Hunters and Conservationists are Natural Partners!
by Gerhard R Damm
In 2003, I wrote an article for African Geographic with almost the same title. I thought then that this might be the first step towards some sort of dialogue between the publisher of African Geographic (Peter Borchert), his foremost anti-hunting columnist Ian Michler and the South African and international hunting community. A critical dialogue indeed, but based on facts, and not emotions, on scientific evidence and not personal assumptions! I presumed that this dialogue could and would lead towards focusing on what we have in common and show areas of compromise, were we stand apart.
In early 2006, Mr. Borchert invited me to write another article to contrast, as he said, a new Michler article “Trophy Hunting – An Obsolete Obsession”. My article – coauthored with Peter Flack – was sent to Mr Borchert on April 21st (and I received a confirmation of receipt). From then onwards my emails remained unanswered and our article remains unprinted until today.
Michler seems to be fixed on the consumptive/non-consumptive use controversy. He does not want to see the fallacy of his arguments. The controversy is actually a myth, although one nurtured by Michler and colleagues, since conflicts, real or constructed, are better suited to keep readership interested than complex dialogued compromise.
There is just no such thing as non-consumptive use! All uses of nature are consumptive – one way or another. Just contemplate that the CO2 we produce – our carbon footprint – comes from what we eat, the mode of transport we use and our daily lifestyle choices. Now put this statement into perspective when looking at a hunting block in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, or at a game ranch in Limpopo. Compare those to the luxury game lodges in the Serengeti, or to the proliferating luxury lodges in South Africa’s Sabi Sands. Have a look at the ballooning “wilderness” share block developments in some private nature reserves adjacent to KNP with, more often than not, hundreds of occupants.
Who do you think is more “consumptive” and whose carbon footprint on the environment is greater?
The hunters, who hunt and kill a very low percentage of mature male specimens of the varied game populations; who use relatively rustic and unobtrusive camps, a couple of vehicles, and pay dearly for the privilege of some weeks of wilderness solitude) – or the eco-tourists, residing in luxury air-conditioned lodges, the swimming pool in front of the door, a generator creating 24 hours of electricity, twice a day fresh towels and linen and exotic food and fine champagne on the table.?
Think of all the water pumped and used, of the refuse dumps behind the scenes, of the diesel burned, of the hundreds of acres of wilderness converted into manicured “romantic bush camps”. On game drives, vehicles hooked on radio networks are speeding to “Big Five” sightings, in many cases lining up to wait their turn, following and disturbing hunting predators to get that grand photograph. Our eco-tourist income comes at a high environmental price. Non-consumptive? I’ve heard better jokes! Eco-tourism is consumptive – the consumption pattern is just different.
With this article I am addressing all hunters and conservationists of good intentions. We need a civilized debate. It makes no conservation sense to continue the polemic consumptive/non-consumptive use controversy. This controversy is rooted on false premises – a fact eagerly exploited by those on both sides, who profit from bitter trench warfare.
Hunting and non-hunting conservationists have reached encompassing understandings elsewhere in the world – just look to North America, where many major conservation NGOs are working closely together with hunters and anglers.
The Nature Conservancy (http://www.nature.org/
), an organization with more than one million members has a mission statement which says: “The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive” Hardly the statement of a pro-hunting conservation NGO, you would think. But wait and read the Autumn-2006 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine. There is a feature article explaining “why American sportswomen and sportsmen are among the Nature Conservancy’s valued allies”.
You can download Hal Herring’s comprehensive article at http://www.nature.org/magazine/autum.../art18601.html
. It offers a refreshingly different view from what we are used to hear from the anti-hunting lobby and their standard bearers in South Africa. Search results on “hunting” at the Nature Conservancy’s website show 772 items – enough reading material for a while!
Other big “green” groups such as the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club have never opposed hunting. In fact, they recognize the sport as a legitimate and necessary wildlife-management tool. Ted Williams writes in his article “Natural Allies” on the Sierra Club’s website, that “they are perceived as anti-hunting because of embarrassing behavior by some of their members”. And Sierra Club legislative director Debbie Sease says “As the Sierra Club works to defend these places, we will continue to reach out to the hunters and anglers who have a stake in them. We’re natural allies.” You can read this at www.sierraclub.org/huntingfishing/index.asp
Even in South Africa conservation organizations are outing themselves as pro-hunting, although some still refrain from making the fact too obvious.
At the 3rd World Conservation Congress (2004) a recom- mendation introduced by the Game Rangers Association Africa (GRAA), the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and South African National Parks “accepting that well-managed recreational hunting has a role in the managed sustainable consumptive use of wildlife populations” and “condemning killing animals in small enclosures where they have little or no chance to escape” was adopted by the plenum. WWF on a global level and WWF-SA have developed cautiously positive hunting policies.
The press release at the IUCN-sponsored African lion workshops in Johannesburg (2006) says that “regulated trophy hunting is not considered a threat, but [a] way to help alleviate human-lion conflict and generate economic benefits for poor people to build their support for lion conservation. Foreign hunters bring millions of dollars each year into African economies.”
Not many members of the South African hunting and angling community look like stereotypical environmentalists and unfortunately hunters and non-hunting conservationists often make each other nervous. In the past the lack of communication, irresponsible mediareporting as well as irresponsible behavior of people from both camps created trenches once thought unbridgeable.
It is certainly true that the two groups may not see eye-to-eye on every issue, but what connects them is an understanding that healthy ecosystems mean healthy habitats for game animals. This has lead to some sort of cooperation even between such diverse organizations as the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association.
In South Africa, where hunting has driven the establishment of over 9,000 registered game ranches, covering over 16 million hectares, which is nearly three times the area covered by all the provincial and national game reserves in the country, such cooperation is still sadly lacking.
Hunting and non-hunting conservation groups in South Africa need to recognize their common objectives and their natural alliance. Initial steps have been made, but the process is painfully slow.
A lot of paranoia still exists on both sides. With the hunters, because hunting has been beaten savagely for so long; not only by the few extreme animal rightists, but by the media and as a result by an underinformed society in general. With many conservation organizations, because they perceive that the more extreme animal rights organizations will have a field day in poaching their members, if they associate too closely with hunters. WWF’s caveat at the end of the published hunting policy is significant proof: “WWF does not run or derive revenue from any trophy hunting projects”. Nevertheless, in Namibia, WWF-LIFE was instrumental in establishing the hunting concessions for the Khwe community in the Bwabwata National Park, and WWF- Pakistan assists remote rural communities in establishing trophy hunting programs.
Another example is a recent move in South Africa to put game ranching under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture. Game Ranchers celebrate the “South African conservation revolution” and their 16 million hectares of private conservation areas, but fail to see that the “revolution” has just begun and needs to be expanded with a triple-bottom-line approach and not a shortsighted focus on economics. Only DEAT can provide the structure and drive for that.
Partnerships in innovative approaches, clear norms & standards, effective self-administration and enabling tax legislation are needed to maintain and increase the conservation acreage. Eventually this may lead towards larger conservancies with joint management plans.
Fence-sitting behavior by either party plays into the hands of those who want to discredit the entire environmental movement. The South African conservation NGOs need to publicly clarify that, albeit some of their members might be against hunting, institutionally they are not. They must take a stand for the sake of our wild natural heritage, and they have to come out in public together with their foremost allies – the hundred thousands South African hunters and anglers and their associations.
We have to stop allowing a few uninformed oddballs and card carrying members of the Flat-Earth-Society, in either camp, to be stumbling blocks to a true Natural Partnership.