Wildlife Conservation Needs Perspective
I thank John Campbell at the Council on Foreign Relations for making an essential point about the conservation realities of trophy hunting. He uses the incident where an American trophy hunter killed Cecil the Lion, and describes the resulting media storm. Cecil was wild but a kind of celebrity due to a dark mane and apparent openness to being photographed. An investigation decided Cecil was not protected and the hunter’s license allowed him to fire. Press coverage was intense in the West with Cecil’s magnificence juxtaposed to the hunter’s inadequacy hiding behind his high powered rifle.
Campbell uses Cecil to make the argument that trophy hunting, while it may be distasteful to some, brings foreign exchange to countries that desperately need it. He also reminds us this is their decision to make and that its complexity should be considered before critics claim the high ground or as he puts it “These dilemmas highlight the need for a little humility from Western critics.”
His argument touches on the discussion going on in Africa which tracks safari tourism or big game hunting, bringing in more revenue and implying the reader should tread carefully and try to understand the full depth of the issue. I attended a small meeting a couple of years back which gave me a chance to look at this question from a slightly different perspective. There were just three of us, one a Tanzanian NGO head who worked very closely with the government, myself, a kind of anti-poaching activist, and a representative of the hunting industry.
The government licenses hunting companies based on the areas where they will hunt. In Tanzania, it works like an auction with the operators bidding to the government to keep their operations in place on designated blocks of land. The hunting rep had asked for this informal meeting because he was concerned that a number of companies were reducing the number of blocks they were bidding on which might be due to a general trend or that customers were going somewhere else but the effect would be less money. That would not be good for government revenue according to the informal government rep.
That would not be good for the wildlife was the message to me.
Hunting companies support local anti-poaching operations in their blocks. It’s very true that detached controlled wildlife ranger operations are not ideal or anywhere close to it. But they are hugely better than nothing. There are plenty of reports on how local anti-poaching ops can be corrupt and play the wrong side. But those issues can be adjusted, reworked, improved or restarted. As frustrating, aggravating or downright infuriating as the system is, maybe it’s better than nothing.
A vacuum will attract poachers from nearby and poaching godfathers from further off. With just a little bit of time, corruption will work into village life and community management. Once in it will be hard to remove. Our hunter representative was giving us the heads up of the danger to wildlife. It would be cynical to say: “Oh he is only doing it for his own interest.” The problem was likely to have a serious effect on wildlife and the hunter’s act was to the interest and benefit of all parties. The government can understand its stock may be depleted and the conservationists can be forewarned of a new problem.
Cambell points out trophy hunting brings resources to Africa that may advantage hunting companies but also helps the country as a whole and communities in particular. My example shows trophy hunters do more than that, they are an important part of wildlife protection across significant areas. The fact is if you care about African wildlife you can’t simply attack these people. They are part of the present equation trying to keep the balance and need to be considered not disdained.