There should be no reason for hunters to be defensive or to hide their passion. Sustainable hunting has proved to be a major conservation tool in the 21st century. It contributes towards maintaining wildlife populations and biodiversity in general by giving wild animals a value far greater than that of their meat.
In 1905 Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as having said: “In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.” That sentiment has been echoed repeatedly since. In order to ensure the survival of wildlife we must add value to them to make them essential to the benefit of human beings, especially in rural areas. That is the simple reality of our time in Africa. It has been argued by moral absolutists that wilderness should not have to justify its existence by being productive, but the truth on our continent is that if land use does not provide meaningful economic and social upliftment, the future of our wildlife is threatened.
The investments of international trophy hunters into the protection of natural habitats are major. The income hunters provide for landowners and communities serves as a powerful economic incentive for the conservation of nature. A strong wildlife industry has been created that, linked to tourism, is a major contributor to the national economy. Income and other benefits such as jobs and training linked to wildlife and tourism in communal area conservancies as well as commercial farming areas are contributing to combating poverty.
Man has hunted, fished and gathered since the beginning of time. Traditionally the hunt has been for meat, to protect farms and villages, to improve his competitive social standing, or simply to prove his dominance over nature. Hunting is ingrained in most cultures. By its nature trophy hunting is the quest for the ultimate ‘trophy’ the most impressive, largest and/or heaviest specimen. Although selective, ethical and sustainable trophy hunting has proved to be a great conservation success, the sometimes obsessive demand for the inch, or certain elusive species, and the lure of the dollar often cloud this ideal. Like any market, trophy hunting is dictated by the principles of supply and demand, so as long as there are clients out there willing to pay big bucks to hunt certain trophies ‘by any means’, there will be operators willing to offer canned or other unethical and illegal forms of hunting – provided they continue to get away with it.
This has provided anti-hunting lobbyists good arguments to use in their attempts at depriving developing countries and rural communities from earning necessary revenues from biodiversity.
In my opinion these illegal practices pose the single greatest threat to the future of trophy hunting. If not controlled, unethical hunting will damage the reputation and popularity of Africa as an international hunting destination. This threatens the future of our industry and makes a mockery of well-regulated trophy hunting legislation, which, if applied effectively, has the potential to be our greatest conservation success.
Although many African countries have developed sound wildlife management plans and developed intelligent hunting policies, the lack of the capacity to effectively enforce the law is a common challenge. Increasingly the onus is on professional hunting associations to discipline their members. Since membership is not compulsory, it has become a trend for members who have been found guilty of unethical practices to simply resign from the associations, which effectively allows them to continue with their unacceptable practices unabated. A course of action would be to develop the benefits and value of membership to the point that PHs and operators feel obliged to remain members in good standing. Ideally all international hunting organisations and expositions would implement a condition that only members of their respective national hunting associations qualify to exhibit, as well as outdoor magazines to have the same requirement for all advertisers. That would ensure that international hunters have recourse through the associations if they have problems of any kind with their safari outfitter. Recently most of the hunting associations of southern Africa submitted such an appeal to all concerned, and a positive response was received from the majority of role players. Regrettably one of the largest hunting organisations turned down the request, citing that it ‘would be un-constitutional and illegal in the USA.’ That unfortunately leaves hunters booking safaris with non-association affiliated outfitters at that convention vulnerable in the event that their safari does not meet their expectations. Professional Hunters and outfitters concerned will therefore have carte blanche to continue to operate in a manner, which reflects badly on all involved. However, if they are denied access to their markets one would get their attention as well as, inevitably, convince them to straighten out their act.
The majority of professional hunters and trophy hunters are conservationists who are caring, responsible, accountable and respectful of the laws. They revel in every aspect of the environment, respect the wildlife, and enjoy the thrill of the chase and the challenge of the hunt. I am not aware of any group of people who spend more time on the ground interacting with, as well as investing in, the wildlife and the local communities than hunters. From the perspective of hunters, the preservation of biodiversity on the African continent is the first and foremost priority. The emphasis is also on the sustainable utilization of wildlife. Hunting is part and parcel of Africa – it is built into the life of our continent and the spirit of our people.
If we are to continue to promote the image of trophy hunting as a sensible conservation tool, then we as the hunting community must work hard to ensure that we practice what we preach and adhere to the ethical principles of “fair chase”. Members of hunting associations should be obliged to sign their national associations’ codes of conduct and constitutions. Hunting clubs and conventions should require exhibitors to be members in good standing of their national professional hunting associations, with all the local licensing requirements, which that entails. If we as hunting professional and outfitters are not acceptable to our peers, how can we represent our industry and sport with any credibility?
As trophy hunting operators, we are dedicated to our country, the community, the wildlife and the environment. We know that it is essential to utilize this land effectively for our people and our wildlife, and our hands-on experience has shown that the most beneficial and sustainable form of rural land utilization is, indeed, trophy hunting. Let us join forces to keep it that way.