Africa Geographic recently published an article in our online magazine titled, The Thing About Hunting. In the article Simon Espley explains how the hunting conversation hurts conservation. In response to his article well-known conservationist Gail Potgieter published an insightful comment that we thought we would share with you:
“Simon, thank you for the article. I sometimes think that the (hunting) debate gets to the point where no-one is listening to anyone else anymore, so it is a waste of time to continue. However, you have reminded me that we can’t just stop talking to each other if we want to face the common enemies of conservation.
Firstly, I think there needs to be a better understanding of what conservation actually is among the general public (i.e. those who have not studied it formally). The purpose of conservation is to maintain ecologically intact communities of plants and animals in such a way that these communities will continue to function in future. ‘Future’ here is an indefinite period of time, and this is my unofficial definition, but I think it covers the basics. I believe that all activities should be measured against the goal of long-term conservation to see whether they are assisting or hindering our progress towards that goal. This is the view I take when assessing both consumptive and non-consumptive uses of wildlife.
The hunting industry (i.e. consumptive use) can assist us in achieving conservation goals. However, this does not mean that it always does, in every situation. As you point out, not all hunting is the same, and not every situation is the same, so each case must be examined on its own merits. For example, game farming in Southern Africa has had several conservation benefits:
1. Habitat is maintained rather than being converted
2. Areas that are not naturally beautiful can still maintain a reasonable level of biodiversity
3. Many game farmers contribute to anti-poaching efforts
However, this same game farming system has some conservation drawbacks:
1. Many game farms are fenced, which inhibits natural migratory patterns and can cause ecological damage if not carefully managed
2. Some game farmers in Southern Africa have taken antelope breeding to such a controlled level that their farms can no longer be described as natural, or contributing to biodiversity (e.g. breeding exotic species, artificially increasing carrying capacity to the detriment of other species)
3. Predators are not always tolerated and are often removed as ‘problem animals’ for killing their natural prey species
Similarly, the photographic/ecotourism industry has both positive and negative effects on conservation. As above (in the interest of fairness), I will provide three of each.
On the benefits side
1. Tourists bring in much needed revenue to developing countries and thus incentivise conservation at the government level
2. The value placed on wildlife by photographic tourists drives a large industry that provides jobs, which incentivises conservation at the local or regional level
3. As most of the funding for conservation comes from the developed world, tourists that come on safari may then support conservation efforts through donations after they have returned home.
There are, however, some drawbacks if the lodges etc. do not toe the line
1. Some ultra-luxury lodges have a much greater impact on wilderness areas than they should have (an Africa Geographic article on this topic comes to mind)
2. Some tour guides harass animals in order to get better views and thus better tips (e.g. approaching breeding herds of elephants too closely)
3. Some lodges do not support local communities, and most of their staff are not from their immediate vicinity, thus denying the people living with the wildlife any benefits from that wildlife
You will notice that the ‘drawbacks’ I list for both industries apply to “some” game farmers or tourism operators only. These are things that happen in both industries, although not everyone involved in that industry are culprits. Similar lists can be made for other aspects of hunting (e.g. trophy hunting), but I think game farming will suffice as an example.
I agree with you, Simon, that the debate should become more productive, and I think that we should focus on minimising the negative aspects and promoting the positive aspects of both consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife use for conservation. I also think that the people within those industries are the best people to address these issues. I will provide some examples of this.
Hunters that stand for sustainable use and ethical hunting should be at the forefront of destroying the canned hunting industry in Southern Africa. They should also help to enforce quota systems and report any corruption in the hunting permit system in the countries in which they operate. All hunting outfitters should find ways to provide benefits to the local communities living in or around the areas in which they hunt.
Tourism operators must actively look for ways to reduce the environmental impact of their lodges and activities, even if this means imposing a little discomfort on their guests. Operators should have a strict code of conduct for their guides when it comes to approaching animals and driving off-road. Just like hunters, tourism operators must work with local communities and provide benefits to these people as much as possible.
There is a lot more that can be done to achieve conservation goals by all stakeholders who rely on wildlife for their income. We must remember that both industries (hunting and photographic tourism) are for profit, even though many on both sides of the fence claim that they do everything for conservation. Making a profit out of wildlife can be a good thing, as long as the positive effects outweigh the negatives for conservation.