My Thoughts: Safari Hunting as a Conservation Measure

It seems like on a fairly regular basis there is a large outcry from the public about big game hunting in Africa. Disproportionally, it seems that these attacks are focused on attractive women (ex. 1, ex. 2) – but is certainly not limited to just women (ex. 1).  This is an ongoing debate that will never be settled until there are no more animals left.

First, let me present my credentials: while I am not personally a hunter, I come from a family of hunters and grew up around hunting. My dad is an avid hunter, hunting deer and pheasants in Iowa, and taking many trips to hunt big game in the United States and abroad. I have joined him on two such trips, Zambia in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013. Both of the safaris were hard work – lots of walking, tracking and waiting for the right animal to come by.

In addition to coming from a pro-hunting family and participating in African safaris myself, I also spent two years living in a rural community in Zambia and a third year at a small national park in Zambia. I have seen wildlife conservation in action, and I realize that hunting plays a major role in successful management programs. Like many things, hunting must be managed in a responsible way in order to be beneficial.

*Disclaimer: Obviously, these are my opinions. This post contains images that anti-hunting activists might find disturbing. 

How does killing something support conserving it?

  • Carrying capacity is defined as the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain based on the resources (food, water, habitat) available in the environment. When the population of a species outgrows this capacity, there are often disease outbreaks, environmental destruction, and widespread starvation. The continued expansion of human populations has limited the space where wildlife can live, confining them to protected areas with limited resources to support a population that without outside management will only continue to grow. Many estimates put the population of elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana at twice what it can support[i]. Elephants are especially destructive, and when overpopulated destroy habitat that supports other wildlife.
  • Economics are a huge driving factor in how hunting promotes conservation. Hunts like these cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Zimbabwe was expecting to earn about $60 million from trophy hunting in 2014, up from $45 million in 2013[ii]. In Zimbabwe, hunting elephants alone generates $15 million a year, according to a representative from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. And across Africa, it was estimated in 2010 that $77 million would be generated from the elephant quota of 1,540 animals set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)[iii]. Unfortunately, there is corruption and not all of the money goes to the programs that is supposed to support, but income from hunting does go to conservation programs, including funding wildlife protection officers, funding research projects, and supporting community initiatives for income generation and wildlife conservation.
  • On a community level, people and villages are supported by income from hunting safaris. Almost all of the people staffing safari camps, from cooks to trackers and skinners are from a nearby community. In some cases, these people are former poachers who are now using their skills to help other people hunt animals. Safari camps traditionally give a large amount of meat to communities in the surrounding area (the rest is used in camp), which also prevents small-scale poaching for meat.
  • Hunting safari companies are also able to fund major programs that prevent large-scale commercial poaching, especially of elephants and rhinos. These safari companies have the resources to fund these initiatives beyond what the local government does to prevent poaching, both large and small scale.
  • Many of the national parks and preserves, in the U.S. and abroad were started at the urging of hunters. In the U.S. our national park system was started by Teddy Roosevelt, himself a noted big game hunter. Hunters recognize the need to protect the animals so that future generations can see these animals (and yes, maybe even shoot them). Hunters were some of the first people to realize that protections must be put in place to save animals from extinction.

Aren’t these animals endangered?

  • There are different levels of ‘endangerment’. An animal might be highly endangered in one area, but overpopulated in another. The wildlife authorities in the country look at population counts, overall and localized. African elephants, lions, cheetah, are currently listed as vulnerable, white rhinos and leopards listed as near threatened, and cape buffalo are listed as least concern[iv]. So technically speaking, none of the animals that this young woman from Texas killed are endangered. Also, many rhino hunts are done with tranquilizer gun, so that the animal can be tracked and researched in order to understand the population and ensure their survival.
  • Each country sets a quota for every safari area on the number of each species that can be taken. For example, one area might only have one elephant license because the population would not support taking more.  However, in an area with overpopulation issues, the quota might be 15. Depending on the species, most of the time only animals of a certain size are taken (and often only males). Of course, there are always unscrupulous or unethical hunters and safari companies that bend these rules.  

How can you kill such a beautiful, smart animal?

  • Yes, elephants and other animals have been shown to be highly intelligent. I am certainly not advocating for the large-scale culling of elephant herds.  As elephants age, their teeth fall out and are replaced by new teeth, up to six sets. After that there are no more replacements, and these elephants are unable to eat as efficiently (or at all) and slowly starve to death. By removing older elephants, you are preventing them from suffering from a long, drawn-out death from starvation.
  • As mentioned above, many people in rural communities hunt for meat for their families. The most popular way to this is through snares. Snares are inherently cruel, and lead to the slow starvation of animals rather than a clean, quick kill shot. By providing a source of income and meat, illegal poaching is less enticing to most villagers. Local people also deal with ‘problem animals’ – elephants destroy crops that are often the only source of income for these families, so farmers destroy the elephants or other wildlife that is destroying their livelihood. Again, these are often cruel deaths. Research is ongoing on non-lethal ways to control problem animals, but until a solution is available, farmer will continue to protect their crops by any mentions needed.

Why is a hunting safari more beneficial than a photographic safari? People will pay money just to look at these wonderful animals – you don’t have to kill them!

  • Yes, it is true that photographic safaris are a huge draw for tourism in African countries. These safari companies also employ large numbers of local people and benefit local communities. Hunting has the added benefit of managing populations and keeping them healthy, not to mention hunting safaris are significantly more expensive.  In Zimbabwe, an elephant hunt will cost about $30,000 in permit fees and for a professional hunter. A lion hunt will likely exceed $55,000[v]. These numbers do not include flights, lodging and money spent on extra sightseeing, souvenir buying or other costs. Compare to a photographic safari of the same length (ten days) without flights at about $5,000.

I believe there is a place for both hunting and photographic safaris in Africa. I believe that hunting plays a vital role in conservation for many reasons that benefit wildlife and local people. I know the system is far from perfect, with too much room for corruption, abuse and unethical treatment of animals. Hunting is one small part of wildlife conservation and one that must be maintained. I love and appreciate wildlife as much as the next person, but I realize that by removing a few animals from the population, it allows the population to thrive.

[i] Sports Afield ( Retrieved 3 July 2014

[ii] Bloomberg ( Retrieved 3 July 2014.  

[iii] American Hunter ( Retrieved 3 July 2014

[iv] IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ( Retrieved 3 July 2014

[v] Bloomberg ( Retrieved 3 July 2014.  

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Mary’s Top Five Off-The-Beaten Track Places in Zambia

Zambia is well-known as the home of Victoria Falls and spectacular game parks, but there are many small gems scattered across the country that are special in their own way. In each of these places I saw no other visitors. From waterfalls to protected national parks to moving memorials, Zambia has a number of lesser-known but amazing places. These are my top five (in no particular order):

1.       Kundalila Falls, Serenje District, Central Province 

This wonderful waterfall is located in a secluded spot and makes a great getaway spot for overnight or even just the day. Kundalila roughly translates as “cooing dove,” which is an illusion to the sound that the falls make as they cascade over the rocks. The falls themselves are a somewhat narrow plunge of 67 meters. You can swim in the Kaombe River, and in the dry season you can get right under the waterfall.

The campsite has long-drop toilets, shower facilities and a large insaka. There is also a smaller insaka with a fire pit, including a grill. Near the camping area, there is a rock precipice that can be climbed. On the top, you can see the top of the falls, and it also offers a spectacular view of the valley. Since Kundalila is on the edge of the Muchinga Escarpment, this view is expansive and truly amazing.


2.      Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial, Ndola District, Copperbelt Province

Hammarskjöld was a Swedish diplomat and economist who served as the United Nation Secretary General from 1953 until his death in 1961. The memorial marks the site of the plane crash in which Hammarskjöld and fifteen others were killed just after midnight on September 18th, 1961. After his death, he was awarded the 1961 Nobel Peace Prize (he had been nominated before his death). At the time of the crash, he was on his way to the Congo Republic to negotiate a cease-fire. 

The memorial itself consists of a memorial garden with a cairn at the center with shrubs and trees on the outer circle. A museum was constructed and opened in 1981. The museum exhibits some remains of the crash, as well as materials on the life of Hammarskjöld and the United Nations.The site is on the tentative list for being declared an UNESCO World Heritage site. The memorial site has a braii area, perfect for a picnic, as well as toilets.


 3.      Liuwa Plain National Park, Kalabo District, Western Province

Liuwa Plain National Park is 3,660 km2 of extensive grasslands and a few wooded islands, dotted with the occasional termite mound. The area is a huge floodplain – so it is extremely flat, and during the rainy season most of it is under water. This park is one of the more challenging spots in Zambia to get to but with its vast and largely unvisited spaces and the impressive yearly migration of nearly 50,000 blue wildebeest, visiting the park is worth it for those up to the adventure.

The area is considered one of the oldest protected areas in Africa. In the 1880s Litunga Lubosi Lewnika declared the area his royal hunting grounds. To protect the area, he placed people there to serve as the royal gamekeepers – to this day, the descendants of these gamekeepers still live within the boundaries of the park. Approximately 20,000 people live here and share the same resources with few problems due to a continued adherence to traditional practices and regulations.


 4.      Kapishya Hot Springs, Chinsali District, Muchinga Province

Located on the famed Shiwa Ng’andu estate, Kapishya Hot Springs is located about 30 kilometers from the main house. These are naturally occurring and sulfur-free. During Sir Stewart Gore-Browne’s time at Shiwa, they were one of his favorite places. It is now run as a separate lodge, but visitors can go between both the main house and the hot springs. The springs are located in a somewhat secluded area and surrounded by lush vegetation and it is one of the most relaxing places in all of Zambia.


5.      Ntumbachushi Falls, Kazembe District, Luapula Province 

Ntumbachushi Falls is a series of pools and rapids on the Ng’ona River. The main falls, two parallel waterfalls each about 10 m wide, cascade down about 30 meters, and there are other small falls scattered across the kilometers directly above the main falls. Traditionally, this waterfall was believed to be a sanctuary of spirits while the waters of the Ng’ona River are used for bathing to cleanse people of bad luck and misfortune. There are two shrines close to the main falls where local traditional leaders and healers still perform rituals. The water in the river is exceptionally clean and great for swimming. Camping is available for ZMW25 a night, with cold showers and long drop toilets available. Image

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Return to Zambia

I recently returned from three weeks of vacation in Zambia and Zimbabwe. This was the first time I have been back to Zambia since I COSed in June last year. It was a bit weird at times, stuck in between feeling like a local and feeling like a tourist. Adding to this feeling was the fact that I travelled mostly to new places – Mongu, Liuwa Plain National Park and Ndola. I was on the move almost the whole time – lots of time in buses, cars and walking around trying to learn as much about these places as possible. All in all, I spent about 24 hours in Lusaka – about 18 of which I spent sleeping. According to Google Maps, I travelled nearly 2500 kilometers. I have pages and pages of notes and scribbles that will be turned into helpful tips and information for my book.

I was amazed at the changes since I left – starting with the airport. The name change is official: Lusaka International Airport is now Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. (For those of you unfamiliar with Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda served as the first president of Zambia from 1964 – 1991.) The biggest change was in the money. In January, Zambia knocked three zeroes off the kwacha and re-introduced the ngwee. The money looks mostly the same, but now the one kwacha and ngwee are coins. They also introduced a two kwacha and a hundred kwacha bill.

I started my journey around Zambia by travelling west to Mongu, the provincial capital of Western Province. I took the bus and was able to catch up on some sleep along the way. I had heard that Western Province was flat, sandy and very poor, but I was blown away by actually experiencing the area. September and October are the driest months of the year, so the sand was very deep and made traveling (even walking) difficult at times. The majority of Western Province was very thinly populated, and the infrastructure was in pretty poor shape. I stayed in Mongu one night before heading up to Kalabo to Liuwa Plain National Park.

Liuwa Plain National Park is one of Zambia’s lesser-known gems, due mostly to its hard-to-reach location. From Mongu to Kalabo, it took about two hours to drive about 60 kilometers through deep sand and bumpy roads. During the rainy season, the entire area is flooded and you have to take a boat to be able to reach the park. They are currently working on a raised road that will improve transport between Mongu and Kalabo, thus making Liuwa Plain more accessible.

I was able to get a ride with one of African Parks’ vehicles. African Parks manages the park, and has done some amazing work in the past ten years. Liuwa Plain has been a national park since 1972 – but for about a hundred years before that it was protected as the royal hunting grounds for the Lozi king. Liuwa Plain is very unique in that about 20000 people actually live in the park – mostly the descendants of the original royal gamekeepers.

Thanks to African Parks, I was able to tag along as they pulled game scouts and put new ones on duty and I was able to see a good chunk of the park. During the few hours I spent with the scout crew, we saw tons of zebra and blue wildebeest, a couple of eland and some oribi. Liuwa Plain is home to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa in November – but even during the dry season, I saw plenty of wildebeest!

Leaving Mongu at 3:00 am the next day, we passed through Kafue National Park about 6:30 am on the way back to Lusaka. This is prime wildlife viewing hours, so we were able to see quite a few animals just driving through the park, including buffalo, hartebeest, impala, elephant and even a lion! The lion crossed the road right after we passed – an interesting sight to see a huge male lion crossing a highway. After a very brief stop in Lusaka, I continued on to Ndola.

Ndola is the commercial capital of Zambia. I never visited there during my time in Zambia because there is not much to see there. Ndola has the marks of what was once a very prosperous town – large hotels and myriad businesses, but everything looks a little run down now. I did visit the Slave Tree and the Copperbelt Museum, neither of which were particularly exciting.

The best part of visiting Ndola was going to the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Crash Site just outside of Ndola. Hammarskjöld was a Swedish diplomat and economist who served as the United Nation Secretary General from 1953 until his death in 1961. The memorial marks the site of the plane crash in which Hammarskjöld and fifteen others were killed just after midnight on September 18th, 1961. After his death, he was awarded the 1961 Nobel Peace Prize (he had been nominated before his death). At the time of the crash, he was on his way to the Congo Republic to negotiate a cease-fire.

The circumstances around Hammarskjöld’s death are still somewhat mysterious. Investigations by the colonial government immediately after the crash blamed pilot error for the accident. The memorial itself consists of a memorial garden with a cairn at the center with shrubs and trees on the outer circle. There is also a small shelter on top of anthill marking where Hammarskjöld’s body was found.

In Lusaka, I was able to watch the Chipolopolo World Cup qualifying match against Ghana. Unfortunately, Chipolopolo lost to the home-team Black Stars and will not qualify for the 2016 World Cup.

I headed to Livingstone and had a chance to get reacquainted with Livingstone, and try a few new things as well. I did the helicopter tour of Victoria Falls – which was awesome. The other people I was slated to go on the helicopter tour with cancelled at the last minute, but luckily I was able to get on with a couple about an hour later. And even luckier, they were doing the 30 minute tour, so I got to do the whole tour for the price of the 15 minute tour. On the tour, you pass over Victoria Falls a few times, then head down into the gorge and then pass over part of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. It was amazing to see the whole scale of the falls – even in dry season!

While getting ready to cross the border from Zambia into Zimbabwe, I was robbed. I wasn’t paying attention and one of the famously cheeky baboons ripped the plastic bag I was holding from my hand – taking with him my crackers and some bracelets that I had purchased as souvenirs for people back home. This actually happens a lot – so if you visit Victoria Falls be sure to look out for the baboons.

In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe I met up with my dad for two weeks on a hunting safari – come back for a recap of the second half of my trip!


Zebras at Liuwa Plain National Park

Hammerskjold Memorial

Dag Hammerskjold Memorial

Victoria Falls

Aerial shot of Victoria Falls

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<a href="

” title=”Zambia Map”>Zambia Map

Oh, the kilometers I traveled while in Zambia (post coming soon!)

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So I’m Writing This Book…

In case you didn’t know, I am writing a book.

Now that I have made that announcement, let me explain a bit more:

I am writing a travel guide to Zambia with a fellow Zam-RPCV and my good friend Jen Casto. Jen and I are working on this project under the Other Places Travel Guides series. Other Places was started by Kit Beale, an RPCV who served in Antigua and Barbuda. He realized that RPCVs are able to gain a unique perspective on the counties where they serve – and one that should be shared with as many people as possible.

Here’s a great explanation description from their website:

“Other Places Publishing is a start-up publisher focused on a new series of travel guides that bring local insight, culture and adventure to the intrepid traveler. What makes our series of travel guides so unique is that each book is written and researched by long-time residents of each country. Not only do our writers live in-country, they are all former Peace Corps Volunteers having experienced a culture and people like few outsiders can.”

So a few months ago, I contacted him about writing a Zambia guide. Currently, there are guides for fourteen counties – from Paraguay to Ghana to Mongolia and around the world again. Jen and I are about a quarter of the way through the process (at least this is my admittedly optimistic estimation). We’ve split the work down the middle and have been busily writing about Zambia – about the culture, food, and people, and about our recommendations for the best places to stay and eat and the best attractions to make sure to visit. The guides are primarily aimed at backpackers and PCVs/RPCVs – aka, people who love a good bargain.

I started with central Zambia, including Central Province and Copperbelt. Next up is Livingstone/Victoria Falls and Northern Zambia (Luapula and Kasama). I’m also working on a variety of sections with basic info about Zambia – the food, sports, history/government and demographics, just to name a few.

I thought I had travelled a lot throughout Zambia, but as I research places, I realize there is still so much cool stuff I haven’t seen. I am planning to be back in Zambia for a week in September to do some more research and hopefully attend a wedding (also, if anyone wants to join me, the invitation is open). Then the final draft will go through a ton of revisions and design – and hopefully be published early next year. It will able online, in print and ebook versions.

So far it has been an adventure. Whenever people ask me my plans for the weekend, I usually say “working on my book.” It makes me feel pretty cool. And someday, I’ll be a published author!

If you have any tips or recommendations that should be included, feel free to email me at You can also “like” the Facebook page at for continuing updates.

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Spring in DC

Looking at the calendar today, I realized it has been one year since I officially closed my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. Sometimes it seems like it was just a few weeks ago I was in Zambia; while sometimes it feels like it has been years. It’s been a crazy year – over the course of twelve months, I’ve had malaria, moved back to Iowa, traveled to Jamaica, got a new job, moved to DC, moved to a new house, went to my first NBA and NHL games, and met a ton of new people. It’s been a great ride!

I am really starting to feel settled in D.C. I have been playing softball on my office’s team, which has been a lot of fun. We play right on the National Mall – it’s crazy to look up and see the Washington Monument right there as you are running the bases. I have also started volunteering at Common Good City Farm. Common Good City Farm is an urban farm and education center growing food with and for low-income residents in Washington, DC and providing educational opportunities for all people. I am supposed to be helping with their after-school program, but in the two weeks I have attended no kids have shown up. So I have just been volunteering around the farm – harvesting veggies and herbs that are sold to support their educational programs. So between volunteering and softball, I have been keeping busy.

I moved the first week of March. Moving is never fun, but I am really enjoying my new house. I found this house on Craigslist, and so far it has been great. I have three housemates (one girl, two guys), and we all get along well. We have a great deck, so it has been awesome to be able to sit outside and eat dinner or have a few people over on the weekends.

In April, I went down to see the famous cherry blossoms. It really was a cool sight – so many trees all in full blossom. It was also a sneak peek into tourist season – so many people! I have come to the conclusion that if you are on the Mall in the summer, you need to be wearing a shirt that matches at least one other person, because you are either in tour group or on a softball team.

I have remained active in the Iowa State Alumni Club of DC. I have met some incredible people and I am glad that the club is taking off. We had a picnic to celebrate VEISHEA – it wasn’t as awesome as actually being at VEISHEA – but there were cherry pies. We also participated in University Row at the Gold Cup. The Gold Cup is a big race that is held out in rural Virginia each year, and the University Row is a big tent with about a hundred university alumni clubs, eating and drinking. It was a great excuse to stand outside (it was a beautiful day!) in a slightly ridiculous hat.

Work has been busy – Peace Corps announced this week that they would begin accepting applications for same-sex couples to serve together, so we have been in the news a lot. The announcement was mostly received positively – I hope that we will be able to keep this momentum going. We also just got a new press director (my direct supervisor) so it has been an adventure teaching her about Peace Corps and the work we do to promote the work of volunteers around the world. We have added two new people to our office in the past month – so I am no longer the new kid! I was really hoping to get some new RPCV blood in our office, but it wasn’t to be.

Summer is kicking off in DC – lots of outdoor parties and events. It hasn’t gotten unbearably hot yet, so people are still willing to be outside. I plan on keeping busy and continuing to explore DC. If you are planning to be in DC this summer, just let me know – I would love to have some visitors!

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Mary E. Fuller:

If anyone in the US has been watching Africa (on Discovery Channel) here is a little more info about the shoebills in Zambia. Here’s a link to the part about shoebills:


Originally posted on BangweuluFish:

shoebill eye

I didn’t have a photo of a shoebill’s eye so I’ve used one of a Tyrranosaurus instead

With BBC Africa’s recent footage of a shoebill nest in Bangweulu making headlines I’ve realised its high time I put some photos and facts up here about the Bangweulu swamp’s flagship species.

shoebill Bangweulu

Kapotwe, the tame shoebill that lived at the research station.

Shoebill (Baleaniceps rex- meaning ‘whale-head king’) occur only in the Africa’s most vast swamps and wetlands. Here they mostly just stand around, their giant feet supporting their weight on the floating grass. They are fairly lazy, so instead of enthusiastically going for tiny fish like all the other thousands of birds in the swamp, they just hang out waiting for a BIG fish to come past. The trick with big fish though (especially catfish, their favourite!) is that they have mighty hard skulls. Not a problem…

shoebill stork closeup “…I’ll just smash that fish…

View original 898 more words

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