In June 2016, the government of Zambia called off its original plan to cull 2000 hippos from the country’s Luangwa River. A few weeks later, wildlife conservationists say, the government reversed its decision, and the trophy hunters employed to kill the hippos were back in business. Advocates for the animals say the government’s reasons for the slaughter plan are, at best, unsupported by science, and at worst, corrupt. 

Government officials had initially cited fears of anthrax, insufficient water, and overpopulation as evidence a cull was necessary. Yet Will Travers, president of the nonprofit Born Free Foundation, says there is no current anthrax threat in Zambia, and that the water levels are the highest they’ve been in years. “They are on thin ground scientifically,” he told New Scientist. 

Why, then, would a government choose to kill hundreds of animals a year for the next five years? It’s unclear. What is clear is that the government contract to execute the killings went to a trophy hunting outlet called Mabwe Adventures. Mabwe Adventures appears to have teamed up with a safari company called Theo De Marillac Safaris, which is reportedly marketing the hippo-hunting opportunity to tourists. 

According to Born Free, the safari company invited would-be cullers to “experience the rare and exciting opportunity of participating in a controlled hippo hunt” for upwards of $12,000. “This walk and stalk hunt over the flood plains means hippo are hunted on land, making this a very exciting, adrenalin-pumping safari,” the company promised. 

News of the contract was met with public outrage, which initially inspired the government to call off the hunt. After a brief meeting with stakeholders, the decision was reversed, and the cull resumed. 

“There’s a relentless effort to press ahead,” Travers said. “But at the moment, I can’t see how they can justify what’s going on.”

[h/t New Scientist]

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