On the 4th May we had the intelligence2 debate; do “Hunters Conserve Wildlife” – to repeat the actual motion was:
“In 2014, a permit to hunt a single endangered black rhino was sold for $350,000… as part of a program to support its conservation in Namibia. Counterintutive? Through funds raised from legal hunting—the purchase of permits in Africa, licenses and taxes here in the U.S.—hunters contribute significantly to wildlife conservation efforts. Hunting has also become an important tool in the effort to control animal populations, to the benefit of humans and wildlife alike. But are big-game revenues really benefiting conservation and local communities? And is hunting a humane way to maintain equilibrium and habitats, or are there better alternatives?”
‘Hunting’ covers a massive spectrum of activities across the globe, but can be crudely split (in my opinion) into three main categories:
- Hunting for food
- Hunting for management (sometimes food is a by-product)
- Hunting for fun (sometimes food is a by-product)
In any all-encompassing debate, the overall balance/equilibrium of hunting’s impact is the only logical way to reach an overall conclusion, but perhaps it would be better spilt out and debate specific elements of hunting activity in the future.
At the start of the intelligence2 debate, 44% were ‘Undecided,’ 21% ‘For,’ 35% ‘Against’………..but by the end of the debate only 9% remained ‘Undecided,’ 65% ‘Against’ (7% changing from ‘For’ before the debate to ‘Against’), only 26% ‘For.’
Figure 1 – “Hunters Conserve Wildlife” post debate audience results
Note: It should be noted, that the “Online Voting” pre-debate poll (far right in the figure above) was subject to a flaw upon internet browser refresh (not openly admitted by anyone it would seem), that permitted an individual multiple opportunities to register a vote. So from an academic point of view, the “Online Voting” pre-debate poll is relatively meaningless.
It could also be argued (less convincingly because the debate audience polls were one person, one vote) that the debate audience was hijacked by “antis,” but unless there was collusion at the start with a concerted effort to disguise such ‘feelings’ by pretending to be undecided (44%), such a conspiracy theory would seem improbable.
Catherine Semcer, For the Motion – COO, Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants (H.O.P.E.)
Catherine spoke initially about hunters restoring Mozambique wildlife after decimation from warring factions’ habitat destruction and over-hunting. Throughout the debate, Catherine often referred to a consensus of a network of leading scientists supporting hunting as a potential conservation tool, particularly the scientists contributing to the IUCN; specifically, the April 2016, IUCN Briefing Paper, “Informing Decisions on Trophy Hunting” (referred to as the “IUCN Briefing Paper” from this point on). So let’s take a look at this IUCN Briefing Paper……
The IUCN Briefing Paper
The IUCN Briefing Paper sought to influence the ‘Written Declaration’ submitted to the European Union (EU):
The EU’s Wildlife Trade Regulations (WTR) state that species listed under Annex B are not hunted “detrimental to populations of any of the species.” Furthermore, for any species listed under the EU’s WTR Annex A, it must be shown that the hunting of the given Annex A species “benefited the conservation of Annex A species.” – The ‘Written Declaration’ concluded that these criteria are “rarely adequately determined.”
The IUCN Briefing Paper did highlight that there are indeed hunting examples of “weak governance, corruption, lack of transparency, excessive quotas, illegal hunting, poor monitoring and other problems in a number of countries” – so we are on the same page there, though this IUCN admission is glossed over for much of the remainder of their paper.
However, the IUCN Briefing Paper also postulates “legal, well regulated trophy hunting programmes…play an important role in delivering benefits for both wildlife conservation and for livelihoods and wellbeing of indigenous and local communities living with wildlife.”
So, when a specific Trophy Hunting activity does not satisfy the EU’s WTR stated sustainability criteria, the IUCN Briefing Paper calls upon the European Parliament, Council and Commission “to ensure that any decisions that could restrict or end Trophy Hunting programmes:”
- Use “sound analysis…..” – Well that’s exactly what the EU’s Scientific Review Group (SRG) is supposed to do!
- Consult “affected range states, indigenous people and local communities;”
- Explore “other options to engage with relevant countries to change poor practices and promote improved standards of governance and management;”
- Are taken only “after identification and implementation of feasible, fully funded and sustainable alternatives to hunting….”
So, hold on a minute……..if the EU decides that a lion trophy (for example) to be imported into the EU does not meet the EU’s WTR (based on SRG advice etc.), ie. the trophy is from a poorly managed, corrupt , excessively ‘harvested’ and poorly monitored source, where financial transparency is non-existent (ie. clearly there is no conservation value from the given hunting the given trophy is sourced from), the IUCN thinks the emphasis should be on the EU to first seek to remedy all of that before taking any action whatsoever to restrict the trophy import?
Sorry, but that’s clearly nonsense:
- Where is the hunting industry’s mandate to self-regulate in the name of its claimed overriding objective for ‘conservation’ gone (or when the hunting industry has been shown to be lacking scruples for such a long-time, why should it be allowed so much leniency)?
- Where has the country in question’s mandate to ensure sustainability of its wildlife gone, not to mention protection of indigenous people and local communities without resorting to wildlife abuse?
- When did it become the EU’s sole obligation and responsibility to put all that is wrong to right, whilst the hunting industry and the trophy source’s country should be allowed (in the IUCN’s wisdom), to continue to practice and profit from a clearly non ‘conservation’ hunting activity?
- How is the EU supposed to somehow be able to negotiate and impose an acceptable alternative in a country it has no means to impose any sort of compliance over (the only other leverage being possible trade pressures etc.)? Of course, alternative options to Trophy Hunting exist, with the potential for commercial loan style provision from the EU and elsewhere, but first the will and intent from range states to recognise failings and want to change is key;
- Since when has the EU not been allowed to restrict imports of its own volition based on its own stated rules, without a third party’s stated caveat that first the EU must seek to somehow make the import acceptable within the source country? The premise has always been, if you want to trade, the obligation is to meet the required criteria oneself and until compliance is met, not to be shown enduring leniency.
I understand the IUCN are saying; even hunting that does garner conservation (ie. hunting is helping to deplete the given species’ population), must be allowed to continue because if you take that away, the local people will be deprived of income and will possibly kill all the wildlife! However, the IUCN should be calling upon reform of the hunting industry to sort out the self-created mess, ensure sustainability and wildlife population protection, not calling upon the EU to sort out the hunting industry’s mistakes and over-sight.
To be clear, all the ‘Written Declaration‘ sought to do, was to call on the European Council and Commission to ensure adherence to the EU’s own Wildlife Trade Regulations (WTR) when considering hunting trophy imports into the EU – the WTR stipulate sustainability and proven target species conservation as a core requirement. So seeking EU adherence to WTR should be welcomed by anyone interested in proven conservation, including self-professed Trophy Hunting ‘conservationists’ (and the IUCN).
So, in conclusion, I share the view that the IUCN Briefing Paper is a highly biased misrepresentation, and the emphasis on reform (where needed) is misplaced and naïve.
So, let’s return to Catherine………..there was a lot of talk and numbers about habitat protection, hunting income and the ‘belief’ she holds that this is direct evidence of ‘conservation.’ But this ‘belief’ is not direct evidence/proof of species’ conservation per se in every case; land rights and income does not equate to wildlife conservation by default.
Also, Catherine stated Cecil was “just one lion” and he was part of a conservation project “funded by hunters.” Well, wrong on both counts; lion dynamics are complex, so the consequences of hunters killing “just one lion” can easily ripple out into a pride with devastating consequences (infanticide by a new incoming dominant male for example(2)(3)). Cecil was a collared lion, being studied (which does not necessarily mean there is any positive ‘conservation’ impact by default, a study has to prove itself of worth) by the Oxford University Zoology Department, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (Wild CRU) – Wild CRU draws its funding from numerous sources, including public; indeed I have donated in the past to Wild CRU and I am certainly not a hunter. So it is disingenuous to say only “hunters” fund Wild CRU’s studies and that any such studies are ‘conservation‘ – only when such studies yield conservation results can they be deemed ‘conservation.’ But of course, first of all hunters (etc.) need to stop killing the study participants to enable the possibility for any positive ‘conservation’ results to emerge!
Anthony Licata, For the Motion (Editor in Chief, Field & Stream)
Anthony displayed a predominantly North American focus, concentrating on hunting concessions and habitat/land ‘control’ and maintenance – the acreage (“millions”) and income (“billions”) numbers were duly given out, but this does not equal species management by default. “A sustainable, repeatable model……” advocated by Anthony, is not one based on killing an animal (a one off event), but upon maintaining an animal for species’ reproduction and repeat appearances/income.
Anthony also spoke a few times about the ‘feelings’ he has when out hunting, not just the scenery encountered, but the ‘feelings’ derived from hunting – this is purely an emotive response that Anthony is expressing, which adds nothing to justify how hunting purportedly equates to ‘conservation.’
Anthony also played on the historical prevalence of hunting and its role “in the circle of life.” But again, this cannot justify and excuse all hunting activities undertaken in the present day and who gets to decide how any “circle of life” should operate, only hunters presumably?
Wayne Pacelle, Against the Motion (President & CEO, Humane Society of the United States)
Wayne referenced hunting’s claim to conservation, but questioned why hunting is able to ignore the environmental impact of the lead shot used, captive ‘farmed’ (‘canned’) animals bred specifically to be executed by so-called hunters etc.……..none of this is true ‘conservation.’ Hunting fees/taxes paid does not equal conservation; the oil and tobacco industry pay taxes, but no one considers their contributions as ‘conservation’ so just talking about the money is not justification enough. Wayne sees hunting as a “broad church,” but is should not tolerate the negative side, the damaging environmental, ecological impact, and if ‘hunting’ cares so much (as claimed) about conservation then hunting associations/lobbyists should not actively seek to block conservation endeavours as promoted by HSUS.
Wayne also questioned how species could be hunted when the science was lacking and how the balance of the hunters’ technology vs. their prey’s defences could be considered conservation? Wolves were mentioned as a historically persecuted species, where hunters insist that numbers must be managed, when of course nature is able to establish equilibriums without such intervention. The hunters’ motives to ensure wolves did not kill the “hunters’” claim on elk (etc.) was cited as the hunters’ real motivation.
Adam expressed the view that ‘hunters’ call upon everyone “to trust them, as they have the backing to support their claims…..” But , not all the ‘science’ is aligned in the hunters’ favour and “trust” is built on experience and example, which does not show the hunters’ pursuits as always ethical and above reproach. Eco-tourism vs hunting income explored by Adam, “keep animals alive not dead” is the aim implored for true conservation and every animal life taken potentially has an impact, with ripple effects not immediately obvious through the tunnel of the hunter’s scope.
Adam referred to the hunters’ obsession with killing with the example of the Florida black bear; just as population numbers are recovering from historical over-hunting. Adam referred to this as “yo-yo” conservation, where the hunter is forced to relent to save species numbers, but as soon as populations start recovery, the hunter advocates the right to kill the same populations back again. Is this considered and justified conservation? No, it clearly is nothing but a call for killing based on no recognisable science.
Let’s explore some more of the debate’s themes…….
Hunting – “For Food”
Hunting “for food” is a compelling argument, when legally sourced, legally and humanely (ie. not indiscriminately and torturously snared) killed, proven to being taken from a scientifically sustainable and regulated source. But this is not akin to conservation by default, as it’s possible to over-hunt species as a food source, such as the increasing burden on predator prey for human bush-meat consumption noted in parts of Africa.
However, in hunting for food, the hunters’ ethics often come to the fore, taking only the old, or the weak when necessary to leave the remainder intact and able to self-sustain themselves with minimal disruption, or unnecessary distress (as a food source for future consumption). This is the demarcation of where the ‘ethical’ hunter resides, but somehow their territory has become contaminated and polluted by the “fun hunters’” toxic mix of blood-lust, ego, bullying and funding capacity to corrupt the once hallow ‘ethical’ hunters’ turf.
Figure 2 – Polar bear trophy hunt – picture source: Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd
To my mind, ‘ethical’ also means not trapping any animal for fur, or pelt (unnecessary in today’s world), or motivation for commercial ‘needs,’ but purely hunting as a sustainable food source. This ‘ethical’ stance also extends to not selling such rights to hunt for food to “fun hunters” who pay to kill; as is the case with Inuit tribes (Nunavut indigenous communities) in Canada ‘selling on’ their historic rights to co-manage Polar bear numbers (IUCN Briefing Paper, Case Study 10):
“600-700 Polar bears every year……. However half of the bears that are killed are not actually shot by an Inuit hunter or used by Inuit people. In fact a full half of the bears that are killed are either shot directly by non-Inuit hunters or the “products” i.e. bear parts are sold to non-Inuit people. A Polar bear hunting trip may cost between $40,000 and $75,000 dollars” – Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd.
Roughly half of the fees (and all of the Polar bear meat apparently) taken enter the northern Inuit communities, the remainder goes to the ‘Outfitters’ with approximately 400 – 500 polar bears harvested annually in Nunavut during 2000 – 2012 – IUCN Briefing Paper
So, let’s say for 500 Polar bears at $45,000 per hunt, this equates to approximately:
- Outfitters income per annum – $11m USD
- Northern Inuit communities income per annum – $11m USD
Figure 3 – Polar bear trophies – picture source: Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd
There is clearly ‘big money’ to be made by the Outfitters, plus the Inuit are also able to offset generally low income levels and high levels of unemployment within Inuit communities, by allowing paying hunters to ‘take pleasure’ in paying to kill Polar bears on the Inuit’s behalf. Where is the ethics and proud dignity being displayed by the Inuit, when they are turning Polar bears into a commodity whose life can be sold to the highest bidder?
The proven science for setting Polar bear hunting quotas is apparently based on annual updates “through a co-management system that integrates the best available scientific and traditional ecological knowledge.” Is there a clear, independently established scientific divide being made between Inuit Polar bear management and inevitable human greed creeping in to maximise commercial income from the potential over-harvesting of Polar bears?
The IUCN Briefing Paper, Annex Case Study 10, supports the above Inuit income seeking enterprise as good. How? Because it provides humans with income? But what about the conservation of the Polar bears and the threats faced? If the Polar bear harvesting advocated is so low impact, then why did the United States list the Polar bear as ‘Endangered’ and ban imports of Polar bear trophies into the United States from 2008 and since pushed for the ‘uplisting’ of Polar Bears from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I protection?
The IUCN lists the Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as ‘Vulnerable’ but also suggests that Polar bear population data in Canada is not as comprehensive as one might hope, which begs the question just how accurate is the ‘science’ being used to say the Polar bear “harvesting” is sustainable? The biggest threat faced by Polar bears is climate change and shrinking habitat; how has that been modelled into “harvesting” sustainability supported by the IUCN?:
“In some jurisdictions in Canada, the governance system includes aboriginal co-management boards and aboriginal hunting organizations. In some of these co-management systems, both local knowledge and science are to be considered equally in both management and research decisions. Although scientific studies have concluded that the long-term effects of capturing and collaring polar bears are minimal (Ramsay and Stirling 1986, Messier 2000, Thiemann et al. 2013, Rode et al. 2014a), some local groups nevertheless consider these techniques disrespectful or harmful to the animals. As a result, population inventory and ecological studies have been delayed or not permitted. On the other hand, alternative research techniques such as aerial surveys and genetic biopsy capture-recapture methods were designed and implemented. Reduced monitoring will constrain governments’ ability to assess sustainability of harvest especially if abundance is estimated from aerial surveys which cannot provide data on vital rates (Aars et al. 2009, Stapleton et al. 2014)” – IUCN
The question is can the ‘Endangered’ Polar bears only still deserve recognition by the Inuit because the Polar bear is now a ‘valued $ commodity’ in their eyes to derive income from? Is this a new definition of ‘conservation’ we should all ‘accept’ that despite a historical subsistence killing for food only policy, the Inuit now see the ‘Endangered’ Polar bear as a critical income stream to offset low wages and unemployment and call it ‘conservation?’ Conservation of what, the Inuit?
Of course, for vegetarian and vegan diets, the killing of any animal for food is unnecessary, but the methods used are not always above reproach by anyone that questions the ‘ethics’ regardless of their chosen diet.
Hunting – “For Management”
Hunting “for management,” where herd population numbers/control is necessitated by independent (not some authority run by hunters, for hunters), scientific evidence, perhaps with any culled animal of an appropriate species passed to a game dealer as an approved and regulated food source for public consumption.
When the science and consensus says yes, then this is acceptable (in my opinion), but such ‘work’ should be conducted by proven professionals (not paying, enthusiastic amateurs) using approved and humane methods.
Hunting – “For Fun”
The latter, “fun hunter” hunts for entertainment. This is where the immediate issues with ‘hunting’ arise for many (including ‘ethical’ hunters). This hunting for ‘entertainment’ where the hunters’ ‘excuses’ and immediate emotion to defend their chosen action are portrayed as some kind of sacrosanct, righteous authority to kill – though ‘murder’ should also be an appropriate legal term for all animals wilfully killed some might say.
The hunters’ killing “for fun” is purely for the hunters’ self-gratification, but somehow, the whole ‘hunting’ ethos has become embroiled in the defence of ‘all’ hunting it seems at times.
Here we also touch on the hunters that believe ‘everyone’ needs such ‘skills’ for “self-sufficiency” purposes, hence the reason given by “fun hunters” why children need to become indoctrinated at an early, impressionable age to hunting. Of course the vast majority of humans (including the dedicated “fun hunters’” own off-spring) will never venture beyond a supermarket, or restaurants for their personal food needs 99.999.% of their entire lives. This perceived ‘need’ based on some looming Armageddon, where hunting ‘skills’ will be vital to survival, strikes me as yet another outlandish “fun hunters’” delusion to try to excuse their addiction to killing animals/wildlife.
Here we are also faced with the ‘reality’ that when “fun hunters” say their hunting fees always contribute to local communities and always conserve the target species, then the delusion is more often than not revealed.
Plus, the question must always be levelled, if the “fun hunters’” claim to care so much about local communities and the target species welfare, then why doesn’t the “fun hunter” contribute funding directly? Why the need to kill any target species whatsoever and try to excuse it? In principle, clearly no lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, cheetah……..needs to die to fund such a noble causes, the “fun hunter” chooses to kill and tries to excuse it.
Personally, my respect for the “fun hunters” would rise slightly from zero if they just admitted they enjoy killing animals, then it would be clear to everyone so concerned where the “fun hunters” true motivation resides. Just because the “fun hunter” can take a ‘legal’ route to kill, doesn’t mean they should, or make it ‘right’ by default when subject to independent scrutiny.
All too often, hunting quotas are set for desired income from all parties concerned with a target species that the “fun hunting” industry regards only as commodity. If the “fun hunter” truly cared about conservation and sustainability, then the “fun hunter” would be able to look beyond the ‘legal’ right to kill and question the science (or lack thereof) that independently proves the lack of sustainability of the target source. But the “fun hunter” does no such thing – any range state that issues an “off-take” hunting quota is gladly accepted as gospel by the “fun hunter” or indeed, the “fun hunter” colludes to ensure there is some poorly conceived ‘evidence’ to support some guesstimate for a hunting quota:
“In 2011 Namibia, in partnership with Safari Club International (SCI), launched a census “to manage the sustainability of the leopard population.” A questionnaire was distributed to 1,500 farmers to assess the distribution and relative abundance of leopards throughout Namibia. There were only 400 replies. These, however, were extrapolated, which produced a flawed national estimate of leopards of over 14,000.”
“Namibia has a CITES trophy hunted export quota of 250 leopards per year, a questionable figure, according to experts of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), because it is based on “insufficient ecological information and lack of scientific data.””
“Unsurprisingly the pro-hunting census-takers recommended the quota “remain at the current level.””
“The USA will not allow imports of trophies of cheetahs as it has deemed that cheetah hunting is not conducive to the conservation of the species. Namibia together with SCI has repeatedly petitioned the USA to lift the ban but the country has declined each request” – Africa Geographic and News 24
The economics of “fun hunter” killing does not prove worthy when subject to scrutiny – this often comes down to the familiar one dead animal hunting trophy income vs. repeat photographic safari income for any give target animal argument. Nowhere is this argument more clearly laid out than in the piece “Derek Joubert responds to a hunter on the economics of hunting,” Africa Geographic, 28 August 2015
The “fun hunter” also seems to feel that the whole ‘experience’ is incomplete without the ’noble hunter with executed animal’ pictures paraded over facebook etc., seeking glory and recognition, but often garnering viral notoriety and derision, which begs the question why do they post such horrific visions and then become alarmed and defensive about the perceived ‘intrusion’ when confronted? Do these hunters not realise facebook is a wide open public space if one’s personal facebook security is left wide open, the same as standing on street corner, parading deeds before the world-wide public. Would they complain then if confronted on a street corner whilst waving pictures of their kills before the world?
The hunting industry itself appears to be waking up to the negative publicity this parading of the “fun hunters’” bloody deeds creates. But rather than seek to redress the lack of ethics within its ranks openly paraded, a move to hide the whole sordid business from public scrutiny has emerged.
It almost would seem that “fun hunting” is an addiction that afflicts the ‘hunter’ and there is a whole money making industry (with tacit authority complicity) waiting to cash-in, perpetuate and encourage the addiction.
Can “Fun Hunting” Contribute to Conservation?
Playing the devil’s advocate, where has the “fun hunter” helped with target species conservation?
“In 2006, researcher Peter A. Lindsey of Kenya’s Mpala Research Centre and colleagues interviewed 150 people who either had already hunted in Africa, or who planned to do so within the following three years. Their findings were published in the journal Animal Conservation. A majority of hunters – eighty-six percent! – told the researchers they preferred hunting in an area where they knew that a portion of the proceeds went back into local communities. Nearly half of the hunters they interviewed also indicated that they’d be willing to pay an equivalent price for a poorer trophy if it was a problem animal that would have had to be killed anyway.”
“Lindsey’s team also discovered that hunters were more sensitive to conservation concerns than was perhaps expected. For example, they were less willing to hunt in areas where wild dogs or cheetahs are illegally shot, in countries that intentionally surpass their quotas, or with operators who practice “put-and-take hunting,” which is where trophy animals are released onto a fenced-in property just before a hunt.
However…….“it is possible that they [the hunters interviewed] were simply providing the researchers with the answers that would cast them [the hunters interviewed] in the best light” – “Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation?” Jason G Goldman, 15 January 2014.
Southern White Rhinoceros
An often cited example of the “fun hunters” contribution to conservation is the Southern white rhinoceros and how trophy hunting saved the species from extinction (IUCN Briefing Paper, Case Study 1):
A 2005 paper by Nigel Leader-Williams and colleagues in the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, describes how the legalization of White rhinoceros hunting in South Africa motivated private landowners to reintroduce the species onto their lands:
“Southern white rhinos, (C.s. simum)….have increased from 20 to 50 in 1900, to over 11,000” by 2005, “…even while a limited number were killed as hunting trophies” – Rhino Source Centre
However, it’s not clear why the Southern white rhino numbers were in such trouble in the wild in the 1900s. According to Rhino Economics:
“In the year 1800 about 1 million rhinos lived on earth…..Rapid human population growth and more efficient hunting methods greatly accelerated the decline of rhinos during the 1800s and 1900s.”
According to Save the Rhino:
“By the time the CITES convention finally came into force in 1975, wild rhino populations across Africa, custodian to more than 75% of the world’s rhinos, had suffered catastrophic declines. Numbers were reduced to an estimated 16,000 from 65,000 in just seventy five years due to excessive hunting and rampant poaching.”
So, if indeed the Southern white rhino’s predicament was indeed caused by human population growth, but excessive hunting is also cited as a key negative impact, plus poaching from 1980 onwards, then this begs two questions:
1. Why do hunters constantly want recognition for saving the Southern white rhino, when hunting is cited as complicit in the Southern white rhino species’ decimation in the first place? How relevant is the ‘history’ to a debate today about hunting and its present day impacts (ie. can the Southern white rhino story as told by the hunters be continuously reused as the hunters’ “get out of jail free” card)? I have also seen the complicity of hunting in the White rhino’s initial demise denied by hunters saying the rhino decimation was entirely due to poaching for rhino horn. If that’s the case then this leads to the second question;
“Hunters claim to have increased wildlife numbers from the point where some species (like rhino) were at risk of extinction. They lie. First, it was the hunting fraternity itself that wiped out our wildlife, bringing game numbers to an alarming low point. So now the hunters want credit for saving animals from themselves. A typical extortion racket!” Chris Mercer, CACH
2. If poaching was so prevalent (and not excessive hunting), then why wasn’t it proposed to harvest rhino horn to stem demand and thus curtail poaching? Why was the solution needed to keep killing rhino for trophies, when there was potentially an alternative ‘solution’ to help stabilise and protect rhino without the killing? The ‘solution’ given by the hunters is always that killing is a pre-requisite requirement (“or what’s the point?”), regardless of viable non-killing alternatives, morality, or principles of just funding/conserving a species for purely altruistic reasons.
No matter how it is dressed up, the paying to kill/conserve argument falls down when “conserving a given species for purely altruistic reasons” is always an alternative option open to everyone (including “fun hunters”) to fund and support. The only reason not to adopt the latter approach is because the killing/trophy is the key driver, not the ‘claimed’ conservation value.
Elephant Hunting in Namibia
In a recent BBC Article, part 4 “Making Hunters Pay“ (Alastair Leithead, 28 April 2016), the argument was made for crucial hunting income.
A stretch of water in south-west Africa known as “the horseshoe” – in Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park – is the place to find elephants when the rainy season scatters them far and wide.
“Here in Namibia a counter-intuitive approach to conservation is increasing their numbers – hunting. Few tourists travel to the narrow corridor of land known as the Caprivi Strip, a colonial hangover that gave what was once German West Africa access to the great Zambezi River. Recent separatist struggles have kept the Zambezi Region off the safari trail. And while adventurous travellers are now discovering its role as the route the animals take into Botswana’s beautiful Okavango Delta, they don’t bring in enough money for conservation!“
Brutus Musutela, is a Local Community Ranger. Brutus is a ‘reformed illegal hunter’ apparently, now acting as a guide for paying trophy hunters and helping set hunting quotas – Brutus “now laughs about his transformation from poacher to gamekeeper”……..ha, ha!
“Hundreds of buffalo head towards the parked vehicle, and watching through their binoculars the hunting party begin to discuss which beast they will try to kill.”
Hunting is banned in Namibia’s national parks, but the land between them has been parcelled up into separate “conservancies” as they are called – areas where the wildlife is managed by the local communities, quotas are set (see below for explanation of how such quotas are derived) and hunters are invited in.
“David Muller, the local professional hunter, is allocated a quota of antelopes and other animals – among them buffaloes and elephants – to be shot in any given year……The cost differs, but a poor community in this remote part of Namibia can receive well over $10,000 (£6,900) for an elephant.”
“Trophy hunting is supposedly [yes, we all know that hunting ‘ethic’ is often over looked David] to take out the older animals that are going to die in two or three years anyway. Why let it die of old age if it can raise some money for the community?” says Muller. “The meat from the animal is shared out in the community and the money raised employs rangers and pays for local development.”
Apparently, in Bamunu Conservancy it’s been used “to buy a communal tractor and four transformers. The power lines being put up will soon bring electricity to its four villages.” So, hunting income is supplying local community needs it would seem, by utilising wildlife for trophies, but I am not clear now how wildlife populations are managed and benefit from the income, but as long as the humans are happy, then that’s ‘conservation’ apparently.
“If hunting stops, all the money we are getting will also stop and people will suffer. They will not take their children to school and poaching will increase,” suggests Bamunu conservancy chairman Chunga Chunga.
Local Community Rangers, such as Brutus Musutela, patrol their conservancy every day, collating rough wildlife census data – recording “any rare and significant animals they see, any carcasses they come across and any cases of wildlife damaging crops or hurting people.” The census data collated forms the basis for setting hunting quotas, though how scientific and statistically confident the quota setting might be is not revealed – ex-poachers, turned Local Community Rangers are probably not that scientific in their motivations I would dare to suggest.
“Accountability is key” – the Local Community Rangers yellow books are made available for all, and “if the money doesn’t reach the people everyone knows” in an effort to stem any accusations of corruption.
It is claimed that by Bamunu Conservancy employing local people, this thereby protects the animals that the very same ‘local people’ would otherwise illegally poach.
Is this an example of hunting working to serve and protect?
“I understand people are getting emotional – Westerners are getting emotional, but here in Namibia it [hunting] is working,” says Bright Sanzila, the local warden for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
“All the money that is coming from hunting is ploughed back to the community – 100% – the government of Namibia does not take a cent from that money.”
In the past (1999 and 2008), Namibia was able to ‘legally’ sell ivory, the proceeds being used “to pay farmers whose crops have been damaged by wildlife. It’s a very different approach from Kenya’s, where the funds are raised through tourism.”
However, this ‘simplistic’ view appears to overlook that the ‘legal’ trade in ivory (and other such animal parts) has allowed illicit ivory etc. to infiltrate the ‘legal’ system/routes, thereby actively promoting and encouraging the scourge of poaching.
“Tourism works in a number of places, but elephants exist beyond scenic landscapes. It’s a very emotive issue and people have very strong moral objections to a human being killing an animal, but from an economic point of view sport hunting has played a major role in extending wildlife habitats all over Africa” – attributed to Traffic’s Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC.
May be so, but not all hunting is corruption free, ethically based, supporting local communities etc. Bad examples of unsustainable, ethically devoid hunting practices cannot be excused by examples where the hunting model might be seen to be working on a macro-level.
The Perversion of Trophy Hunting
One only has to look at the way trophy/”fun hunting” has been perverted into a legal ‘pseudo hunting/poaching option (gleefully promoted by all parties concerned), to establish the immorality and abuse of hunting ethics on open display. Vietnamese ‘hunters’ pay to ‘legally’ kill rhino, to export the trophy and then illegally profit from the rhino horn trade once the ‘trophy’ is back in country.
Figure – Pseudo-hunter/Rhino Poacher
This ‘hunting’ can only develop demand for rhino horn and perpetuate the poaching of such…….does this Trophy Hunting sound like conservation? No, it does not. Are any hunting associations, societies and authorities seeking to eradicate this rouge perversion and safeguard the ‘good reputation’ of hunting? No, they are not.
Then there’s the abomination of ‘canned’ hunting, where creatures are purposely bred as an income stream, to be wheeled out and executed by paying ‘hunters’ Nowhere is the lack of ‘ethical’ hunting more widely paraded than in this whole despicable ‘canned’ industry.
Of course, there are those only too willing (for a fee) to try give this ‘canned’ industry some air of respectability (such as the South African Predator Association (SAPA)), but the whole thing is clearly a sham and any ‘SAPA Accreditation,’ a paper exercise, with a lack of resources/will to even try to oversee SAPA members’ activities.
The ‘canned’ industry is a money making enterprise benefiting an elite, willing to line their pockets from the deaths of animals held captive at the ‘canned’ entrepreneurs’ behest.
Nowhere is the lack of morals or lack of ethics more apparent than in this form of ‘entertainment’ for the “fun hunter.”
In an extensive paper “The effects of trophy hunting on five of Africa’s iconic wild animal populations in six countries – Analysis,” Conservation Action Trust, by Adam Cruise, January 2016, the contribution of Trophy Hunting to the conservation the elephant, rhino, leopard, cheetah and lion is clearly made:
“In the past trophy hunting has often been held up as the answer to sound conservation management practices and the only solution to saving a species but in reality trophy hunting is an activity that fuels corruption, it encourages the unfair redistribution of the wealth generated without adequate involvement of communities, causes the loss of healthy individuals that are still key for reproduction and social cohesion but, most importantly, it contributes to the decline of all five species analysed in this report.”
“With such rapid declines there will soon come a point where every single individual animal counts. In the words of Professor David Bilchitz of the University of Johannesburg South Africa, “an alternative view to conservation recognises that an essential part of an effective strategy involves developing an understanding of the worth of and respect owed to individual animals. This is important, not only because morally animals are deserving of such respect in their own right, but also because respect for individual animals is essential to preserving the species as a whole. The one cannot be divorced from the other.””
“In the minds of public opinion, judging by the global condemnation over the killing of Cecil the lion, that point may have arrived. It’s up to the politicians and legislators to realise it too.”
The ‘ethical’ hunters are being drowned out from both sides, clearly being tarnished with the same brush by some ‘conservationists,’ but the ‘ethical’ hunters are also disenfranchised by the hunting associations’ mass appeal to the non-ethical ‘killers’ and the money they bring, be that PHASA, SCI, DSC, PBA, SAPA et al.
I know the PHASA has ‘moved away’ from the deceit of ‘canned’ hunting, but it’s taken 20+ years and strikes me as more of a PR exercise. How many non-compliant PHASA members have been expelled for still being directly associated with ‘canned’ hunting I wonder?
Of course the likes of the SCI (Safari Club International is a US based ‘club’ but reaching out to influence the European Union in the SCI hunters’ favour) comes with the backing to ‘lobby’ and ‘advocates’ on behalf of hunters, but appears to back all hunting activities as sacrosanct (when clearly, it is not).
Time for a New ‘Ethical’ Hunters’ Association
Perhaps it is time for ‘ethical’ hunters to form new associations in alliance with non hunting conservationists, basing all activities sanctioned on proven, independent science? The fear is, this approach would find itself underfunded and confronted by the more established, less ethical associations.
However, there is perhaps cause for hope………The Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) recently had an interview with German hunter, Matthias Kruse (German Hunting Association (DJV)) which gave hope that there is recognition that a middle ground does exist; here are just some of Matthias’ quotes:
“None of the aspects of ‘canned’ hunting are compatible with the principles of ethical hunting” referring to ‘canned’ farms as “lion brothels.”
Matthias is scathing about the SCI’s stance regarding ‘canned’ hunting – “Their [SCI’s] way of thinking is as alien to me as it is to you.”
“The sole definition of hunting is the sustainable use of wild animals. Everything hunters around the world do, must be judged by these principles.”
“If it is no longer possible to hunt wild lions in a sustainable way, then any form of lion hunting has to be finished.”
All Hunting Based on Independent Science, or a Moratorium
However, there are problems here, because trying to base any ongoing hunting activity on ‘the science’ is not possible, because the independent science (basic, reliable species sub-population data) just does not exist to cover ‘threatened’ target species sustainability in every hunting range/state/concession. So, it will need money (lots) and time to establish the required science – in the meantime, there would have to be a moratorium on hunting a given target species until sustainability is proven.
Such a ‘moratorium’ could only happen if range states participate, which means giving up “critical” hunting income and admitting the science is not there (and has not been for some time, if ever). I think this will be the hardest part to achieve in any shape or form, but without it the non-ethical hunters will keep blasting away because it’s “legal” and “conservation” right (sic)?
Stem demand with Trophy Hunting Import Restrictions Based Upon Proven Source Sustainability
So, the short term way to achieve some progress, is to stem demand (in my opinion), making trophy imports impossible where the ‘science’ says no. The USFWS lion trophy import ‘success’ is key, as “fun hunters” are predominantly American nationals, but also European Union trophy import bans are needed. Plus, continued efforts to lift the veil of illusion/delusion the non-ethical hunter hides behind to mask activities that serve no purpose, other than the hunters’ self-gratification or financial (pseudo-hunting) motivation.
However, some pro hunting lobby groups (Conseil Internationale pour la Chasse (CIC)) are advocating that the ban on imports of Trophy Hunting products is tantamount to “neo-colonialism” and have managed to convince a South African minister to support their cause!
The CIC touts that trophy import bans are the same as actually banning Trophy Hunting in African countries. This is clearly nonsense. Only range states themselves can ‘ban’ hunting activities within their own boarders. Trophy import restrictions potentially reduces the demand, because despite the “fun hunters” claims to conservation being a top priority, the “fun hunters’” motivation is really about the trophy and bragging opportunities the trophy will ‘endow’ them with.
The burgeoning trade in animal parts through ‘legal’ and ‘illicit’ (poaching) seems inextricably linked – the “fun hunter” pays to kill, the poacher kills to get paid. Both rely on the tacit approval, that the animal victim is a commodity whose death can be bought and sold.
The animal ‘trade’ in general (poached/hunted…..) must be radically addressed, which is not just CITES (Convention on International Trade of Regulated Flora and Fauna) regulations, but the whole corrupt edifice that facilities a live/dead animal ending up in Vietnam (or wherever) as a valued commodity with no ‘legal’ paperwork required is unacceptable.
Isn’t it time for a complete ban on all trade in ivory, rhino horn, big cat body parts until such time as some semblance of control can be re-established? So, no hunting trophies whatsoever until there is a well-funded enforcement and compliance regime in situ, because where we are right now the current regime is clearly not working/fit for purpose.
At CITES (CoP17), there are proposals for key African species:
- ‘Uplist’ the African lion (Panthera leo) to CITES Appendix I;
- Inclusion of all populations of Loxodonta africana (African elephant) in Appendix I through the transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I of the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
But when it comes to the rhino, the proposal to withdraw hunting exemptions are currently lacking (South Africa and Swaziland), but with an exploitative, rhino horn harvesting proposal instead submitted by Swaziland.
Petition – “CITES Upgrade our Rhino to Appendix I!“
Hunting Industry Regulation
The debate touched on a call for audit, regulation, governance and transparency to be established throughout the hunting industry; from the science to support the setting of hunting quotas, the financial trail of where hunting income actually goes, to the regulation of all hunting activities to clear away the obscurity, corruption and deliberate deceit so apparent in vast swathes of the hunting industry and its advocates.
Well of course, but when one sees the efforts in South Africa to defend (the indefensible) ‘canned’ industry, then the uphill struggle faced to introduce the laudable notion of regulation and accountability is clearly seen.
Tourism leaders (see graphic below) have recently joined the ‘Blood Lions’ campaign against predator breeding and all exploitative wildlife activities. The tourism, volunteering industry and public are waking up to the deceit, that ‘cub petting’ and ‘lion walks’ are nothing but money making exercises that eventually leads onto the cub/lion being shipped off to be executed by a paying “fun hunter.” Elephant rides also fall into the same category of abuse and tourism agencies also need to remove promotion and complicity in such….similarly, aquarium shows that abuse captive orca, dolphin, beluga whales etc need to need to stop being promoted by the tourism industry.
So, the acceptance of the “fun hunter” amongst the hunting ranks must continue to be singled out for criticism and rebuke when its ‘benefits’ and any credible link to ‘conservation’ are clearly lacking. Gradually, this dominant (in my opinion) “fun hunter” element can be isolated and can be eradicated with the help of all – it can no longer be tolerated and cloaked within the ‘ethical’ hunting fraternity. The weight of public opinion clearly does not believe “Hunters Conserve Wildlife” arguably because of the “fun hunters” corrosive and toxic ‘brand.’
If ‘hunting’ is to cleanse and reform, the time for doing so is long overdue.
- “The effects of trophy hunting on five of Africa’s iconic wild animal populations in six countries – Analysis,” Conservation Action Trust, by Adam Cruise, January 2016
- “Animal Breeding Systems and Big Game Hunting: Models and Application,” Caro T.M., Young C.R., Cauldwell A.E. & Brown D.D.E, 2009, Biological Conservation 142(4): 909 – 929.
- “Sustainable Trophy Hunting of African Lion,” Whitman K.L., Starfield A.W., Quadling H. & Packer C., 2004, Nature 128 (6979): 175 – 178.