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Lions and Leopards: Hunting Ban to be Lifted in Zambia

May 19, 2015 02:36 PM EDT

Despite concerns from conservationists, Zambia is preparing to lift a 2013 ban on the hunting of wild lions and leopards in order to raise funds.

This move may seem "extremely outrageous," however, tourism and arts minister Jean Kapata assures critics that the profits gained from hunting these big cats could benefit wildlife conservation as well as the livelihoods of local people.

"I am lifting the ban on the following conditions: the guidelines are drafted into a statutory instrument so that they become part of the wildlife law," she said, according to the Zambia Daily Mail. "Lion hunting should only resume in the 2016-17 hunting season and not this year. Leopard hunting can resume this year - 2015-16 season - but with very cautionary quotas."

Laws against these very types of hunts were instilled in January 2013, when it was clear that over-harvesting, hunting of underage lions and habitat loss were causing lion populations to decline. However, now those rules are being rescinded when Zambia locals and their wildlife resources became seriously affected as a result.

So based on this new knowledge, government officials plan to adopt prescribed guidelines, rather than invoke an outright ban on wildlife hunting.

"Some of the regulatory methods are currently being used in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. These have been found to be effective," Kapata noted.

However, with poaching an ongoing threat in Africa, conservationists like those from the Green Party of Zambia condemn the decision.

"We all know that the number of lions and other big cat species in Zambia's major parks is depleted and limited due to poaching and other anthropogenic activities," the group's president, Peter Sinkamba, told the Lusaka Times.

As of 2013, Zambia's lion population is estimated to be between 2,500 and 4,700 individuals.

Leopards, on the other hand, are listed as a near-threatened species on the IUCN Red List, and have long been hunted for their beautiful, soft fur - used to make coats and ceremonial robes - as well as for their claws, whiskers, and tails, which are popular as fetishes.

"Much as we are aware that the PF [Patriotic Front] government is facing serious budget deficit challenges," he added, "it is extremely outrageous to resort to unleashing safari hunters on to limited populations of big cat species, regardless of the fact that safari hunting is allegedly most profitable."

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