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The untold story of urban residents and safari hunting

EMMANUEL KORO
Ground up: Some of the houses still under construction in Victoria Falls PICS: EMMANUEL KORO
Johannesburg – Widely viewed as only benefiting poor rural residents of Africa, the hunting industry actually is a blessing to urbanites as well.

Even as threats to shut down hunting markets continue to manifest particularly from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, actual Africans on the ground stress that the benefits are far-reaching and crosscutting, demonstrating the importance of the hunting industry to Southern Africa’s wildlife economy.

In rural Africa, hunting is known to bring wonderful mind-set-changing benefits that have transformed many beneficiaries from being poachers to champions of conservation. In Victoria Falls, the highly skilled employees in the hunting sector are transforming themselves from being employees to proud homeowners in areas such as the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe middle-class suburb. Some of these employees have since progressed to own safari hunting and other types of businesses that are needed in the Victoria Falls economy. They are also sending their children to elite universities, regionally and internationally. They also support their extended families.

Beautiful, bright-roofed and somewhat tastefully built houses that ‘announce’ the curious blend of modernity and nature burst into sight as one arrives in Victoria Falls, driving from the airport.

Many people can be forgiven to think that these houses belong to bank managers and top government officials.

It is here; in the land that David Livingstone in 1885 had the rare experience of being the first European man to discover the Victoria Falls. In 2020, it is in Victoria Falls where we are beginning to also uniquely discover the second wonder of hunting benefits. That hunting was first known to benefit rural communities but it also brings never-told-before benefits to urban dwellers.

“Most of the people who stay in the Victoria Falls suburban houses are directly employed by safari hunting companies and some are employed by companies that directly benefit from the hunting business value-chain, including restaurants such as the Boma that is a very popular game-meat-eating outlet,” says Evans Irvine Makoni, executive director of Mosi Advocates on Social, Environmental and Conservation Trust.

“Some of the bank managers and top government officials can hardly afford the houses whose stands were sold for US$22,000, but employees of hunting companies who include professional hunters, trackers, guides, drivers and chefs can.”

Local businessman, Thomas Mutano, who owns an upmarket lodge, says the Boma specialises in game meat and tourists go there to eat meat, paying US$40 to enjoy hunted game meat from wildlife ranches.

“All types of hunted meat are eaten in the hotels and restaurants in Victoria Falls, especially the Boma that takes up to 100 people per day,” he says.

“Take away the hunted game meat and then you have negatively impacted the hotel and restaurant businesses in Victoria Falls – total collapse of the economy.

“Most tourists come here to experience game meat, including crocodile meat. So the hunting industry that’s involved in the supply of game meat is a key player in the Victoria Falls wildlife economy.”

Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ), bought and developed land where the safari hunting employees have and continue to build their dreams homes.

“There are over a 1,000 housing units in the area,” explains the CBZ Victoria Falls branch manager, Fungai.

Well-placed sources in the banking sector who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, say 10 percent (100 houses) in the upper middle class area are owned by safari hunting employees, with about 50% (500) belonging to workers directly benefiting from the safari hunting businesses.

“The highest earning employees in the tourism industry are from the safari hunting sector,” says Kumbirai Kurerwa, a former safari hunting company employee who now owns his own safari hunting business.

The spillover of benefits does not end there.

“Even the education sector is directly benefiting from the safari hunting employees,” says local private school owner, Tendai Gift Kowo, the founder and director of Elite Independent College.

“The parents of most of the children who learn at my school work for tourism businesses that are directly linked to the safari hunting industry.

“Therefore, I fear that if the hunting markets were to close as some Western governments and animal rights group continue to threaten, it would also result in the closure of my education business.

“This is not to mention the potential loss of good education opportunities for the learners and jobs for teachers.

“Ban hunting and you have killed the livelihoods of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Africa.”

According to Kowo, 95% of Victoria Falls depends on the wildlife economy and hunting is the main driver.

The beneficiaries of the hunting industry include the skilled employees for hunting companies, ranging from top chefs, cooks, professional hunters, marketing managers and accountants. They use the salaries paid to them by hunting companies and tips paid by the safari hunters, to build beautiful homes for

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themselves. 

Dominic Muleya, a former safari hunting employee, is now running his own safari hunting business and plans to buy a residential stand in the area. He has already built a house in his rural home and hunts with clients from Slovakia, Germany and Italy.

“I am supporting my extended family with money.

“If they ask me for money, I just ask them how much and I pay them. No sweat. No worries. I am making good income from hunting.

“There is money in hunting and we come across rich people in the hunting industry. “Some of them recently bought a local employee a stand when they learnt that he didn’t own a house.

“I bought this powerful mini-bus US$6,000 cash and one of my clients promised to help me buy a US$67,000 Land Cruiser to get my business more established in 2020. “These are the amazing stories of the benefits of hunting.

“The Americans give the biggest tips. My schoolmates always ask me how I’m making it and I tell them I am in the lucrative hunting business.” Another “wonder” is that hunting income is meaningfully supporting conservation and development initiatives in rural Southern Africa and reducing poverty in the process.

Medical doctors and top professionals produced from schools built with hunting revenue bear evidence of the rapid socioeconomic benefits of hunting.

According to Ishmael Chaukura of the Masoka CAMPFIRE community of Zimbabwe, the rural schools built using hunting revenue have and continue to produce “teachers, doctors and top accountants who are proudly providing professional services needed in their country.

The story of highly skilled hunting employees owning houses in urban areas continues across the border in Zambia’s Kazungula Town where Roy Seemani, acting ranger of Zambia Department of National Parks Mulombedzi game management area acting ranger, confirms that hunting employees own decent houses in Kazungula. Others have dream homes in Livingstone and in the capital Lusaka in suburbs such as Mumbwa.

“Most of the people think that hunting benefits only rural communities and this is not true.

“Twenty percent of hunting companies’ employees are highly skilled people such as chefs, waiters, cooks, accountants, marketing officers, professional hunters and others, from urban areas who have professional skills demanded by clients from overseas.”Seemani said that if hunting were to be banned by shutting down hunting markets, it would collapse African countries economies and also worsen rural poverty through collapsing community development projects.

Elsewhere, the Botswana Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust’s Nchungu Nchungu confirms that safari hunting companies employees from his country are proud owners of decent homes in different towns of Botswana, including Maun and Kasane.

However, in Namibia the hunting company employees are said to be more interested in investing in rural economies, building tuckshops and buying cattle that are considered a status symbol in most African communities. They own modestly built houses in both urban and rural Namibia and Botswana.

“In Namibia, I have seen people who were previously unemployed and almost owned nothing, later invest in livestock production buying up to 10 cows each after getting employed in the safari hunting industry,” says Salambala Conservancy Chairman, Daniel Mwinga.

“They also use their salaries to send their children to good schools which is a good investment in education for our future leaders.”This observation is supported by Hentie van Heerden of the Namibian Professional Hunters Association who explains that in Namibia, the hunting companies’ employees are more interested in investing in their rural areas than urban areas.

“I do not see or experience the same situation (s) you mention in Namibia at all. 

“Safari hunting staff can never earn so much money to build elaborate houses or even a regular house in their villages. 1

“Ten percent of our staff have little shops at home in the local villages where they live. They sell products that include beer, cool drinks, cigarettes, maize meal, sugar, cooking oil and few other basic items.”

For Botswana-based Ngamiland Council of NGOs chairman, Siyoka Simasiku, rural communities are using money from the wildlife economy to build houses for destitutes and provide funeral assistance and scholarships.

“For example, the community-based organisations paid for the construction of seven houses for the poor at Sankoyo,” says Simasiku.

“At Khwai 18 houses were built, while at Mababe 10 houses were built for the elderly and the poor.

“The wildlife economy has therefore transformed some rural communities from living in poverty and relying on hand-outs from the donor agencies from Europe and North-America into productive communities that are moving towards achieving sustainable livelihoods.”

*Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa



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