This Non-Hunter Gets It

Intellectual honesty is defined as problem solving with an unbiased attitude in which one’s personal beliefs do not interfere with the pursuit of truth.

In the midst of the continuing cacophony of anti-hunting articles, one journalist sets aside his personal animus toward hunting to discuss hunting’s unquestionable benefits in his recent article, “Hunting Bans Would Condemn A Lot Of Game.”                                                                                             

Author Ivo Vegter begins his article: “Another hunting photo, another fit of celebrity-led social media outrage. Clamoring for a ban on trophy hunting from the comfort of their wealthy, urban armchairs, none understand the consequences of what they so loudly demand. Let’s consider what would happen.”

elephant close upAs a backdrop to his discussion of the efficacy of trophy hunting, Vegter uses the SCI September issue of The Safari Times with a photo of Britany Longoria with her trophy leopard. He notes the vicious social media lynch mob, led by celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and Ricky Gervias, whipping up the mob against SCI and trophy hunters in general.

Vegter then accurately notes that these “Foreign celebrities and the wealthy, urban American and European elites they represent can hardly identify animals beyond the Big Five. They know nothing about the reality for wildlife conservation and its relationship with socio-economic development in Africa.”

“Their emotional calls to ban trophy hunting, or ban hunting altogether, are ignorant and naïve…heeding their calls will have severe repercussions for conservation in Africa,” he continues.

It is at this point in his article that Vegter ‘admits’ he does not hunt, does not like trophy hunting photos, and “could never shoot Bambi’s mother.” His intellectual honesty is evident at this point when he says, “However, I do not believe that my emotions on the matter should dictate government policy. For policy, we need to turn to pragmatism and reason.”

The remainder of the article is an extensive discussion of the conservation and economic values hunting brings to African countries.

For example, Vegter cites a 2016 study of the private game industry in South Africa published by the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The study attributed the following revenues to game reserves: game meat production (R611.5-million), biltong hunting (R650-million), trophy hunting (R1.96-billion) and live sales (R4.33-billion).

In 2013, the late environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa attributed revenue of R6.2 billion to the hunting industry, while three researchers at North-West University put hunting revenue at R7.5 billion.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust study did not consider the value of ecotourism on the game reserves, although proponents of hunting bans almost universally propose ecotourism as a viable financial alternative.

Vegter points out that most of the scenic and accessible areas where ecotourism is viable have already transitioned to that purpose. (There are vast tracts of wilderness in Africa where tourists will not, or cannot go due to remoteness, lack of development or safety issues.)

“An excellent example is the Bubye Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe, which was converted from a huge, barren cattle ranch into a thriving nature and wildlife conservancy, supporting game up to and including the Big Five, and providing jobs and meat to local communities. It is supported exclusively by hunting revenues.

“It is no exception. Throughout southern Africa, ecotourism contributes only 5% to the revenue of the private game industry, according to Van Hoven. Meat production adds another 7%. Live sales make up 16% of revenue. And hunters account for a resounding 72% of private game industry revenue.”

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Published a study in 2015 comparing the contributions of hunting and tourism to communal conservancies in Namibia. Robin Naidoo, a senior conservation scientist for WWF and author of the study concluded that “A simulated ban on trophy hunting significantly reduced the number of conservancies that could cover their operating costs, whereas eliminating income from tourism did not have as severe an effect…[T]hese two activities together may provide the greatest incentives for conservation on communal lands in Namibia.

“A singular focus on either hunting or tourism would reduce the value of wildlife as a competitive land-use option and have grave repercussions for the viability of community-based conservation efforts in Namibia, and possibly other parts of Africa,” Naidoo and his co-authors concluded.

Vegter observed that these arguments are not being made by the hunting industry – but rather by independent scientists and environmentalists, “with no skin in the game other than their (presumed) interest in conservation.”

In yet another scientific paper, an international group of scientists proposed a number of measures to make trophy hunting more effective for conservation. Enrico di Minin and his co-authors found that: “Trophy hunting strongly contributes to the conservation enterprise in sub-Saharan Africa, where large areas support important terrestrial biodiversity that is currently allocated to trophy hunting use.”

Banning trophy hunting, they argue, would lead to worse conservation outcomes for three reasons.

“First, financial resources for conservation are limited, particularly in developing countries… [S]ustainable hunting can create important incentives for biodiversity conservation in areas where ecotourism is not economically viable… If revenue cannot be generated from trophy hunting, natural habitats will be transformed to other forms of land use that provide higher return on investments compared with conservation, but have negative impacts on biodiversity.”

“Another reason Di Minin et al. identify would probably annoy ecotourists and their advocates. “[T]rophy hunting can have a smaller footprint than ecotourism in terms of carbon emissions, infrastructure development, and personnel, and can generate more revenue from a lower volume of tourist hunters… Additionally, hunters are interested in maintaining good-quality habitat for the simple reason that the quality of the individuals harvested therein is also high. Finally, hunters are prepared to hunt in areas lacking attractive scenery, and require less infrastructure, therefore minimizing habitat degradation.”

“Finally, hunting farms are simply managed better than ecotourism facilities.”

Vegter turns his focus to the affects a hunting ban has meant to the countries of Kenya and Botswana. 

leopard“In Kenya, a hunting ban was instituted in 1977. There is no commercial hunting in Kenya. Despite this measure — and some would say because of it — the country has lost almost 80% of its game to poaching. Defenders of the hunting ban argue that population growth and economic expansion, with its higher demand for farmland, was the primary cause of the precipitous decline in wildlife.

“But that is just a roundabout way of saying that keeping land under game had less value than turning rangeland into crop or livestock farms. When wildlife has little or no commercial value, it doesn’t pay to protect it.

“Kenya has had some limited success with private wildlife conservation, but a 2009 study on the subject points out that the country’s hunting ban is significantly limiting management and revenue options for landowners.

“By contrast, it reports that hunting has been used successfully to support wildlife conservation in other African countries, and in nine such countries land under private conservation exceeds land in parks and other state-protected reserves.

“Policies that devolve wildlife ownership or legalize hunting can be controversial for the ethical issues they raise,” the authors write. “However, policies that treat wildlife as a private or semi-private commodity would offer the private landholder a wider set of tools to use toward conserving wildlife.”

“In Botswana, wildlife hunting was banned under former president Ian Khama, who had strong environmentalist feelings. Soon, however, reality began to set in. Local communities were devastated by the loss of the hunting industry, not only because of the revenue, jobs and meat it used to provide, but also because wild animals were now no more than pests.

“Before, when there was hunting, we wanted to protect those animals because we knew we earned something out of them,” Jimmy Baitsholedi Ntema, a villager in Sankuyo told the New York Times. “Now we don’t benefit at all from the animals. The elephants and buffaloes leave after destroying our ploughing fields during the day. Then, at night, the lions come into our kraals.”

“In a study conducted in northern Botswana, published in 2017, Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute at the University of Botswana found: “[The hunting] ban led to a reduction of tourism benefits to local communities such as: income, employment opportunities, social services such as funeral insurance, scholarships and income required to make provision of housing for the needy and elderly. After the hunting ban, communities were forced to shifts (sic) from hunting to photographic tourism. Reduced tourism benefits have led to the development of negative attitudes by rural residents towards wildlife conservation and the increase in incidents of poaching in Northern Botswana.”

Vegter concludes his article with a discussion of the conundrum faced in South Africa right now, suggesting that there might be political merit to convert privately owned land (game ranches) to communal agricultural purposes. “At least it would put the demands of the African people ahead of the desire among Western elites to preserve their fantasy of an idyllic, unspoilt, pastoral Africa.

This course of actions would fatally undermine “not only conservation, but also private property rights. But then, the wealthy armchair-dwellers who like to patronize Africans about conservation matters are often disenchanted with the notion of private property anyway, except inasmuch as it concerns their own.”

“So they can kill two birds with one stone: enable a popular agrarian revolution, and do away with private, for-profit wilderness and game conservation by greedy, capitalist “green-grabbers”. It’ll be a great win for world socialism, although millions of head of game will die for it,” says Vegter in conclusion.

“Here lies Africa’s wildlife, which survived a colonial onslaught in the 19th century, experienced a brief but spectacular revival because of private property rights and commercial hunting in the late 20th century, only to be finished off by outraged and ignorant Western celebrities in the 21st century. RIP.” 

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