Managing Our Wildlife Heritage - Part One

Ron Thomson

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Jun 27, 2009
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Managing Our Wildlife Heritage - Part One

In today’s democratic South Africa ‘transparency’ is all the rage. This ideal encourages society to participate in public debate with government in all those matters that the people hold near and dear. The purpose – to influence government policy-making and, ultimately, to help government law-makers, prescribe what practices will be legally permitted and those that will not.

Ostensibly, in the field of wildlife ‘conservation’, this is a potentially a good development. It allows those people whose livelihoods depend upon the ‘use’ of our wildlife resource to influence government in a manner that will make game ranching, wildlife harvesting, the capture-and-sale of live wild animals, and hunting, altogether, a viable, sustainable and socially acceptable industry.

At the same time, public debate on wildlife ‘conservation’ issues, has opened the door for those people who, inter alia, object to man ‘using’ wild animals for his own benefit, to influence government in exactly the opposite direction. It is these people’s intention to have government bring into force policies and laws that will STOP mankind’s ‘use’ of wild animals.

There is, therefore, a major war raging in the public arena that many people in the wildlife industry have been ignoring. Ordinary nature-loving-people in society – who genuinely WANT to see the right policies adopted - also prefer not to get involved. They are all reluctant to enter the fray, quite simply, because they don’t know enough about the principles and practices of wildlife management and/or about the many natural and social implications that flow therefrom. This has left the field wide open for the enemies of the wildlife industry who have been having a heyday with government.

This is particularly manifested by the fact that the decision to cull elephants in Kruger National Park has been delayed again and again. This SHOULD have been a simple and quick decision made by Minister van Schalkwyk on the recommendation of the Kruger Park scientists. But THAT has not happened. Despite repeated appeals by the Kruger scientists to resume culling, the Minister’s decision has been continuously delayed because of objections raised by animal-rights-orientated Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).

Whereas, therefore, on the surface, the principle of transparency in government is democratically desirable and correct, it has – in the field of wildlife ‘conservation’ – made a mockery of the democratic process. The principle of transparency is now being used as a weapon – and is being wielded with great dexterity – by those who would like to make the wildlife industry, among many other wildlife management practices, inoperable.

Allowing the general public to enter complex wildlife management debates is just as inappropriate as calling for a public referendum to determine how a brain surgeon should be allowed to conduct his very specialised surgical operations. Brain surgery is no more complicated than the science of managing wildlife! It may not be a very wise policy, therefore, but transparency is not going to go away!

Consequently, it is vital that everybody involved in the wildlife industry, the managers of our protected areas, and all those who simply love wildlife, achieve a uniform and responsible understanding about the principles and practices of wildlife management. We must also all have the same understanding about their origins, and we must learn to accept their legitimacy.

We must also all use-the-same-language so that, in discussion, we will understand implicitly what everybody is talking about.

The word “conservation”, for example, means “the wise and sustainable utilisation of a natural resource”. People in the wildlife industry, therefore, are ‘conservationists’.

The vast international community of animal rights NGOs whose purpose in life is ‘to STOP the sustainable use of animal resources’, however, call themselves ‘The World’s Conservation Community’. This is a misnomer if ever there was one, but how is the general public going to understand this when we ourselves demonstrate that WE don’t understand it - by not using the words of our vocabulary with their proper and specific meanings?

The purpose of this column is to provide readers with the uniform understanding that is required. This will help create a better-informed public that will be in no doubt about how we should be managing our wildlife heritage.

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