The days of hunting as season-focused employment of a handful of locals and hand-outs of a few chunks of protein-boosting game meat are over.
This development approach is unfair to the African hunting communities that suffer from the socio-economic costs of co-existing with wildlife. They deserve permanent investments and life-changing benefits from the safari hunting companies operating in their areas.
This is the change message that rings loud like a life-saving gunshot in ‘Killing The Shepherd’; a new and hard-hitting documentary. It urges safari hunting companies to consider a human rights-focused development approach supported by permanent investments in African hunting communities.
The whole world will be taken to Zambia’s remote and wildlife-rich community online, in the documentary ‘Killing The Shepherd’, starting from 27 November 2021; to discover a new human rights-focused rural development pathway that a local progressive safari hunting company has decided to take.
Leading this human rights-centred rural development course is a man who has a permanent interest to use international hunting revenue to protect the environment and the rights of rural indigenous communities by ensuring a long-term partnership with the Shikabeta Kingdom. His long-term rural development commitment lies in his wish to die and be buried by villagers in a rural community where he risked to invest permanently and prospered.
He learnt about wildlife conservation from his father, a former officer of Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. This roused Roland Norton’s dream to be a safari hunting operator in a remote rural community in Lower Luano in the Shikabeta Kingdom. Although his dream came with significant hurdles, he overcame them.
Today, he has established a vast and permanent safari hunting camp that blends well with the environment; one of the biggest-ever seen in Africa. Almost like a mini-town. Beautiful to behold, but difficult to build. It took Mr Norton’s big personal financial risk to make it happen for him and the Shikabeta Kingdom, where he now operates and creates employment and must-see rural development offerings. They range from the construction of three new schools, two clinics, roads, a pavilion for community events, church, kraals for protecting goats, drilling of boreholes and the purchase of hammermills.
The conducive socio-economic and political environment for such a vast and permanent safari hunting business to thrive in the Shikabeta Kingdom was created by the most unlikely person. She can be appropriately described as Zambia’s iron lady of community development, wildlife and environmental conservation - Her Royal Highness Chieftainess Shikabeta. She fiercely propelled her ambitious mission, rejecting masculine cultural norms, in order to bust poachers and create socio-economic development opportunities by bringing to the Shikabeta Kingdom safari hunting operators such as the Nortons. She successfully negotiated with the Zambian government to bring back international hunting to the Shikabeta Kingdom. The Shikabeta Kingdom is described in ‘Killing The Shepherd’ as one of the remotest parts of the country, where some people run away from a white man because they have never seen one.
Shot by USA-based filmmaker Tom Opre over 100 days in the Shikabeta Kingdom, ‘Killing the Shepherd’ is more about human rights than hunting. It has won numerous awards for best indigenous, social issues, and human rights film, including Docs Without Borders Film Festival, Hollywood International Diversity Film Festival, Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (NYC), Cannes World Film Festival and the Toronto Independent Film Festival. These awards, from festivals worldwide, lend film-specific credence on the social issue front.
“It was fire,” said a USA-based school teacher with a black African heritage and highly respected in African-American inner city neighbourhoods, John Annoni of Camp Compass, who was privileged to watch ‘Killing The Shepherd’ before it premiers online this month. “When I say it was fire, I mean it was good”.
Meanwhile, Opre said the narrative around safari hunting or any hunting “needs to change.” His desire is to give a voice to indigenous rural communities worldwide.
“It [safari hunting] can’t be about dollars spent and hectares saved,” he opined. “It has to be about the people who live with wildlife. If they don’t see a benefit for their demanding nature and habitat conservation work, all of it will go the way of the Dodo bird – extinction. And all these ignorant modern world folks and ‘do-good’ animal rights groups are the biggest enemies of these proud rural communities.”
* Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist, who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.