Zambia’s tourism minister announced Thursday that the African nation had banned the hunting of lions, leopards, and other animals, stating the the amount of funds derived from wildlife watching tourism was greater than that earned from hunting.

The minister, Sylvia Masebo, added that big cats populations are too low to sustain hunting. She said hunting for sport does not bring in enough money to justify the activity.

“Why should we lose our animals for $3 million a year? The benefits we get from tourist visits are much higher,” she told Reuters.

Zambia’s lion population is believed to not exceed 4,500 animals, while the leopard population is unknown. Estimates by the International Union for Conservation of Nature place the lion population at about 20,000 to 30,000 in all of Africa. The population is feared to be declining due to conflicts with livestock and farmers, loss of prey, and habitat destruction.

“Although there is evidence that safari hunting and wildlife record income for the country, there was need to weigh the benefits against the fast depleting species of some animals,” she said. “The cats are gone, and no amount of convincing from any sector or group will convince me otherwise.”

In late 2012, the neighboring country of Botswana announced a countrywide ban on all hunting effective January, 2014. The country also cited declining wildlife populations. Kenya has had a ban on game hunting in place since the 1970s.

Image from Geoff Gallice (ggallice) on the flickr Creative Commons

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