Zambian Conservationist Living In Fear Over Antelope Relocation Story

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photo|zambiatourism.com

By Kennedy Gondwe

A conservationist and a journalist in Zambia say they are living in fear after they exposed that 80 Black Lechwe have “gone missing” in a protected area in the north of the country.

Conservationist Nsama Musonda-Learns blew the whistle last month on the relocation of the antelope species native to the south central region of Africa.

The story has been keen keenly covered by Logic Lukwanda of privately owned Radio Phoenix.

Ms Learns says the Black Lechwe were moved from their natural habitat in Bangweulu Wetlands without consulting the community as required by law.

But the government has denied any wrongdoing, saying the animals were moved to two privately owned ranches after a capture permit was issued in March.

Instead, the Minister of Tourism Ronald Chitotela has accused Ms Learns of being sponsored by people wanting to dent the image of President Edgar Lungu and ordered police to investigate her.

“When I heard that 80 Black Lechwe had been captured from the Bangweulu Wetlands and translocated to private ranches, I was deeply concerned about their survival because they are a rare species endemic to the Bangweulu wetlands and listed under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List as vulnerable,” Ms Learns told the BBC.

She said according to research conducted on the semi aquatic species, they can be easily harmed by change of habitat.

“Surprisingly, despite my appeal being based on the work I do, I have received responses that suggest I am being paid by the opposition to destroy the strongmen in the ruling party which has been followed by death threats from unknown people”, she added.

“I have also been called in by the police for questioning on the orders of the minister and now my phone has been hacked and all audio messages and videos and statements I wrote are missing.”

Ms Learns, who has since written to human rights watchdog Amnesty International, wants her rights as a whistleblower to be protected.

Journalist Logic Lukwanda told the BBC that he was summoned and subsequently appeared at a police station on Tuesday to record a statement about his knowledge of the story.

Mr Lukwanda said he was accompanied to the police station by his supervisor, lawyer and representative from the media watchdog, Media Institute of Southern Africa.

“There is a remote fear in me. I feel I have to check my shoulders all the time,” he said.

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