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Rifle, aiming, hunter
Opinion post by Paul Stones

Professional hunter Paul Stones has responded in a Facebook post to Simon Espley’s opinion editorial questioning whether the trophy hunting industry will ruin Kruger National Park’s expansion plans. We publish Stones’ post here, with his permission. The text in italics and quotation marks relates to statements extracted from Espley’s opinion editorial, followed by Stone’s responses.

Espley: “It is no secret that the trophy hunting industry staggers from one unsavoury incident to the next…”

This is a statement that is undeniably true. In certain cases a blatant disregard for rules and requests, all in the name of self-enrichment! The damage that these acts causes does not only impact the wildlife we profess to “conserve” but the many livelihoods, community projects, and service industries that rely on hunting income and contribution. However, it goes even further than that, way further. It directly impacts the future of Africa’s fauna and flora! This statement is equally powerful if not more than the opening statement to this article. Many may wish to dispute this but please, humour me and read on.

The banning of elephant hunting in Botswana lead to much of the impact I mention in the past paragraph. The ban that had been implemented has caused nothing but heartache and loss for communities and wildlife alike. The lack of revenue and the dishonesty of photo safari companies that had promised to run these hunting concessions in photo mode has never transpired, other than a few select areas that adjoin with the Okavango Delta. The increase of meat poaching with snares  that is way more damaging to wildlife than selected species poaching as it removes anything and everything caught in these snares, including all the lion and leopard that these selfsame crusaders of conservation profess to save. The condemning of hunting through story-telling from “days of yore” are not conducive to the far more conservation-based hunting industry of 2019. Much of what transpired in the past left a legacy that we should not be proud of – we know this. As with all industries, no matter how small or how large, there will be those that detract from the immense good industries can and often contribute to specifics.

The agreement signed between Kruger and the neighbouring private and community reserves is not only one that is hugely beneficial to all current activities in this relationship but for the future of the Kruger National Park, it should be applauded.

Espley: “In the latest trophy hunting-related disaster, South Africa’s Parliament has attacked Kruger’s magnificent and visionary 10-year plan by calling for the nullifying of the recently signed agreement between Kruger and neighbouring private and community reserves. Who knows what political manoeuvrings are behind this, but it is notable that trophy hunting and a perceived lack of local community benefits were at the root of the statement from Parliament.”

Insofar as to suggest “political manoeuvrings” I would agree with that comment, only from the anti-hunting fraternity and their capture of Parliament in this regard. This could not have been clearer, attending the Colloquium late last year, I was stunned to see how certain journalists were given more credence than the very people with all the experience, and those in the trenches were reprimanded for questioning a journalist on his anti-hunting diatribe by the chair of the portfolio committee! Say no more about political manoeuvring!

Espley: “The main focus and revenue drivers are the targeting of big gene elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes, etc. and these have become increasingly scarce in the wild, resulting in drastic (sometimes illegal or contrary to agreed protocol) antics to secure the desired trophies.”

Trophy hunting does play a huge role in African conservation, an undeniable fact. The comment that it is all about “big gene” animals is one that needs addressing; this is not entirely a false statement. Record Books are, in my humble opinion, the damnation of hunting as a noble pastime, and should be banned! Where does the truth lie? Somewhere in the middle? No, in today’s world with a very large majority of people who come to hunt in Africa, the size of game animals is not of importance, as representative, old animals are far more sought after. The record book entries are damaging to us, this is a fact, however, those that subscribe to this chest-beating exercise are in the minority in the greater world of hunting.

As Espley’s article is about the agreement between one of the main players, the APNR (Associated Private Nature Reserves) and the Kruger National Park, I can categorically state and unequivocally fight the “big genes” statement! The APNR has unquestionably the finest hunting protocol in Africa today. This is an absolute fact. We do not hunt ANY big gene animals!

An example, ALL buffalo hunted may never exceed the 38-inch spread of horn (width of the horn from outside curve to outside curve) and these buffalo may not be younger than 12 years of age. They are old buffalo. The next category, if one needs to use that description, are ‘management buffalo’ bulls that are of inferior genetics and improve the herd quality by removing some of them. These buffalo may not exceed 34 inches and they may be hunted just on the maturity of six years, and absolutely no big tuskers, ever! Cats, well, aged-based only and not size! Yes, conservation at its best!

Espley: “Last year I wrote to the good people of the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), a collective of private reserves that forms part of the Greater Kruger. I know some of them personally – good people who want the best for conservation. I cautioned them that their fund-raising model needs to change. Trophy hunting constitutes a sizeable chunk of the revenue pie that is applied to manage the reserve and keep wildlife safe from poachers. They acknowledged my letter politely, but I got the sense that the day-to-day reality of the issues that they face prevent them from taking too seriously warnings of the coming storm.”

To talk of the “coming storm” re the future of trophy hunting is not an invalid observation and one that might well have frightening consequences for all I mentioned above.

The Dollar comparison of the consumptive and non-consumptive activities, if one bases it on eco-footprint and sustainability alone is immense.

Espley: “Rather, my warning was that the rolling snowball of public rage at killing animals (particularly large-gene individuals) for fun and ego is growing in size and momentum every day, and the consequences will only increase.”

Is it not ironic that the “public rage” perpetuated by faceless, ignorant, emotive millions is over a sustainable and highly beneficial activity? Driven by egoistical individuals who generally have no dog in the fight! What if those faceless millions were to be shown the eco footprint stamped across Africa by the photographic industry with regard to the classic case of the tragedy of the commons: WATER!

Let us for one minute forget about the encroachment of wilderness, the destruction of habitat by luxury lodge building, the perpetual humdrum of humanity invading wild animal spaces, the creation of Disney-like habituated (once wild) animals, the belching of fumes coming out of the diesel stalks by countless vehicles into herds of game in the hope of a kill sighting, the damage to flora and the ‘lesser’ species by driving into and across so much of our precious African bush, the Mara game viewing jamboree at the time of the migration is criminal and the incessant hum of charter aircraft transporting the myriad planeloads of human cargo into what was once a pristine Africa.

Let’s look at one small facet that seems to go unnoticed and ignored  WATER.

How many of these areas have ever had a single environmental study conducted in them where the future of water may be a deciding factor in granting permission for the construction of these behemoths, of which many are such, simply because it is about volume and that in the modern world it is all about more, quicker, easier and shorter, so the more people that can be accommodated in the shortest space of time is the most beneficial to the financial well-being of photographic safari “camps”.

We all know that the world is changing, climate change is real, whether it is through human activity or simply a natural phenomenon, it is happening! South Africa is feeling it more than many other parts of the world!

So, based on this fact, the APNR, or let’s refer to it as the Greater Kruger, is in a very low rainfall area to begin with. Wild animals require vast swathes of habitat to move through, and as the seasons change, so too do their feeding patterns. If we continue to allow the photographic industry to grow in these areas we will absolutely destroy the natural patterns that currently exist. Besides the destruction of habitat and riverine being a large part of that habitat loss, as rivers draw lodges like a dog draws fleas! We will use up the groundwater to the point that spring lines, drainage lines and pans will cease to exist. What then?

The millions and millions of litres that are currently sucked out of the ground to fill the claw baths, outdoor showers with views that hardly encourage a quick soaking, can and will not be replaced!
The lioness and her four cubs, 2 miles down the valley from the lodge are dying of thirst, for the seep that her pride has used for millennia is now dry and her cubs will die!

Espley: “Timbavati, one of the APNR reserves, recently increased the conservation levy paid by visiting tourists, and now cover 55% of their operational budget from this revenue source (the rest comes primarily from trophy hunting). Based on simple maths explained to me recently, increasing that levy from the current R368 to about R750 per person per night would remove the need for any trophy hunting. This arithmetic is of course subject to assumptions, such as demand staying the same, but in broad strokes this number holds water.”

The argument that an increase of levies will solve the financial requirement to run such areas is true but a very temporary solution. Over an inordinately short time frame, R750 will be worthless, as simple inflation will erode and increase each year. There are only so many Golden Geese! The author was clear with regard to this short-term solution. Also, within the APNR, certain land masses have very few lodges so how do they benefit with the levies?

Espley: “Would travel agents and tourists agree to this increase? Time will tell. This model of increasing conservation levies paid by photographic tourists will not work in all of the reserves incorporated into the APNR, because some simply do not have not enough commercial lodges relative to land size and management costs. Those reserves have to find another model – perhaps including funding by the passionate and powerful anti-hunting lobby?”

The treacherous suggestion of the anti-hunting fraternity funding our wildlife and its habitat should be condemned with the venom it deserves. The mentality that the “white west” must once again control Africa and our wildlife should be spurned with all the contempt it deserves!

Espley: “Two community-owned reserves in the Greater Kruger (but outside the APNR) only have trophy hunting as a revenue source. The larger of the community-owned reserves with open fences to the Kruger (the 42,000 hectare Letaba Ranch) is now buried in chaos, after the trophy hunting operators left after being accused of unsustainable offtakes, baiting animals from the Kruger and of channelling little or no benefit to the community landowners.”

Let us look at the community areas and the comments made. Letaba Ranch is a sad indictment of a lack of governance. Letaba Ranch, I wholeheartedly agree, is a mess but we cannot pin this mess on trophy hunting per se. It would be grossly unfair to do such. Our country has the laws to deal with all the issues raised re this beautiful area bordering the KNP. They simply have not been enforced and it is an absolute disgrace. An opportunity perhaps for the right people to be given a fair chance to create what it should be?

The Kruger Park’s 10-year management plan to secure land for species to roam is admirable and should be supported to the best of all adjoining lands capability, however, we need to be very clear that most is private land and private land should not bend to the wiles of public perception or opinion if that perception or opinion damages our wildlife and its habitat. Hunting does not damage either when conducted under protocols such as the APNR protocol, it enhances wildlife and habitat. It has an eco-footprint that is minimalistic.

God forbid that we ever have to go back to fences and protectionism, it is the curse of a modern world where wildlife and habitat are in short and ever-decreasing supply, and that which we have we need to cherish dearly and in certain cases agree to disagree. It is not only the behaviour of certain hunting practices that need to be changed and condemned in the strongest possible terms, but the behaviour too of those that know so very little or refuse to enlighten themselves on the massive benefit responsible hunting offers and promotes across much of Africa.

Espley: “The trophy hunting industry seems, by virtue of its behaviour, not capable of playing a constructive role in the future conservation landscape on the western border of the Kruger National Park. Plus, the increasing public awareness and assertiveness will most likely eventually take down any attempt to involve that industry. Decision-makers can ignore these realities, or they can undertake the hard task of finding alternative conservation-funding models.”

We do not need to seek “alternative conservation-funding models” we have the two finest that exist  we simply need to ensure that both are responsible and both have the end result that we seek and that is the betterment of our wildlife and habitat for future generations to marvel and enjoy.

‘The systematic demise of hunting as a conservation tool, will ensure the absolute demise of wildlife in Africa.’  PAUL STONES, professional hunter

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