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Wildlife communities’ voices must be heard

Opinion & Analysis
File pic: Rhino and its baby

SINCE the late 20th century the South Luangwa hunting community of Zambia has been progressively shaped by international wildlife hunting benefits in ways that are little-known to the world.

It is here where the world is given a new lens to catch a rare glimpse of the little-known, stunning and mind-set-changing international hunting benefits.

Yes, the world now knows that hunting revenue is being used to support community infrastructure in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) hunting communities.

The infrastructure includes roads, schools, mortuaries, stores, boreholes, tourism lodges, grinding mills. Some of the benefits include wildlife conservation and employment creation.

It is also a fact that international hunting revenue has transformed former poachers into absolute conservationists. Of course, the world is now aware that Zimbabwe’s international hunting-income-built Masoka School deep in Zimbabwe’s mid Zambezi valley basin, a school which continues to produce medical doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers, technicians, you name them.

However, Zambia’s South Luangwa community’s mind-set-changing benefits from international hunting are a bit unique. International hunting benefits helped this very traditional Zambian community, that used to resist family planning embrace it, avoid over-population that would displace wildlife animals from land set aside for wildlife conservation.

But something more unique was also in the making.

As time passed, some of the revenue from wildlife hunting was used to support the conversion of a very old and rundown local building into the only secondary school in South Luangwa.

This international hunting revenue-built secondary school later produced a top Sadc rural communities’ representative: The chairpwerson of Sadc Community Leaders Network that represents millions of rural communities in southern Africa that co-exist with and look after wildlife, Rodgers Lubilo who holds a PhD in philosophy and is articulate.

He can debate wildlife issues at the highest international level as happened at the November 2022 Cites CoP19 in Panama City; where he demanded the inclusion of rural communities in the Cites decision-making framework.

“I grew up in South Luangwa, a community with very limited opportunities and if we didn’t receive support from international hunting revenue that was used to build the school that I attended, we were not going to develop ourselves,” said Lubilo.

“There are many people who attended and still the same school and are benefiting from it.”

Lubilo has emerged as the top-drawer defender of the needs and rights of Sadc rural communities. His job is full of challenges and he is ready to confront them.

Stung by the Cites CoP19 decision to totally exclude all rural communities worldwide (including those from the Sadc region) from the Cites decision-making framework, Lubilo was deeply disappointed by this animal rights fundraising industry-influenced decision that was endorsed by countries that included the United States of America (US) and Kenya.

This led him to “fire back” by delivering what might go down in history as one of the most powerful speeches ever delivered by a rural community representative, in defence of rural communities’ rights to participate in the Cites decision-making process.

It was a moment when the world superpowers attending Cites CoP19 and the who-is-who in the animal rights fundraising industry learnt that international hunting has produced a powerful leader.

They now know that this leader can never be silenced when the rural communities’ rights to participate in international decision-making about the wildlife are violated.

After all it is the rural communities that own, look after and co-exist with wildlife.

Therefore, it does not make sense to exclude these communities in the Cites decision-making framework.

Therefore, Lubilo took the opportunity to tell the world that communities living with wildlife have the power to make it survive.

He warned that they can also destroy it, if the powers that be decide to restrict or take away wildlife rights from rural communities that co-exist with it and look after it.

“We might not have the political power but ultimately, we decide on the fate of African wildlife,” said Lubilo, telling off those who might not know that it is the wildlife producing communities that hold the “keys” to the life and death of African wildlife.

The former Cites Secretary-General (1982-1990) and President of the Switzerland based non-governmental organisation, IWMC-World Conservation Trust, Eugene Lapointe agrees that when communities co-existing with wildlife do not benefit from it, they will see no reason not to poach it.

“You take care of people, and they will take care of nature; you drive people into poverty and hunger through restrictions, limitations and prohibitions, and they will destroy nature, not by greed but by necessity” said Lapointe.

Lubilo said if Cites “has to live longer and continue to be legitimate it needs to recognise community involvement in wildlife conservation discussions”.

The US-based Navajo Community, represented by Jessica Ford together with a Mexican communities representative, supported Lubilo’s call that rural communities worldwide to be granted a Cites Advisory Committee status within the Cites decision-making framework.

Sadly, this move was overwhelmingly rejected, but the communities and their representatives have not given up their fight for their inclusion in the Cites decision-making framework.

“We have the power to remove wildlife and use the land for something else,” frankly said Lubilo. “If our communities don’t benefit, we will destroy wildlife. What can Cites meet to discuss in the future without wildlife?”

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