Ministry of Tourism and Arts Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga has revealed that the 80 black lechwes reported to have gone missing in the Bangweulu Wetlands have been moved to Lageni and Weakbens game ranches in Chisamba and Kazungula, respectively.

And Malupenga says people are using the misinformation to malign businessman Valden Findlay.

Recently, a Northern Circuit conservationist named Nsama Kearns issued allegations that 80 black lechwes had gone missing in the Bangweulu Wetlands.

But when he featured on Hot FM’s breakfast show, Tuesday, Tourism and Arts Minister Ronald Chitotela expressed ignorance over claims of the missing animals, saying he was also interested to know the truth because government had issued strict instructions against live capture of animals from national parks to other parks.

But in a later update during a press briefing held at the Chief Government Spokesperson’s office in Lusaka, Wednesday, Malupenga revealed the location of the ‘missing’ lechwes.

“When you say 80 animals have gone missing, it means no one is able to account for them and that is what has puzzled us because if these animals were moved from those parks, definitely, as government we are able to account because we are the custodians of those animals. So, it was from that background that we were interested to find out these animals that have gone missing. But when we consulted with the our Department of National Parks and Wildlife, it was revealed that no animal has gone missing, except 80 were moved from the Bangweulu Wetlands under the programme of trans-locating the animals. But the correct position is that 50 of those animals are in Langeni Game Ranch in Chisamba and 30 in Weakbens Game Ranch in Kazungula,” Malupenga explained.

And Malupenga reiterated that government had engaged the police to ensure that Nsama gave evidence for her claims or face legal action to stop further spread of falsehoods.

“We have engaged the police to take interest in the claims by one Nsama Musonda, identifying herself as a conservationist and raising these alarming statements! We would want the police to speak to this lady so that she can substantiate her claim. Should she fail to substantiate her claim, we expect the police to prepare the appropriate charges. For us, we think that this is the way we are going to arrest this trend of people just making alarming statements. This statement by Ms Nsama Musonda has also raised a lot of debate, people now think that this government is reckless and it is just disposing off wildlife in a reckless manner! The President’s name has been dragged in, innocent people being pushed into something that is not even there. That is why we would want the police to take particular interest so that they can bring this lady to account her alarming statements. She’s saying she’s a conservationist and these animals were moved without the ecological assessment being done, how has she known that?” Malupenga asked.

Meanwhile, Malupenga said critics were using Nsama’s claims to malign innocent people like Findlay.

“Freedom of expression must not be abused! People should know that freedom of expression is not freedom to tell lies! There are people who have got issues with Mr Findlay and they want to use this to malign him. But is he the only one who applied? This is purely a business transaction. But we are isolating one private game ranch as if it’s the only ranch that applied for this and got the animals. There are so many ranches that are in there and some of the proper documents are in public domain. But people are isolating one and now they want to turn the public against this one innocent individual in this matter. So, I think this culture must stop and the only way we can stop this is to make people accountable for their pronouncements. I am isolating Mr Findlay because from the debates going round, it’s appearing like the government has given these animals for free to Mr Findlay and people are bringing in the name of the President and the government as though they are the ones responsible,” said Malupenga.

“It’s just looking as though this is a reckless way of managing things by government. But this is not correct and it is misleading because this is purely a business transaction on a government programme. The trans-location of animals or restocking is a government agenda, it’s actually in the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP). What this means is that you have to move the animals to a place where there is a health population to a place where that species is either depleted or under-stocked and this can be from national park to another national park and there is a business connotation that it it going into a private ranch, those who are asking for those animals have to pay for them. So, that is why I am saying this is purely a business transaction and there is nothing wrong about it and it is not one ranch involved, there are over seven ranches involved. But you find that they are only talking about one individual and, obviously, we know it’s because they want to turn the public against this one individual because of the other agendas and they want to paint this one individual black to say ‘we told you about this and now there is this’, which is unfair.