Can Kenya truly benefit from trophy hunting?
by Mwende Mwinzi
Kenya, Duck Shooting, White-faced Ducks
She straddles the equator, is largely regarded the birthplace of man, and she lays claim to the most exotic of animals. Vast grasslands and acacia trees whistle her wind; millions flock her annually to dance with her; to enjoy her beauty and beasts.
Here in Africa, citizenship, Thabo Mbeki concedes, is equal. Man, “the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito,” each pull cords from the rhythm of life. They each play games; equal predators on great land.
Today and on one of her parks, a trio of lions rests. They are male, about five or so; their manes and stomachs both full, their eyes droopy from the afternoon heat. They’ve known this park all their life. They’ve called the Selous home since birth.
Doubling Denmark in size and equalling four times the world-famous Serengeti, the reserve is grand, its low tourist numbers attractive to any wild beast. And so they lick their chops lazily. With contentment. Completely oblivious to the gun-filled Land-Rover.
For its grandeur, the Selous is packed; it does not disappoint. Once home to Africa’s largest concentration of elephants (over 110,000) and a black rhino population of over 3,000, it now houses plenty of lion, an approximate 120,000 buffalo, 50,000 elephants, 150,000 wildebeest, 5,000 zebra and an estimated half of all Africa’s wild dogs.
Then it offers more of some intrigue; a struggle between man and beast; dominion to those seeking “rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and every living thing that moves on earth’’. A thrill that only money buys. Merging the three and for a price tag as high as $100,000, the Selous is paradise for trophy hunters; its experiences of interest to Kenya.
Kenya, Lioness resting in a tree
Legal and earning 23 sub-Saharan African countries in excess of $200 million annually, trophy hunting steeps back (according to my friend Edward Steinhart in ‘‘Black Poachers, White Hunters: A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya’’), both to a European hunting heritage where the upper class expressed mastery over nature and to more modern times when it was used to popularise the safari. With great success.
Having lured Theodore Roosevelt to visit the Serengeti in 1909 for it, the sport is reported to have secured the man 500 animals as tokens. Today, over 18,500 trophy hunters visit Africa annually, with 8,530 venturing South Africa’s way where they generate an estimated $50 million a year, much to the country’s glee.
Kenya, on the other hand, has been more cautious on this, placing more concern on reconciling its expanding human population with the territorial requirements of its predators. It indeed banned trophy hunting in as far back as 1977. Yet of late, there has been talk ? the possible reversal of this law.
Expectedly, the arguments are drenched with emotion. If not a little science. Those in support of trophy hunting convincingly point to some key facts which, when articulated, are hard to ignore. In Kenya, as with most African countries, lions, though majestic (and generally harmless to man), are considered pests and a threat to the livestock heavily relied upon for survival.
When these big cats (or elephants) roam out of their reserves, they find themselves on turf belonging to farmers, herders and a booming human population. Trespassers, they stare down gun barrels or take poison arrows, whichever comes first. So why not “accept some limited and tightly controlled hunts when they generate revenue for locals who might otherwise kill off the predators?” it’s been asked.
In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, it is believed that when game zones are well protected and controlled, the death toll from hunters is outweighed by leaps in animal population because, as Time Magazine reports, “trophy hunting provides jobs and encourages people to preserve landscape rather than turn it into farmland.”
In short, there is less of a struggle saving these animals from the crowded world where man, agriculture and wildlife co-exist. By redirecting a percentage of the revenues from trophy hunting, it is claimed that farmers are more understanding and tolerant of these animals, leading to them to promote wildlife and protect the natural habitat.
“Hunting money was directly responsible for the recovery of at least three rare species in South Africa – the bontebok (Damaliscus Dorcas), black wildebeest (Connochaetes Gnu) and Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus Zebra) -- and assisted the recovery of the southern white rhino.”
With Kenya relying heavily on a tourism sector crucial to its economy and with its lion populations dramatically declining outside its megazoos, such efforts sound enticing. But are they necessary or worthwhile? And how can we regulate it?
Trophy hunting and the success of it relies heavily on an effective regulatory framework with imposed bag limits or quotas based on animal populations. Can Kenya truly benefit from this with our current allocations towards wildlife conservation and the fact that rangers themselves engage in poaching? With limited policing, it is more likely than not that quotas, easily raised for increased profitability, would reach damaging levels.
Further and owing to the endemic corruption in most systems, “there is very little evidence that [where it is practised] the funds raised are ploughed back into conservation,” says the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
With poaching having wrought a devastating effect on animal populations and with tourism profitable yet not maximised, it is understandable why any government would explore this option even if it is wrong. But Kenya? Why change now, not least when we’re better off?