Zambia Hunting Basics
Zambia's safari hunting started back in the early 1970's when hunting zones were declared on tribal land, mostly surrounding the major National Parks and reserves in an attempt to create a buffer from human encroachment while offering a reward to the local inhabitants in the form of tourist revenue and meat. There are no fences involved here and boundaries are rivers and streams where game have no restricted movement. In a sense they are simply wild Africa and portray a kind of hunting which was popular at the turn of the last century - The Classical Safari hunt.
These zones are known as Game Management Areas and today there are 37 of which have been allocated to Zambian Safari Operators on a leasehold basis varying in length from 5-15 years. All GMA's are graded by the Zambia Wildlife Authority depending upon the status of their game numbers and their position relative to the National Parks. These grading's are: Prime, Secondary and Understocked / Depleted and imply exactly what they mean, although may not necessarily always be correct.
Zambian Safari operators are given an annual game quota which essentially determines the viability of their GMA and includes specified numbers of each of the species occurring in the GMA that they are allowed to offer for hunting. This list ranges from a couple of cats, buffalos, plains animals and in some GMA's elephant as well. Naturally the prime GMA's have higher quotas of game while the depleted areas have very little and call for much anti-poaching effort on the part of the operator.
Safari operators in Zambia are further restricted by the types of hunt they are allowed to offer and which species can be hunted on each different type of safari. There are 4 different types of safari hunt prescribed by the Zambia wildlife authority and they are all tied to different species and have differing lengths of stay. So if you're hunting Lion you have to book a particular type and duration of safari and the same goes for Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and the other plains antelope.
At best of times these different safaris and what you can and cannot hunt are confusing, often not making sense. In addition some safari operators complicate matters further by applying their own restrictions on certain species in particular Lion and Leopard.
Most Safari operators sell their hunts on a daily rate basis because of the different daily requirements for each species and tend to stay away from ever quoting a straight all inclusive price. What this means is that each hunt has a base daily rate price which is usually inclusive of all the basics necessary to hunt the targeted animal. From here there are additional fees which do add up at the end of a safari, the most notable being the trophy fee for each animal harvested.
Without getting too complicated, the range of different additional fees that apply to a safari hunt in Zambia is astounding and can downright ruin your hunt if you didn't know about this from the start. Some operators and agents selling Zambia conveniently or perhaps unknowingly don't tell you about these additional costs so be sure to get in the know before you buy.
As they do not have permanent ownership of the GMA, Zambian Safari Operators build semi permanent camps which are re opened or rebuilt at the beginning of each hunting season. There is a great variation in what you get across the different safari operators, some offering comfortable en suite canvas safari tents while others have stuck to the old way of grass and poles. In any case you'll be sure to at least get a flush toilet and a hot shower, most provide this while cold drinks and quality of meals does tend to vary according to the outlook of the safari operator.
All this pales into insignificance if you do not get a good Zambian professional hunter because in this country, knowing the GMA you hunt in is an essential for any good PH. This is where you'll find a hunt is made or broken, the experience and the resolve of your PH, more often than not based upon their past turnover of hunting clients.
As a rule those that are employed full time as resident PH's for their particular GMA are going to be top notch. bear in mind that not all Safari Operators are hunters, some have perhaps gained the lease to an area by political connections, so it is essential that the PH at least knows what they are doing. Unfortunately it is rather difficult to check up on Zambian PH"s to see what their past experience is and when they actually started hunting.
The Professional Hunters Association of Zambia tends to be a clique of older PH's trying to protect their own hunting interests, hanging onto the old cloak and dagger methods, so you'll more than likely never hear a good thing out of them about another PH because they are vying for your business.
In addition, there really is no need for a PH in Zambia to be registered with them anymore as the law was changed. In light of this you'll find many of the the good younger PH's, the ones making names for themselves, just got tired of their BS and have not renewed their membership. So beware of what you are told, check the number of references of your PH and do contact them to get their feedback on PH performance.
AS OF 2008
Through the decades Zambia has had its fair share of hunting disasters, mostly initiated and spearheaded by the government and its politicians. Tied to this the typical veil of mistrust and secrecy which dogs most of Africa's hunting countries still exists today, resulting in unscrupulous safari operators gaining a foothold in many of the best hunting regions. Unfortunately this has resulted in many of the top hunting areas being overshot as profit and not continuity seemed to rule the day.
Despite all this, the safari hunting industry in the country is remarkably strong and buoyant as the recent market trend suggests. A clampdown on Lion hunting across the continent has meant Zambia's operators hold a valuable asset as Lion is without a doubt Zambia's ace. When hunting reopened in 2003 and GMA's were allocated to new operators, much skepticism surrounded the status of lion and leopard populations. The results were spectacular to start with and initial hunting quotas were high for each GMA. However over the last 2 seasons the situation has been reversed with poor results on mature lion and leopard in many top areas yet no apparent reverse in quotas.
It goes without saying, those GMA's which are still top notch in Zambia today, the ones still producing big beasts, are a direct result of careful and self initiated restrain in quota utilization and concerted efforts on the anti-poaching enforcement front. There are very few Zambian safari operators who have done this over the last 5 years which has resulted in the poor state of many of the prime GMA's. In fact you can count the top notch GMA's which will still give you Zambia's best hunting experience on one hand and they are tied to safari operators who have been in the business for decades and have throughout this time exercised the same policy of conservation first regardless of cost.
What this means is that despite past seasons results, many operators will struggle in the next couple of years to not only produce decent and mature trophies but also in getting their wildlife populations back to an even state. Sadly, many operators do not care about replenishing what they have taken and hide their destruction in misguided beliefs that Zambia's wildlife is inexhaustible, a view shared by the country's wildlife authority.
Thus the situation facing Zambia's safari hunting industry looks bleak and the best advice is this: If you're wanting to hunt Zambia, be it for the cats or just simply to experience a true piece of unfettered Africa, do it soon - seriously, within the next 2-4 years - you'll still get good stuff.