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Africa Geographic Travel
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 the 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 that 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.

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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.

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