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hunting

BACKGROUND: We approached Michel Mantheakis – chairman of the Tanzanian Hunting Operators Association (TAHOA) – before publishing our report on the recent trophy hunting of two super tuskers in Tanzania. We requested that he provide specific information and context so that our report would be accurate and contextual. He acknowledged our request and undertook to respond but failed to reply thereafter. Other experts were happy to reply to our questions. Once our report went live, Mantheakis compiled this letter, which he circulated widely. We requested evidence of his claims in this letter, and he undertook to provide those but failed again to do so. Our CEO, Simon Espley, responds.


Dear Mr Mantheakis

I am responding with reluctance after advice and requests from several corners, including members of the trophy hunting industry who seem embarrassed by your actions. I fact-check your claims below, but first, this:

You were recommended to us by a highly regarded member of the Tanzanian conservation industry as the ideal person to help us understand the facts behind the trophy hunts referred to above. And so, during our research, we emailed you in good faith in your capacity as chairman of TAHOA. We hoped that you would provide the required input and help us maintain our 32-year tradition of accurate reporting on these sensitive matters. 

Our request to you was for the specifics related to these hunts. Yet, your public response after our report was a generic ideological sermon, complete with misinformation, unsubstantiated claims and cheap shots aimed at Africa Geographic. 

Our report provided verified facts about the two hunts alongside necessary context and input from respected conservation experts. You were given the opportunity to be part of that equation, but you chose to abstain. Instead, you chose to deflect from the topic and inject anger and bitterness. Surely you can see that your approach is not conducive to much-needed constructive engagement and problem-solving? We remain open to constructive dialogue if you decide to provide facts specific to these hunts. 

Important context:

Judging by your letter, you do not represent the broader hunting industry. There are examples of trophy hunting industry operators in open ecosystems who play significant roles in ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. There are also numerous examples of hunting in private reserves and fenced farms, which provide conservation benefits. Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (mentioned by you) is a good example. The sector of hunting that you ostensibly represent surgically removes certain FREE-ROAMING animals with sought-after traits and seems bereft of scientific rigour and moral compass. This distinction we make between the various aspects of the broader hunting industry is essential if we are to weed out harmful practices.

Your letter suggests that you hold the key to wildlife conservation outside of national parks – that others, such as NGOs, scientists, researchers and the photographic tourism industry – are de facto irrelevant. Your choice of words is exclusive, not inclusive, and the arrogance of your claims beggars belief. 

 Our journey is different. We believe in transparency, accountability and constructive dialogue amongst all parties to find practical science-based solutions to today’s reality – burgeoning human populations and massive threats to biodiversity and ecosystems. That’s why we requested your input into these specific hunts. If you require further information about our methodology, refer to our manifesto.

Now, to correct the misinformation in your letter:

1. Your words: 

The Tanzania Tourist Hunting industry is 130 years old, and it has been well-regulated throughout its existence. It is recognized as the only viable form of land use in game reserves and areas with wildlife outside the National Parks and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Hunting concessions currently comprise of 260,677 sq km which is 29% of Tanzania’s surface area, hence a much larger area than the 113,621 sq km that National Parks cover which is only 12% of Tanzania’s surface area.

I am proud to say that most hunting companies in Tanzania operate their own anti-poaching programs in cooperation with the TAWA at a huge annual cost, to safeguard all the natural resources and wildlife within their hunting concessions to safeguard their business interests.

FACT CHECK:

You have only presented one side of the coin – the shiny side. Your industry abandoned 110 out of 154 Tanzanian hunting zones in which you had exclusive use – because they were no longer profitable for trophy hunting. That’s 140,000 km² of land – that could’ve benefitted conservation – lost. This land was utilised by the trophy hunting industry you hold in such high esteem – and then abandoned once depleted. This abandoned land no longer contains trophy animals and is being reduced to rack and ruin – playing host to poaching, mining, logging and other harmful activities. That you proudly trumpet the land still being hunted as an example of a “viable” and “well-regulated” industry and ignore the elephant in the room speaks volumes. This pro-hunting article highlights the reality facing the trophy hunting industry in Tanzania. And yet you claim that all is well in your industry …

2. Your words:

“… anti-hunting publications like Africa Geographic. You are not transparent or a balanced media and have a reputation for always twisting the truth to fit your anti-hunting narratives, that only benefits your business interests.”

FACT CHECK:

We emphasise factual accuracy and science, which we acknowledge inconveniences those with an ideological approach. Please educate yourself by visiting our website and typing in the word ‘hunting’ in the search bar. Amongst others, you will find the following interesting articles that help provide information and context behind the hunting industry – telling both sides of the story:

3. Your words:

You…  will not even comment positively on any of the anti-poaching efforts that are funded largely by hunting revenue in the same reserves and to the benefit of the photo tourism camps you promote, who also operate in the Timbavati.”

FACT CHECKS: 

A. Your information about Timbavati is incorrect. As recently confirmed to me by a member of their Exco, their considerable anti-poaching efforts are now predominantly funded by photographic tourism, with trophy hunting playing an ever-reducing role. 

B. Regarding your claim about my Timbavati writings, I refer you to my opinion editorial in response to misinformation in South African news media about trophy hunting in Timbavati. In this article, I make a strong call for fact-based reporting to replace headline baiting and misinformation. 

4. Your words:

Your anti-hunting activism is causing the loss of thousands of square kilometres per year of wildlife habitat in Tanzania and the illegal slaughter of more wildlife annually than ever taken by hunting.

FACT CHECK:

As proven above, the Tanzanian trophy hunting industry has been shedding concessions due to overhunting and poor management. That you blame us and a coterie of organisations for this says enough about you and those you represent. If shining a light into dark corners in search of transparency and accountability translates as “anti-hunting” then you have a rocky road ahead. Blaming others will not win any battles against the many threats faced by the wildlife industries – habitat loss, poaching, human-wildlife conflict, and climate change, to name a few. The free-roaming resource is a fraction of what it was, and attitudes are changing. Human populations have expanded at significant environmental cost, and the planet can no longer afford the unfettered removal of diminishing populations of free-roaming animals with specific sought-after genetic traits. You behave like nothing has changed since the 1900s, which is foolish and unsustainable in the modern context. Perhaps you should consider handing over the reins to others who better understand the modern conservation landscape.

5. Your words:

In Tanzania the CITES quota is only 50 elephant per year out of a population of over 60,0000, that is a very minimal quota of only 0.08% of a stable and growing population

AND YET:

Our article covered the hunting of two super tuskers and expressed concern about the future of the remaining tiny population of super tuskers – estimated by elephant researchers at 50–100 across Africa. Your topic switch to Tanzania’s entire elephant population is a classic avoidance strategy. This blanket refusal to discuss details while continuing to broadcast misleading generic soundbites again speaks volumes about your strategy to avoid transparency and accountability. 

6. Your words:

2 legally hunted very old and past breeding bull elephant, taken last year, that brought great financial benefit to both the Government and local communities.

AND YET:

We requested information from you about these two bulls and specifics about the benefits for local communities – to help explain the context to our audience. You did not provide that information. Transparency should lie at the core of any sustainable industry. The information vacuum you left has again been filled by rampant speculation on social media. That’s on you – don’t blame us or others for the consequences of your actions. If you were more transparent and accountable, the discussions would be more relevant and productive, and there would be less fodder for peddlers of misinformation. 

CRUCIALLY:

Update 14/03/2024: Amboseli Trust for Elephants has positively identified the first trophy-hunted bull as Gilgil, a breeding elephant aged 35, who would have been approaching his prime reproductive years. Male elephants reach their prime breeding years at or about 40 years. Our sources confirm Gilgil was a ‘100-pounder’, with one tusk weighing 99 pounds and the other 110 pounds.  

7. Your words:

240 Tanzanians were killed by Elephant. Anybody who finds this irrelevant is unconscionable and has no moral authority to criticize Tanzania’s National conservation policy and efforts.”

AND YET:

This is a rather basic attempt at bait-and-switch. These two hunts we reported on had nothing to do with human-wildlife conflict, and the hunts were not to remove ‘problem animals’. On this occasion, our article does not address the terrible burden imposed on some of Africa’s rural people by dangerous animals. We cover this matter extensively on our website – here is an example: Life with Elephants. Please do not cheapen this important matter by attaching your flag to the human rights cause. The trophy hunting industry is hardly the poster child for human rights or skills uplifting and empowering Africa’s rural villagers. 

8. Your words:

You seem to think there is sinister wrongdoing in disposing of Elephant carcass by burning or burying it; however, in this part of Tanzania it is actually a very responsible conservation act to prevent pastoral people from poisoning the carcass, which if you had done your research, is commonly practiced in order to kill Lion, Leopard and Hyena that frequently prey on their livestock.

AND YET:

We asked you to provide important contextual information about the burning of carcasses. Again, you did not. We were advised by several professional hunters – one associated with TAHOA – that this is a highly uncommon practice.

9. Your words:

The anti-hunting community intentionally refuses to distinguish between Conservation-Based Hunting, which is a selective, sustainable and a legal tool of conservation, and poaching, which is an illegal and devastating criminal act.

HERE’S THE THING:

Claiming to be “sustainable” does not make it so, no matter how loud you shout. What about the current situation makes you think what you do is sustainable? Trophy hunting of free-roaming animals is an extraction industry (like mining and hardwood logging), and any claim of sustainability has to be proven based on data. Show me accurate historic population stats of Tanzania’s target species (including large-tusked elephants as a genetic focus) compared to annual offtakes of each. If your industry were genuinely sustainable, you would not avoid providing these facts and details specific to each hunt. 

 In my considered opinion, if an activity further reduces the population of a species or genetic trait already in decline, then that activity is, by definition, not sustainable. Claiming that other factors contributing to population declines are ‘worse’ illustrates a lack of conservation thinking. That you insist on this ongoing veil of secrecy suggests that you are aware that your activities are not sustainable and hope to continue for as long as you can get away with it. In that way, I believe you do not represent the best interests of the broader hunting industry. 

FINALLY

You speak of “working together” and us being “conservation partners”. We approached you in the spirit of that august goal. Yet you ignored our request for information that would have provided further accuracy and context. Instead, you chose to sully our name with a toxic mix of misinformation and condescending generalisations that have little relevance to Africa Geographic or the topic at hand – and which you refuse to back up with relevant evidence. That is not how partners behave. Your actions were cowardly and invidious certainly not exemplary behaviour from the chairman of a respected trophy-hunting organisation. 

I can’t help wondering what happened to that core trophy-hunting principle of FAIR CHASE. To recall the words of Cynthia Moss: “Shooting an Amboseli bull is about as sporting as shooting your neighbour’s poodle”. Is this what your sector of trophy hunting has been reduced to? 

Simon Espley – CEO, Africa Geographic


For the sake of transparency, this was our emailed request to you, sent on 29 December 2023 and acknowledged by you on 2 January 2024 (two points redacted as these are still under investigation):

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I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn

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