure it’s the most powerful looking of all the falls. Seen as most of my folks have done, from a helicopter, it’s almost impossible to imagine the amount of falling water.

A third of the falls are in Zambia and two-thirds are in Zimbabwe. We’re staying in Zambia, and I haven’t booked any trip to the Zim side since 1999. That’s when the misery of Zimbabwe began, and it’s only gotten worse.

Properly designed, there’s no real personal danger to going to Zimbabwe, but the unpredictable power outages and worse, the unexpected fuel shortages, can terribly disrupt a planned holiday.

But there’s no reason to stay on the Zim side. As I write this most of my folks have walked over the bridge and are spending the day in Zimbabwe and in the prettier and more spectacular Zimbabwean Falls national park.

The only regret I have not staying on the Zim side is not being able to stay at Victoria Falls Hotel, one of my favorite in the world. (My wife and I designed our master bathroom on the VicFalls hotel!)

But my clients have the whole day over there, and they plan to visit the hotel and have a meal or its legendary high tea.

And the accommodations now available on the Zam side are fabulous. We’re staying at a wonderful boutique resort, Tongabezi Lodge, right on the Zambezi River. But there are so many other good options, too.

The Royal Livingstone Hotel was designed to exactly replicate the Victoria Falls Hotel. It does a pretty good job of it, right down to the magnificent dark wood bar. Like the Falls Hotel you can walk down from its backyard to the falls.

All – and actually many more – the activities available from Zimbabwe are available exactly from Zambia. This includes the helicopter touring, river rafting, bungi jumping, microgliding, golf, horseback safaris, fishing (for Tiger Fish!), canoeing or kayaking, elephant back safaris, spas galore, quad biking, discos if you want them … it’s endless. This is a waterfalls resort!

We’ve had a super safari. And while Victoria Falls was only an option, 14 of my 15 people are here, and it’s hard to imagine a better way to relax and remember the exciting times we’ve all enjoyed together!

If ever Zimbabwe rights itself – and I just can’t imagine that happening soon, even if the despot Mugabe dies – Livingstone, Zambia will have so progressed in tourist services beyond Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, that I think at least for a very long while to come this is the side to stay at.
VicFalls National Park picture

Is African Big Game Hunting Ending?

Is African Big Game Hunting Ending?

Zambia’s decision yesterday to ban the hunting of cats is electrifying and marks a new movement against big game hunting in Africa.

The tourism minister told the BBC, “Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry.”

From my point of view the announcement is actually more important than Botswana’s announcement a month ago to ban all hunting, but taken together, this is striking.

Despite Botswana’s wild game biomass probably exceeding Zambia’s (and this is absolutely true with regards to elephant), Zambia probably has more cats, and for sure it right now has much more big game hunting.

Next to Tanzania, Zambia is the most sought after country in the world by big game hunters. This is because it still has very large tracts of land open to all types of big game hunting.

Botswana banned hunting lions in 2002, severely restricted its other hunting quadrants in 2007 and in 2009 essentially closed all the good hunting areas in the Okavango. So the announcement last month to end big game hunting everywhere in Botswana for good was actually an incremental move.

Zambia has actually encouraged hunting to the point of government involvement in hunting trade shows. Yesterday marks an incredible and fairly abrupt about face. Why?

I don’t want to get into the argument of whether hunting is truly a conservation technique or not, because in its purest form I actually believe it is, and I know that riles a lot of people. And I’m no hunter. But properly sanctioned hunting can essentially do what the South African rangers do in Kruger National Park: cull.

While earning the government a hefty dime for letting a foreigner do the job for them.

But we don’t have to argue that. Although that’s the theory under which virtually all African countries sanction big game hunting, I can’t think of a single one – South Africa included (with the current rampant increase in corruption there) – where anything, much less hunting, is done the way it’s supposed to.

So instead of 1 or 2 elephants hunted out of quadrants assigned by the government per season and overseen by licensed big game hunters, you have dozens of elephants, antelope, lions and anything else that moves, blasted to smithereens often by unlicensed amateurs with little regards to the stated conservation policies.

All it takes is bribing the right officials, and if not that, the local communities near the productive hunting areas. Big game hunting in Africa today more resembles the business of poaching than it does Ducks Unlimited.

Maybe, maybe with the Zambian announcement yesterday we can say this is changing.

Hardly a week ago the head of Zambia’s big game hunting government bureaucracy was fired along with 4 close officials. The official reason was for “irregularity in awarding [hunting] licenses.”

I think the current Zambian government, relatively new and among the better in years, discovered as it dug into the dirt under the animals a den of iniquity. I really think that Zambia’s move is an incredibly laudable one and should be seen in terms of government transparency rather than conservation.

Nothing is ever clear in Africa, and to be sure, the increase in poaching and decreases in some large animals – especially cats – forces the accountant to begin analyzing the cost/benefit ratio of hunting versus tourism.

And in that one, tourism has been winning for at least the last decade. The cost of hunting had been much greater than any form of non-hunting tourism. But with today’s incredibly up-market safari properties, a wildlife photography safari can be just as expensive as a hunting safari.

With just as many taxes for the government.

In any case, we now have three of Africa’s most famous big game countries (Kenya, Botswana and Zambia) either completely restricting big game hunting or severely so.

It’s a very important milestone in the history of Africa’s big game.