Trophy hunting I

Conservation as it is known today arose from the big game hunters’ interest in preserving places to go hunting in which there would be abundant wildlife and minimal human interference with the landscape, or habitat destruction if you like.

The historical ideology was both practical and profitable while ensuring each animal had a price tag attached to their head, whether as a trophy, a trophy-in-training or mother of the trophy-to-be.  This early form of conservation incorporated conservation values still held today, such as reducing as much as possible, or even completely eradicating, human presence in designated “wilderness areas” while also fulfilling an important community-oriented role in terms of employment, meat provision and problem animal control.  It was commonly known that wildlife, while majestic and treasured, could be problematic to live with in a rural setting especially if one had crops that game would eat or livestock that lions would kill.

Conservation as it is known today is much more about the animal welfare than it is about the people who have to live with the wildlife.  There are several examples in historical and modern society demonstrating how, without a tangible monetary or in-kind value, resources are exploited to damn near extinction or complete ruin.  Currently, the West and donors expect rural people who live on less than “a-dollar-a-day” to embrace the crop-raiding, livestock-chowing wildlife with little to no compensation for the destruction.  It’s no wonder one form of conservation is proving very difficult to protect, in Africa at the very least.

The reason for this is that the West, or those well-meaning donors, can AFFORD to place a form of monetary value on the aesthetical pleasure of viewing wildlife without eating it.  The people who do the poaching and habitat destruction simply cannot afford to think about much else than where the next meal is coming from.  One thing my family jokes about when dealing with Western ways of life or ideals is this: “Can I eat it?  If I cannot eat it then you cannot expect me to be ok with it.”  This can be about money, which can be used to purchase things to eat, or it can be about animals, which will readily be eaten by the highest-ranking government official straight down to the poor subsistence farmer whose child you will see in National Geographic with flies on its face.

If it’s destructive to your fields and you can eat it then why wouldn’t you shoot/snare it?  It’s a valid point that many miss in the effort to safeguard nature and the “rights” various people have assigned to animals not their own.

I’m not knocking conservation strategies, just trying to point out that not one model is good enough for such a large planet with such diverse wildlife problems amidst hugely diverse cultural differences.

 

Trophy hunting isn’t something everyone can stomach – most clients come out to shoot shit and take the head home to nail on their wall of “achievement”.  Who am I to judge?  This is the singular argument that most “antis” have against hunting: it’s all about feeding the ego of the client.  Feeding the ego and not the village.  Feeding the ego and not anti-poaching efforts.

Well, since I joined the hunting social group 10 months ago I have learnt a lot, by listening, asking questions, playing devil’s advocate, reading and, in my own way, contributing what I can from an ecologist’s perspective to discussions.  The following is based on my experiences and communication with various Professional Hunters (PHs) in Zambia and the staff and communities with which they work.  I have read the Wildlife Act No. 14 of 2015 several times and I would like to think I understand the cultural norms, expectations and requirements of rural Zambians living in, or close to, wildlife areas.

 

  1. HUNTERS ARE HUMANS. They have feelings, they are regular people with regular jobs for the most part, some are self-made millionaires others have been saving their entire lives to fulfil a dream of hunting in Africa.  They’re pretty nice, for the most part, to talk to and will put up with long hard, hot days, very simple accommodations and 4am starts ending at 8pm.
  2. MEAT DISTRIBUTION TO COMMUNITIES IS NOT A RARE OCCURRENCE. Most, if not all hunters/hunting operators distribute meat from the trophy animals to the nearby communities.  This is rarely in the form of distributions to single families but usually to schools, clinics or traditional ceremonies; or the chief.  Given that the hunting season in Zambia is in the dry season when the least amount of food is available/accessible to rural communities, this provides an important source of protein for a generally under-nourished population.
    1. MEAT DISTRIBUTION IS A REQUIREMENT OF HAVING A GAME MANAGEMENT AREA (GMA) CONCESSION.
    2. NOTE: I say meat distribution NOT donation. This is because I believe, even though it is not legally true, that the communities own the wildlife through not poaching excessively.  Donations are incredibly harmful over prolonged periods of time, making communities accustomed to ‘freebies’.  This is different.
  3. STAFF ARE EMPLOYED FROM THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES. The vast majority of staff employed by hunters/hunting operators are sourced from the nearby communities.  This includes chefs, waiters, mechanics, skinners, drivers, trackers, anti-poaching scouts, etc.  Without the hunting operators these areas would have far fewer employment opportunities, granted it doesn’t create millions of jobs, but it creates enough to bring some families out of extreme poverty.  Better some than none, right?
  4. HUNTERS AND HUNTING OPERATORS ARE CONSERVATIONISTS – THE ORIGINAL CONSERVATIONISTS. Hunters cannot maintain a business if their concession is devoid of wildlife, and not just wildlife but trophy quality wildlife (which happen to be the oldest individuals).  In order to maintain the resource they utilize they must protect it and ensure the populations are, at the very least, stable if not growing.  From a business point of view, this is easy to understand.
  5. HUNTERS PAY LARGE SUMS OF MONEY TO THE DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE. In order to hunt an animal in Zambia one must purchase a GMA permit, allowing the client to hunt in a designated hunting area, as well as purchase a license for each animal the client wants to hunt.  This money goes to DNPW.  Once there, it is NOT the responsibility of the hunter/hunting operator to ensure it is used for the right purpose; this is up to DNPW.
    1. If a hunter or hunting operator were to challenge what the license and permit money is used for, it is highly likely that they would lose their concession in the next tender or, if operating on private land, would have a significantly reduced quota. This inevitably results in worse conservation overall.
    2. A GMA permit is $150 per person. A buffalo license is $1,600.  A lion license is $5,000 and an elephant is $10,000.  That’s a lot of money.
  6. HABITAT DESTRUCTION/FRAGMENTATION/DEGRADATION IS CITED AS ONE OF THE BIGGEST THREATS TO WILDLIFE IN THE WORLD. Hunting areas are generally not as picturesque as photographic safari areas and they are almost always far less accessible.  But hunting clients seek the experience once they are there and this is not a problem for them.  This means that if hunting stopped in Zambia and the GMA’s were put up for tender for photographic safaris, we would lose over 50% of our national Wildlife Estate to human encroachment and poaching.  Hunting currently provides much needed habitat for the following species, but is definitely not limited to just these:
    1. Lion
    2. Leopard
    3. Wild dog
    4. Elephant
    5. Southern ground hornbill
    6. Thornicroft giraffe
    7. Black lechwe
    8. Red lechwe
    9. Kafue lechwe
    10. Cookson’s wildebeest
  7. HUNTERS ARE MORE INTUNE WITH NATURE AND THE ANIMALS THEY HUNT THAN YOUR TYPICAL CONSERVATION NGO PERSONNEL. Hunters spend more time in the bush watching animals and reading their behaviour than the typical NGO conservationist, so naturally they understand and know more about the bush and the animals.  They also have a more genuine interest in conserving their areas and making it benefit the local people – this is the sustainable way to go.
  8. IF HUNTING AREAS COULD MAKE THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY, OR MORE, FROM NON-HUNTING SAFARIS, VERY FEW HUNTERS WOULD CONTINUE HUNTING. FACT.
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Burning to the ground: first 1/2 of 2017

As I mentioned in a previous post, fire is rarely cited as a significant threat to wildlife.  Of course, it is acknowledged as a threat to habitat…which means it is a threat to wildlife.

I’ve just made a couple of simple maps here using NASA MODIS data and QGIS mapping software to illustrate just how important fire is in conservation.  One is of Zambia and the other shows Africa south of the northern DRC border.

 

zambia fire jan-jul2

Burned area extent in Zambia from January – July 2017; green areas indicate National Parks. Note the difference between Kafue National Park (the big one on the left) and South Luangwa National Park (the big one on the right); they have different conservation programmes. Which do you think is more successful, looking at this data?  Data: NASA MODIS, software: QGIS

congo south fir jan-jul

Burned area extent in Africa south of the northern DRC border between January and July 2017.  While fire doesn’t seem like a huge conservation issue in several countries (e.g. Namibia, Botswana and Kenya; all are pretty arid, desert-like anyway), it is most definitely a challenge in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and DRC.  It is said that Zambia has some of the most important big carnivore populations, given this illustration it would be safe to say fire management is right up there with poaching as a threat to wildlife conservation.  Data: NASA MODIS, software: QGIS

Conserving romance in conservation

Most people won’t have realised this, or even experienced it, but it is incredibly difficult to live in the bush conserving shit while simultaneously having a healthy relationship.  This is mostly because we work in remote areas with limited communications or because we simply cannot find someone willing to live with us in those remote areas, enjoying the same things we do.

Of course, you may have heard of ‘khaki fever’ which keeps some of us going.  This is, essentially, the newcomers (usually tourists) loving the rugged, toughness of our exterior and us taking advantage of that attention (because, let’s be honest, it’s been a long while since we’ve seen some decent tail besides the bushbuck running away from the car earlier).  But khaki fever doesn’t hold you when you have nightmares and it doesn’t help you with your day-to-day struggles in the office; it doesn’t love you.  It loves who you appear to be.  For a night, maybe two if you’re lucky, more if you’re a leprechaun.

So, when you find someone who is willing to either put up with the lack of communication our life affords or someone who fits into that life, you generally hold on to them with an iron fist and try your to never let go or let feel like they should let go.  Some, of course, refuse to change and this doesn’t end too well (google anything about people not listening to understand or how relationships interfere with independence and you will understand what I mean, roughly).

This means that, for the majority of us, we continue with our work, our crucial, vital work, while sacrificing the one essential element to the human life: to love and be loved in return (yes, that was a Moulin Rouge reference and what a beautiful film/song it is indeed (some of us are a tad educated in that department, others live under a larger rock than Fred Flintstone)).

Some of us are lucky enough to find someone who fits into our life scheme, plan, or lack thereof.  We are very few and this comes with its own challenges because, more often than not, we work together or for each other or some other scenario involving work colleagues, office hierarchy, etc.  Working with/for the one you love is incredibly difficult (take it from me, I deal with it on a daily basis).  It is even worse when you are expected to change to fit their model and they expect not to be expected to compromise to be parallel to your model or even to make you feel comfortable in just your professional role never mind the after-hours business (again, take it from me).

So, in essence, what I’m trying to say is: people working in conservation sacrifice a hell of a lot more than you might actually think we do.  We sacrifice hot water most of the time. And running water a lot of the time. And ‘normal’ social lives. And a lot more.  We sacrifice love. Being loved.  We sacrifice a fuck tonne because, somehow, we love what we do (bordering on masochism in some cases. No, not 50 Shades of Grey stuff, more like no children ever but you really want them kind of stuff).  I suppose I’m trying to say please give us a bit more credit than we currently get?  We give up a lot, willingly and mostly without argument (because we believe wholeheartedly in our fight) while most ‘conservationists’ sit behind computers as ‘keyboard warriors’ (see the article I wrote on these folks here) and rarely give up more than $10 a year for conservation.

We’re trying our very best.

 

Sincerely,

Almost everyone that chose to work/live/both in the bush in Africa.

xoxox

 

P.S. We don’t regret it, but we’d appreciate some sort of recognition for it.

Keyboard Warriors

You may be familiar with the surge of “keyboard warriors” – badly informed, highly emotional, rabid “activists” who would claim they have superior morals and incorporate rationality and compassion into their arguments.  They also tend to believe their opinions are a) correct to the highest degree, b) the most important opinions, and therefore c) we should all do what they deem to be correct.

Conservation should NOT be about what the foreign public thinks.

It SHOULD be about what the local public want carried out in a way that will work in that area with those people.

These “keyboard warriors” of social media and, to a certain extent, various publishing companies (e.g. Africa Geographic) make conservation incredibly difficult for the people on the ground.  The “real warriors” if you like.

 

How?

  1. By not immersing themselves in the available literature in order to fully understand a scenario before bearing arms. This sort of uneducated, ill-informed argument is what one would expect of a child – not an adult who has had access to good education and who very obviously has access to the internet, therefore a huge amount of solid, verified information.  This leads to two extreme views of the current conservation situation: “unless there is a shoot-to-kill policy for poachers and encroachers we will lose the war” and “by saving one individual elephant we have made a huge contribution to the elephant population”.  Just as outrageous as the other, these are dangerous opinions to hold and spread as they are UTTER BOLLOCKS.

 

  1. These “keyboard warriors” are, for the most part, not from the conservation places they are so rabid about (e.g. Africa, Asia, South America), or have had very little real-life experience in the conservation sector (tourism is NOT conservation) or researching conservation/wildlife/natural world topics.

 

  1. They tend to base their arguments on what is “morally right” instead of what is practical, ethical and what works in different parts of the world. Besides, Westerners have different morals and ethics when compared to the peoples of the third world (and quite frankly, this is good sometimes).

 

  1. Anthropomorphising animals, even plants, is never a good thing outside of a children’s book or film. “Keyboard warriors” are particularly good at this.  Any researcher knows you cannot get so attached to a study subject to project human qualities onto it.  I guess the point here is none of the “keyboard warriors” seem to be as intellectually successful as researchers.

 

  1. Very rarely do “keyboard warriors” see the BIG PICTURE of conservation, they focus more on individuals (e.g. Cecil the lion and his son Xanda, or Satao the giant elephant, etc.) which is rather detrimental when you’re trying to conserve a whole ecosystem for not just one lion but several prides of lion, for example. This is particularly true when considering how hunting is an important tool for habitat and species conservation with the increasing human population putting immense pressure on the natural world (this will be discussed in another article once I find the right words for it).

 

  1. They often choose animal lives over human ones while claiming to be compassionate and morally upright; such as when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. Local communities cannot be expected to live peacefully with, and protect, wildlife if their lives and livelihoods are threatened by that wildlife.  Conservation is a human construct in any case.

 

I’m sure there are other examples experienced by other people in conservation, these are just the ones I’ve dealt with.

 

The biggest problem the “keyboard warriors” create is their influence over the donors, upon whose money most conservation organisations rely.  People won’t give money to a cause they don’t believe in but that means instead of doing our jobs in the field protecting nature we’re constantly trying to sell our projects and our opinions to the general public.

 

If the conservation community were allowed to do their jobs the way they deem best without worrying about the reaction of the donor communities and their supporters, they would be a lot more effective at conserving wilderness and wildlife.

 

Always look on the bright side of life

I submitted an article to Africa Geographic earlier this year and received a fantastically positive response.  The one problem, however, was that the content wasn’t positive enough about how conservation actually works so I was asked to edit it a bit – add some sunshine and glitter – and resubmit.  I have yet to do so because, quite frankly, I disagree with focusing solely on the success stories or on the positive side of absolutely everything.

Here is an article on Biodiversity Science by the founder of Animus Conservation stating why he thinks we should focus on the success stories, raising some relevant points.  I agree that, in an effort to highlight the importance of conservation and show it’s not a total waste of money as well as inspire the younger generation to be more environmentally conscious, it is very important to talk about and share stories of success.

But how do you learn not to do something if no one has made that mistake before?

That is why I think it is crucial to put equal emphasis on both the failures and successes in conservation.  Not only do we learn from our own mistakes but sharing the word about what didn’t work will help let others in a similar situation know they’re not alone (which is quite nice when you think you’ve just gone and wasted a bunch of donor funding) as well as inform those about to embark on a similar project.  Sharing of failures could also elicit advice from people/projects who have done something similar and have had success.

A big problem is that many conservation organisations are terrified of losing funding if they fail to implement what they said they would (because the donors are actually the ones in charge).  This affects the PR and marketing of the conservation organisations who try to always share positive stories (unless something or someone dies, or if a terrible story will raise funding).  The people furthest removed from actual conservation are the ones that are determining what information we share within our own community; not all conservationists know each other so media is an important information-gathering tool.

Why are we trying to portray a perfect picture when all conservationists know that things rarely go to plan or work first time?  Why does the media get to decide what story is more important than another?

It is dynamic field and none of us can preempt what will be the best strategy except Trial and Error.  What if we had access to sufficient Trial and Error stories so that we could reduce the amount of error we have to go through?  Now that sounds like sensible conservation to me.

 

Here are some links for further, interesting reads around this subject:

An article about the book “Nature Crime: How We’re Getting Conservation Wrong” by Rosaleen Duffy

A PLOSONE article about conservation successes, failures and opportunities in Cambodia

An article by Science Daily about why conservation efforts often fail

This FAO document uses failures, and successes, to highlight things that should be considered in future.

The picture of maturity

Despite the public image(s) that conservation NGO’s like to perpetuate and develop, inter-organisational cooperation between such NGO’s is rather strained.  More often there will be cooperation, not because the NGO’s agree with, or have professional respect for, one another but because one needs something from the other.  It is imperative that readers note that conservation is a team effort and without such cooperation, however strained or difficult, it would be impossible to conserve and research wild places and animals.

I recently heard a rather disturbing story that spotlights the strain and competition between conservation NGO’s and how one person’s actions can have an impact on conservation in a whole COUNTRY – Zambia.

Some of you may know the people involved and the whole story, I ask that you do not mention any names in the comments and in posts if you share this on social media, as that would not help the current situation.  Let’s keep it civil and keep it as a lesson we can all learn from.  In addition, if the details are incorrect or something has been left out that is important to the story, please comment with the suggested amendment(s); remember not to use real names of people, places or organisations.

The story is as follows:

A conservation NGO in Zambia had a project managed by a very well respected person in the conservation sector, nationally, regionally and internationally, and has good donor backing.  In this narrative, this person will be referred to as “Santa”.  Santa decided, for whatever reason(s), to separate from the overarching NGO and take their project “private”.  This did not sit well with the boss of the NGO, naturally.  The CEO will be referred to as “Tinky winky” in this narrative.  Tinky winky then proceeded to fire not only Santa but a large component of Santa’s staff from the parent NGO.  In and of itself this was big news in the country and many people were shocked and appalled by Tinky winky’s behaviour.  Grumpy then decided to write emails to a large number of international donors in the UK and USA, many of which support more than one project in Zambia; I do not know what these emails said but essentially it was to “burn” Santa and remove any future support for them.  This email reached quite a lot of people in other conservation NGO’s in the county as well, many of whom know and respect Santa and knew their side of the story.  To add insult to injury, employees within the NGO told several outsiders (myself included) that Tinky winky took Santa to court over equipment, vehicles, etc. that had been purchased with funding granted to the project while under the parent organisation.

I was then put straight by Santa who said no such court case happened – merely a legal settlement was put forward and agreed upon by both parties.  Or, at least, agreed by one party and accepted by the other because no other choice existed.

So, what can we learn from this?  One person – one very egotistical, manipulative person – damaged the reputation of ALL conservation NGO’s in Zambia, potentially reducing the likelihood of repeat funding.  Why?  Because rejection was too much to handle for them; or failure.   What form of reprimand/discipline/backlash did that egotistical, manipulative person get?  Fuck all.  Why did they get fuck all?  Because “it’s good to be the boss”, and perhaps baby animals and the ridiculously high rates of internal conflict of interest at the NGO.

When working in remote areas with limited funding and expertise it is always wise to keep any potential help as close as possible, and making sure you maintain decorum in all situations.  I would not be surprised if, in this particular case, revenge was served cold and frostbite was suffered by more than just one man.

Food for thought

Perhaps some explanation of why it’s not working in Africa, which I wholly agree with.  Holding these opinions however gets one called ‘naive’, ‘young’, ‘inexperienced’ and ‘irrational’.

 

The Western notion of wilderness does not hold in Africa, because man and animals have evolved together on the continent’s diverse ecosystems.

 

The entire modern conservation edifice rest on the ideals and vision of people other than Africans.

 

From The Myth of Wild Africa.  J. S. Adams & T. O. McShane. 1996.  University of California Press.

 

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Sexy conservation

Some conservation initiatives focus on one species – southern white rhino, snow leopard, platapus, Iberian lynx, polar bear, condors, gorilla – or specific areas – Great Barrier Reef, fynbos region, the Mara.  This is usually justified as, when referring to a specific area, marketing conservation of a “special” area encompasses every living thing and natural process inside that area.  When referring to a specific species, they are used as ‘poster’ animals to bring in funding and resources to further conservation of that species, which sometimes helps to conserve other living things that share their habitat.

The problem with this prejudice in conservation is that it a) drags down areas or species that don’t exhibit charismatic traits or have beautiful scenery, and b) makes it incredibly difficult if you’re trying to conserve a place that excludes ‘special’ habitat or a species that is less charismatic than most (e.g. rodents, insects, fish, grass).

Let’s digress a wee bit and talk about tsetse flies.  Did you know a ridiculous amount of land in Africa has been set aside for wildlife because of the presence of tsetse flies and the livestock diseases they carry?  The second largest national park in Africa – Kafue National Park in Zambia – is one such example.  Many commercial hunting areas provide vital habitat for scores of wildlife species because of tsetse files as well.  So really, they deserve a big fat gold medal for “most insignificant thing to get Africa to conserve stuff” but they don’t, because they’re not sexy.  In fact, photographic tour operators prefer to kill them because a) some are under the impression that any tsetse flies reduce wildlife productivity and b) “the guests hate them, it’s not good for business”.

Back to “Big 5” donors – in order to eek a bit of funding for an “insignificant” species or threat, conservationists end up having a bunch of, or designing, “high profile” projects in the hope that some of the funding could maybe be used for something more important than what some person in a 22nd-floor office in New York thinks justifies a donation of $5 a year.

Which would you be more likely to fund?:

  • elephant population research in Kruger
  • fire management in the DRC
  • collaring carnivores in Tsavo
  • frog distribution expedition in Mozambique
  • an elephant orphanage
  • fish surveys of the Zambezi watershed rivers

Be aware that the first, third and fifth are those that will open you up to critique considering Kruger and Tsavo are well researched and baby animals never run out of money, whereas Mozambique, the Zambezi watershed and DRC are relatively less well documented.

Another digression – PLANTS!  No one ever thinks the grass needs love or the orchids need protecting from chikanda harvesting (usually Disa genus geophytes).  People seem to think plants will always take care of themselves regardless of what they’re subjected to (which is correct to a certain extent) and that animals need to be the centre of attention right now.  My only response to the matter is: “yes, let’s do that, let’s focus solely on the animals and, if and when there isn’t any food left I guess human babies will just have to do.”