IN DEFENSE OF TROPHY HUNTING: Stupidity/Emotion, Not Hunting, Greatest Threat To African Game

This is a powerful and irrefutable apologetic in defense of trophy hunting.  Please forward this to anti-hunting people who can still reason and hunters who pooh-pooh, for whatever reason, trophy hunting.  

By Marcus Janseen, Field Sports Magazine

I find it remarkable how many people in the UK, even keen game shots, consider trophy hunting to be completely unjustifiable. “But what’s the difference between a grouse and a gazelle?” I will ask them. And I mean it – the justification behind game shooting in the UK is exactly the same as it is for hunting kudu, buffalo or even elephant in Southern Africa. The animal is humanely despatched and part of the substantial investment made by the hunter goes back into the management of that species in order to maintain a surplus in coming years. Without the surplus, there is no hunting.

The term ‘trophy hunting’ is an unfortunate one because it suggests that the ‘trophy’ or taxidermy is the sole reason for the hunt. The vast majority who hunt do it for the sport, the challenge and the enriching experience of being on safari in spectacular surroundings. For most, the ‘trophy’ serves as a memento, a respectful acknowledgement of a great hunt and an appreciation of the animal taken.

Wildlife conservation on any given piece of land – whether it be a grouse moor, a national park or a privately-owned game reserve – can only be justified if that ground generates enough revenue to be financially viable. Take away the grouse, the pheasants or the buffalo, and you no longer have an incentive to manage that landscape in a way that ensures the promulgation of wildlife. Simply put, wildlife must justify its presence in economic terms. And nowhere is this more crucial than in poverty-stricken sub-Saharan Africa. And it just so happens that one of the most effective ways of making wildlife pay, particularly in areas where photographic tourism is not viable, is through trophy hunting.

Why should the killing of a buffalo be any less acceptable than the killing of a grouse for the same reason? Both are cleanly and humanely despatched, they are consumed (in Africa, often providing much needed protein to impoverished rural communities), both generate income for the local economy, create jobs and the far-reaching conservation benefits to the relevant ecosystems cannot be overstated. But there is a tendency for people to ignorantly claim that every species, from leopard to elephant and rhino, aren’t nearly populus enough to warrant hunting. Again, think about that in the context of grouse or salmon – the sport that these animals provide is the very reason why there is a surplus. As long as there are people willing to pay good money to hunt big game, there is an incentive to supply it – and in order to supply it, you’ve got to manage their habitats.

Contracts for both government and private hunting concessions are granted on the basis that the hunting operator will be responsible for anti-poaching patrols, providing gainful employment for locals, ensuring that any infrastructure such as camps, lodges, fences, tracks or roads are built and maintained and, wherever possible, recovering all game meat for local consumption or retail. Everything is utilised. Money is injected into the rural economy, into research and conservation, and the safari staff become the managers of areas that would otherwise be susceptible to indiscriminate poaching for meat, ivory, rhino horn or other animal products, often destined for the Far East.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park is currently experiencing a rhino poaching pandemic: on average, more than two rhino are lost to poachers every single day. And these poachers are indiscriminate and brutal in their methods and selection – no animal is spared, including cows with unweaned calves.

As a result, conserving rhino is becoming increasingly difficult, dangerous and expensive. Funded by the taxpayer, specially trained and fully-armed anti-poaching units are deployed to act as a deterrent, either capturing the poachers and handing them over to the authorities, or driving them back over the border into Mozambique from whence they came. But effectively patrolling an area of two million hectares – approximately the same size as Wales – is an impossible task and more often than not the poachers remain undetected until the rhino carcasses are discovered, sometimes only weeks later. And the problem isn’t abating – it has been escalating since 2008 with 668 rhinos killed in Kruger National Park alone in 2012 and another 446 killed up to July 2013.

But in South Africa, privately-owned game reserves and ranches amount to in excess of 20 million hectares, supporting more than 16 million head of game – ten times as many as there are in Kruger National Park – making private land absolutely crucial to South Africa’s wildlife conservation efforts. More than 25 per cent of South Africa’s 18,000plus white rhino are privately-owned. But on private land, the onus is with the landowners to foot the bill for any anti-poaching initiatives – they don’t get any pay-outs from the government. But to what end? It would surely be far easier (and more cost effective) for them to just get rid of the rhino. “Our situation is a desperate one,” says Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association. “We are reliant on the economic viability of rhino in order to justify and sustain their ownership.”

“Private landowners need sources of income to protect their animals,” adds Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, a wildlife resource economist who has studied economics of rhino ownership for more than two decades. And one of the key economic drivers is regulated trophy hunting, which provides private landowners with an incentive to manage and protect their wildlife from external threats. Rhino are just one example of how hunting can in fact be hugely beneficial to wildlife conservation. As long as there is a demand for trophy animals by hunters, landowners can justify ploughing money into habitat rejuvenation and management, research, breeding programs and rigorous anti-poaching initiatives.

And let us not forget that the trophy hunting industry was central to the success story that saw southern white rhino make it back from the very brink of extinction in the early 1900s. By introducing legitimate private ownership of white rhino and legalising trophy hunting in the 1970s – both considered to be highly controversial moves at the time – the Natal Parks Board paved the way for one of the most remarkable recoveries of a critically endangered species in history. Within 10 years the live auction value of southern white rhino had rocketed from R200 per animal to R250,000. “The trophy hunting market has driven this increase in the price of live rhinos, making the breeding of rhino an attractive option,” adds ‘t Sas-Rolfes. “And not only to private landowners, but also to the national and regional parks who have also generated revenue by selling rhino to the private sector.”

This remains one of the greatest conservation success stories on record. Dr. Ian Player, the main driving force behind Operation Rhino, acknowledges the crucial role that trophy hunting played: “Hunting led to the increase from 437 rhino in 1953 to in excess of 18,000 in 2010. For the loss of a few animals (for the purposes of trophy hunting), their overall numbers increased. Regrettably, this is a form of logic that is lost on most people.”

Compare this to Kenya where, since 1977, all consumptive wildlife use (including trophy hunting) has been banned. In the 1970s, Kenya and SA had approximately the same population of game – somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million head. Over the next 35 years, however, Kenya’s wildlife numbers decreased by about 80 per cent to approximately 300,000 head of game – an average loss of between 4 and 4.5 per cent per annum. Meanwhile, in SA, where a policy of full wildlife utilisation was adopted, including a thriving trophy hunting industry, game numbers flourished to in excess of 20 million head of game.

And while South Africa is now home to 90 per cent of the world’s southern white rhino, Kenya has only 361 (a 2010 estimate), all of which were introduced from South Africa.

And yet, prompted by the dangerously inaccurate and biased messages of animal rights groups, people are only too quick to jump onto the anti-hunting bandwagon, often substituting the word “poaching” with the word “hunting’” as if they are one and the same thing. On the whole, trophy hunting in Southern Africa is very carefully regulated by government personnel who ensure that strict quotas are adhered to and hunting practices are humane, ethical and of the highest standards. Professional hunters must pass rigorous tests and exams before a government-issued licence is granted. This licence pertains not only to the country in which the examinations were sat but also the specific region or province. There are stringent codes of conduct and strict rules and regulations that apply to each and every species that can be legally hunted. And the hunting of any species listed by CITES will of course be subject to additional international import and export laws. Poaching on the other hand, is illegal, ungovernable, unregulated and is done indiscriminately. There’s a big difference. And yet, even the mainstream press in the UK will often quote “hunting” as being the cause for the dramatic drop in rhino numbers in recent years.

And it is this highly emotional anti-hunting rhetoric, driven by animal rights groups and exacerbated by mis-informed journalists, that is arguably the greatest threat to Africa’s wildlife. They are not driven by the effect that shooting or hunting has on wildlife populations or ecosystems, they are motivated by the very virtues that make us human – our tendency to feel sympathetic towards anything that appears vulnerable or threatened and our subsequent willingness to make charitable donations. They know that the majority of their city-dwelling target audience are ignorant to the ways of the countryside and find the killing of any wild animal, in any context, to be distasteful. But finding something distasteful is hardly justification for its abolishment though, is it?

Read more: Field Sports Magazine

 

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