AG Maasai Mara Migration Season Safari

Opinion: Hunting is sustainable (ab)use

Hunters with a dead elephant, hunting

Illustrative example of hunters with an elephant carcass

Opinion post: Written by Chris Mercer – Founder of Campaign Against Canned Hunting

This blog criticises a letter sent to the Chinese government by well-known hunting apologist Eugene Lapointe.

After wrapping himself in a cloak of assumed credibility arising from previous association with international organisations such as CITES, he writes to the Chinese government asking it to resist calls for it to ban the trade in ivory. His self-important homily then proceeds to expound upon the alleged efficacy of the doctrine of ‘wise use’.

Unfortunately he finds support from some African media for his view that elephants are merely a resource to be exploited.

All his tired old arguments are half-truths that can be reduced to the following syllogism:

1. All cats have four legs.

2. My dog has four legs.

3. Therefore my dog is a cat.

In his philosophy, hunters are wonderful conservationists and the plight of wildlife can be laid solely at the door of shrill animal rightists in the developed world.

Quoting himself: “As I stated in 2007, the beneficiaries of a complete ban on all legal ivory trade are the poachers, criminal gangs and corrupt officials who drive the illegal trade — and who the campaigners suppose they are opposing,” said Mr Lapointe. “Of course, the animal rights groups themselves raise billions of dollars through their campaigns in the United States and Europe, so a ban also satisfies their financial needs”.

Lapointe’s argument is: there was a ban; there was also a surge in poaching; ergo, the ban must have caused it. This is a perfect example of the ‘my dog is a cat’ syllogism. How simplistic. How childish. If only it were that simple. No doubt he would argue that the only way to save whales is by whaling, and that any ban would merely ‘satisfy the financial needs’ of Sea Shepherd.

Actually there were many causes for the upsurge in poaching, including the rise of affluence in China and the rest of Asia, as well as the CITES-approved ivory stockpile releases in 1997, 2000 and 2008.

The truth is that saving Africa’s wildlife is a hideously complex and deep issue involving environmental, political, socio-economic, cultural and geopolitical considerations. One political hot potato is human population explosion in Africa (mirrored elsewhere). Rapidly expanding human populations overwhelms all social services such as health and education, the economy and ultimately the ecology. Poverty and unemployment are the inevitable consequence, and animal rights campaigners are not responsible for poverty and unemployment in Africa.

Another contributor to the demise of wildlife is that some African governments and administrations are notoriously corrupt. Some years ago, I was travelling through a ‘protected’ wilderness area near the Zambezi River. Such marvellous wilderness – and yet there was no wildlife to be seen. We could not understand why. Then we came across the game ranger’s camp and right there, strung up on wires all around the camp, were hundreds of pieces of meat drying in the sun to be turned into biltong and sold. Give a man like that a government vehicle, a government rifle and salary and all you are doing is equipping him to run his own private game butchery business.

The dwindling wildlife areas in Africa are precious resources which ought to be ferociously protected by governments. Alas, trees and animals do not vote and therefore get no money from patronage-dependent political structures. And into this vacuum where governance and protection should exist comes the hunting industry, trumpeting (excuse the pun!) its conservation credentials.

Game farmers point at the infrastructure they have built and the control that they exercise over their fenced-off ranches and claim righteously that they are the only defence standing between the wildlife and the rapacious poachers who would kill all the animals, whereas the hunters will only kill some of the animals. What on earth does this have to do with conservation? Domesticating wild animals and then rearing them like sheep to be slaughtered by hunters is not conservation, it is farming with alternative livestock. Farming for commercial purposes should never be confused with conservation, which is the preservation of natural functioning ecosystems for their own sakes.

Yet this totally irrelevant argument for hunting is seized upon by many role players in the conservation spectrum. Like large organisations such as WWF. And politicians and bureaucrats in the United States, who are terrified of offending the hunting/NRA block vote of 4 million votes that can easily swing an election.

Hunting is an ugly, dirty, bloody business, but the proponents make it sound almost acceptable with the use of euphemisms such as: ‘well-regulated hunting can serve as a tool of conservation’. Since when has hunting been well-regulated in Africa?

And now, following the flawed hunting narrative, comes the lamestream media, desperate to infuse cultural Marxism into the conservation space. Well-known publications like Newsweek publish articles by journalists like Nina Burleigh, who attacks and seeks to discredit hard-working anti-poaching organisations like Damien Mander’s IAPF. In her philosophy, Damien is white and therefore evil, whereas the poachers that he is tackling are black and therefore innocent victims. No doubt they would be much happier if Damien Mander’s game rangers were carrying flowers instead of weapons and handing them out to poachers, along with an audio-visual presentation of how important it is to preserve wildlife. Africa does not work that way and their naive liberal views merely show how little they understand Africa. Again, how simplistic. How childish. If only it were that simple.

Why are so many African governments ruled or controlled by dictators? The answer is that much of African falls under some form of chieftainship, where the Chief is king and he enjoys significant influence and control over many resources in the kingdom. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe repressed political dissent in Matabeleland by destroying entire villages and the inhabitants – that makes him a genocidal monster – but it also helps to explain how he stayed in power for 37 years. There is a lesson there, reinforced by the fact that the African Union elected him Chairman – knowing full well his murderous history. Liberal attitudes do not fare well in Africa, and the people of Africa know this.

Few of the existing role players in conservation understand or have the political influence or stomach to save Africa’s vanishing wilderness. The issues are just too broad and deep – and politically charged.

Perhaps the following stopgap measures would help with the conservation of African ecosystems and wildlife:

• All aid from the developed world to African countries should be rigidly tied to environmental compliance.

• The hunting fraternity should transition to turning their enormous resources to stopping poachers, and to protecting the animals. The hunting fraternity is a well-armed, wealthy militia, and can serve a useful purpose if properly directed.

• No expense should be spared to protect remaining wilderness areas. The money is there. If an old da Vinci painting can fetch half a billion dollars on auction, and trillions can be created out of thin air to be thrown at zombie banks to rescue them from their own greed, do not tell me that there is no money to save the environment and the wilderness.

Let us at least have an honest debate about conservation issues, without sustainable use propagandists like Eugene Lapointe hurling blame and pejorative epithets at the animal welfare community.

Chris Mercer

Chris Mercer founded and runs the NGO Campaign Against Canned Hunting, an international group of activists working to bring the despicable business of canned lion hunting to an end. He lives in the Klein Karoo where he runs a wildlife sanctuary. He is the author of a book about the Harnas Lion Foundation in Namibia titled For the Love of Wildlife, and also the book titled Kalahari Dream that describes the seven years he and his partner Bev spent rescuing wildlife.

  • dave

    The 1999 and 2008 legal ivory sales did not stimulate demand. Demand in Japan, the only country to receive the 1999 ivory, actually dropped after the sales, and it continued to drop after the 2008 sales. Ivory demand in China began to rise in 2005 after the government declared ivory carving an intangible cultural heritage and launched initiatives to promote it. Interest in ivory took off in 2009 during the global financial crisis as ivory became an investment vehicle. Concurrently, the CITES vote in 2007 to prohibit future legal raw ivory sales (until 2016 at the earliest) caused the price of ivory to spiral upward. Speculators began stockpiling ivory, expecting the price to continue to rise because of scarcity guaranteed by the moratorium. The black market ivory prices in China then spiked from $560-750 per kilogram in 2006 to $2,100 per kilogram in 2014. This tripling in price contributed to the elephant-poaching crisis. The 2008 legal sale, if anything, kept the price from going even higher.

  • Geoffroy Mauvais

    Great blog. Hunting may contribute to the funding of conservation in some places, on the periphery of protected areas or remote places where it offers a different source of income, providing that it is indeed managed sustainably which rarely happens. It is therefore, in certain circumstances, complementary to conservation. But let’s call a cat a cat, it is not conservation. The fact that you provide money that may serve to conservation does not make you a conservationist. Otherwise, all the tourists visiting the parks are conservationists too? As you rightly point out, conservation is about conserving functional ecosystem whilst hunting focuses mostly on bankable species. Hence hunting will not replace conservation and should not speak on its behalf.

    • Garrick Cormack

      Absolute rubbish!! Hunting DOES pay for the conservation of many species, in vast areas, worldwide.

      • Marlies

        It surely pays for the conservation of many species by a taxidermist just so some misguided people can hang them on their walls for other dummies to admire.Shame on you.

        • Stuart Ben Smith

          Watch this video.
          Then get back to me.

          • Geoffroy Mauvais

            Very well balanced BBC report, thanks for the link.

        • Garrick Cormack

          Utter rot! Disagree with hunting, your prerogative, your choice, but at least be honest & truthful. Mauves, I guess you’ve never been to any remote areas in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania, CAR, etc etc ETC. Some areas are not policed by game departments for a variety of reasons, hunting operators pick up this mantle. Obviously.

      • Geoffroy Mauvais

        Good news. And where are these wonderful areas?

      • Deputydog

        Examples in Africa include ….?

        • Garrick Cormack

          Do you really want a list of places that are working under hunting management? Get off your couch, do the research! Good grief. Typical.

          • Deputydog

            Yes please, examples of auditable success stories if you would be so kind. And, as I have said elsewhere, not just a few elephant-meat handouts and some skining jobs. Huntng money that has funded schools/scholarships/clinics and so on. There must be loads given the amount of money sloshing about in the industry. I just do not know where to look.
            So kind, Garrick, thank you.

          • Garrick Cormack

            Please. There are loads of examples! How much time do you have. Oh, being an “expert”, I expect way too much. I see them with my own clients, spending their own money,& many making substantial donations & funding projects. Auditable? Typical self righteous anti-hunting persona here. You’re starting to get up my nose. There are plenty of examples. Eg: ALL over northern Botswana when hunting existed! Those schools, clinics & jobs, village projects, anti poaching initiatives btw certainly have not been picked up by the anti-hunting brigade in hunting’s absence we notice with keen interest! That loud mouth Joubert after all his going on and ranting in Maun, didn’t find ONE hunting co. employee a job after hunting closed in Botswana as he said he would, like so many other things he said he’d see to. Typical. Botswana now, without hunting, esp. in those marginal game areas, has a MAJOR poaching problem. A secret, most embarrassing, and very well kept. Success stories all over Zimbabwe, hunting sometimes the only thing keeping wildlife IN areas under that dire mess for so long. All over Namibia. Eastern Cameroon, Kika area specifically, plenty concessions VERY well controlled & run on the CAR border, by the concessionaires, NOT the got. North in the Cameroon savannah, not a handful, PLENTY. As for Tanzanaire, plenty, fortunes spent on anti-poaching. Unlike so many photographic lodges & outfits, who rely on th game dept. to do everything, guess they don’t have the money, the way with all of the balls to take care of it themselves. The cost of those areas justifies serious anti-poaching, education, employment & extension work to be done. If a concessionaire does not do this, an area will fail. Simple. Chitral & Hunza in Pakistan, operators there working with locals brought back all 4 sub-species of markhor & a few other species of wild goats from the verge of extinction with professional hunting after being left to the state and the typically inept “conservation” NGO’s. Read that story. They had no value, as is the case with game in all of the third world. It’s a food source, & a free one at that. Wake up! There is no place for emotion here. Wildlife management requires action, & science, hands on solutions & proven theory. Facts. Not libtard debates. You can argue this until you’re blue in the face, but there are MANY great success stories, long term ones. Don’t deny these facts because it suits your argument. Agree with hunting or disagree with it, your right. But don’t lie. There are 1000’s of professionals in this industry, people doing excellent jobs, hard jobs, people who ARE interested in conservation, if not conservationists themselves, making it work, in far flung remote corners of third world countries, people I’ve seen & worked with, that make it happen, get involved in wildlife management, reintroduction, community extension work & education, human/wildlife issues, gun fights with determined poachers, hunt, guide, do incredible things, make the difference. Certainly more effort & difference made than a bunch of bleating & squealing emotional couch potatoes with big opinions that seldom venture off the keyboard…

          • Deputydog

            Garrick, firstly a thank you for going to the trouble to respond in some detail. You are passionate about the industry and I get that, and I have no doubt you tireless in your efforts to provide some balance. And I can find agreement on various issues:
            1 there is a place for well regulated sport shooting/hunting, and I have no problem with some accepting there are conservation successes linked to this (e.g. wildfowling), or game/vension industry, and even the need to cull invasive or problem populations.
            2 Also happy to accept that there are well run hunting concessions in Africa – though we probably disagree on the scale and scope of trophy hunting – so no point detailing that.
            3 Hunting has done less damage to wildlife than ill-considered attempts to farm marginal land in the past (land that invariably is being re-wilded now?).
            4 There are some idiots in the anti-hunting lobby too.
            However, I would hope that you can concede that we would probably not be having this debate if the reputation of hunting were not in tatters because of the greed and corruption that surrounds many in the business. From corrupt politicians, wildlife officials, police and the unethical practices within the business itself. If the money in the industry was more fairly distributed between conservation goals and local populations then you would not be so much on the back foot responding to bleating keyboard rangers such as myself? (Although I cannot accept the couch potato bit, being a volunteer Ranger myself – albeit with a birds and invertebrates focus.)

          • Garrick Cormack

            Agreed. The hunting industry however is not in tatters. Why do you think it is? What IS the problem is the resistance, which undermines the direction, benefits, operation & funding from hunting. Sure, due to the challenges & pressures we face, it is declining in places for sure, pressure everywhere, but so much got son the anti-hunting camp choose to ignore. It’s just dishonest. There is use and place for the hunting industry to massive advantage & benefit, worldwide. Simple. 1000’s of examples that are always conveniently ignored. Sad.

          • Garrick Cormack

            I could post 100’s of clips, examples, pictures, stories, anecdotes, but to what ends I ask myself. If you’re interested in real successes & examples, they’re out there. Happening daily in true wilderness areas & remote places. Look for yourself.

          • Garrick Cormack


            A simplified explanation of one of the many issues

          • Nigel Miller

            Oh please, not the Mikkel Legarth video again. If you do some research on this guy you will find that he has absolutely no academic or scientific wildlife management qualifications or credentials. Don’t take my word for it, read his Linkedin profile and his “Skills” and “Education” here:

            He’s a former airline flight attendant who promotes himself as an animal expert simply because he once rescued a lion cub and helps to run Willie de Graaff’s ranch in Botswana. Search through this article and you will find how much he charges “volunteers” to go there and help out:

            That’s a pretty lucrative racket he has going there with very little conservation involved.

            That is, by the way, the same Willie de Graaff whose brother Christian was involved with the export of lions from Botswana to canned hunting operations in South Africa. Draw your own conclusions. Again, don’t take my word for it:

            If you want an in-flight meal, drink and blanket on your next plane trip, then ask Legarth. If you want an educated professional and scientific opinion on lions, try someone else.

          • Garrick Cormack

            No he doesn’t. Like 99% of the commentators here! But that is an accurate summation of what happened in Botswana. I saw it!! It doesn’t matter who or what he was, or is. What is interesting is that that is what happened, & still to this day happens. Try and concentrate on the issues & not nit pick with arrogant personal character assessments. We might get somewhere. Poor decision making by mainly “scientific boffins” in their air conditioned offices in Europe, making impractical decisions, influencing the decision making of African organizations & govt’s with their big purses. That is what happens. That was simply an observation, & an entirely accurate one too!

      • Hunting may provide a few hundred millions of dollars annually overall in Africa. Photo tourism provides Billions. So where is the sense is shooting the geese that lay the golden eggs?

  • Stuart Ben Smith

    Since when has hunting been well-regulated in Africa?
    In Rhodesia it has always been well regulated, in Zimbabwe corrupt government and government officials have poached game using military equipment, guns, helicopters to poach and legalised the poaching with corrupt paper work.
    Video of a well regulated hunting outfit,

    • Garrick Cormack

      100% right.

    • Nigel Miller

      Care to discuss that “well-regulated hunting outfit” in Tanzania that was called Green Mile Safaris ?

      • Garrick Cormack

        Terrible stuff. I think the hunting fraternity got rid of this bunch of imbeciles smartly. Highly suspicious film btw. There’s bad eggs in every camp. Take the money looting & poor result showing “conservation” NGO’s everywhere. Deliver ZERO, while soaking up millions of donors $’s.

        • Nigel Miller

          Except they didn’t get rid of them, they allowed them back. So much for ethics.

          • Garrick Cormack

            Who’s they??!! The hunting operators, or corrupt & influenced govt officials?! No professional hunting operators I know would allow any of their client’s to behave like this! Madness, & I know MANY operators in Tz, and all over Africa. Don’t use this as an example of hunting, it’s pathetic. Up your game.

    • Garrick Cormack

      hear hear.

  • jim phillips

    Look what happened to Kenya after they banned hunting? Nuff said!.

    • Nigel Miller

      Look what’s happened to the elephant and rhino populations in Tanzania and Mozambique both of which allow trophy hunting. What’s the difference ?

    • Garrick Cormack

      Yes exactly, dire straights!! No hunting, Kenya turned into poaching debacle!! Almost lost all elephant there as a direct result of that disastrous move. The anti- hunting lobby just does not have the facts or any idea of what is really going on. Find out. Please.

  • Loved the point about “well regulated hunting can serve as a tool of conservation”. They are talking about “uncorruptable African governments with the highest levels of integrity” here I guess. And which countries would that be? Let me see – Cloud Cuckoo land and Dreambabwe I suppose. I’m sick of hearing that tired old nonsensical caveat being bandied about by the hunting fraternity.

    And how does removing the best set of genes from a given pool aid conservation? There are now so many tuskless elephants being born in some parts of Zimbabwe that they want to cull them. Is this conservation?

    • Garrick Cormack

      very naive…

    • Garrick Cormack

      and we’re equally tired of your naive and non-performing cliches & “solutions” that never work or even get set up. Utter hogwash about the tuskless in Zimbabwe. Since professional hunting BEGAN in Rhodesia, there has always been a few tuskless on quota. Nothing has changed. Where does this utter garbage come from about culling tuskless elephant??! ? Anti-hunting lobbyists writing what works for them no doubt. Disgraceful. Dishonest.

  • Deputydog

    People are very quick to be able to attribute a simple corrolation (Kenya/hunting is oft quoted here) as proof of cause and effect – and take no account of other varaibles. Bad (amateur) science.

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