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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The problem with chiefs

Community projects in rural Africa almost always have to receive the blessing of traditional leaders –  the local chief or chieftainess – before anything can really be done.  This blessing often, however, involves hefty back-handers in order to secure such a deal, otherwise the chief vetoes your whole plan.  Chiefs were given more authority under colonial rule, especially in British colonies, than they had enjoyed before and were essentially an extension of the governing systems in towns and cities.

If you don’t have a good relationship with your local chief you might have land disputes, court cases, even death threats.  If you do have a good relationship with your chief, chances are you dread seeing them or hearing from them because they always ask for something, more money, a new car, new TV, battery for tractor, etc.

So why is this such a big deal for conservation?  Well, in Zambia for example, areas outside of designated towns and cities are part of various chiefdoms – including National Parks, Private Game Reserves, National Forest Reserves, Game Management Areas, etc.  You will probably end up paying your chief a monthly stipend, helping to build their house and other odd jobs – taking money away from being put to use in rural health centres, schools, sinking boreholes for clean drinking water, helping agriculture, etc.  You will also know that the land rent that is supposed to go to the community, distributed from the chief’s personal bank account no less, never gets distributed further than the outside of his compound gate except if being transferred to an offshore account.

Instead of spending this valuable money, time and other resources on your conservation effort, you are knowingly giving it to a corrupt person who does nothing for their community because there honestly isn’t anything else you can do.

If you start a community trust and make sure there are over 6 people that have to unanimously decide on what money is spent on, the chief will have to part of it and will either buy everyone’s votes or veto absolutely anything and everything that doesn’t include them getting at least 10% commission for being “the ruler of this area, it is traditional after all for me to be paid for my position as chief”.

If community trusts were set up and the local chief received, on top of their government stipend, 5% of the trust earnings, and the balance was spent on sponsoring gifted children to further their education, to build a maternity ward at a Rural Health Centre, and refurbish the broken roof of a class room, the communities would benefit a lot more than they are currently.  The chiefs, however, will never let this happen and will forever seek to skim benefits from the communities as payment for their chiefly services.

Until chiefs – or equivalent traditional leaders – are stripped of their power and sense of entitlement, conservation is not worth the hassle or money they demand.