It seems like on a fairly regular basis there is a large outcry from the public about big game hunting in Africa. Disproportionally, it seems that these attacks are focused on attractive women (ex. 1, ex. 2, ex. 3) – but is certainly not limited to just women (ex. 1). This is an ongoing debate that will never be settled until there are no more animals left.
First, let me present my credentials: while I am not personally a hunter, I come from a family of hunters and grew up around hunting. My dad is an avid hunter, hunting deer and pheasants in Iowa, and taking many trips to hunt big game in the United States and abroad. I have joined him on two such trips, Zambia in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013. Both of the safaris were hard work – lots of walking, tracking and waiting for the right animal to come by.
In addition to coming from a pro-hunting family and participating in African safaris myself, I also spent two years living in a rural community in Zambia and a third year at a small national park in Zambia. I have seen wildlife conservation in action, and I realize that hunting plays a major role in successful management programs. Like many things, hunting must be managed in a responsible way in order to be beneficial.
*Disclaimer: Obviously, these are my opinions. This post contains images that anti-hunting activists might find disturbing.
How does killing something support conserving it?
- Carrying capacity is defined as the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain based on the resources (food, water, habitat) available in the environment. When the population of a species outgrows this capacity, there are often disease outbreaks, environmental destruction, and widespread starvation. The continued expansion of human populations has limited the space where wildlife can live, confining them to protected areas with limited resources to support a population that without outside management will only continue to grow. Many estimates put the population of elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana at twice what it can support[i]. Elephants are especially destructive, and when overpopulated destroy habitat that supports other wildlife.
- Economics are a huge driving factor in how hunting promotes conservation. Hunts like these cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Zimbabwe was expecting to earn about $60 million from trophy hunting in 2014, up from $45 million in 2013[ii]. In Zimbabwe, hunting elephants alone generates $15 million a year, according to a representative from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. And across Africa, it was estimated in 2010 that $77 million would be generated from the elephant quota of 1,540 animals set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)[iii]. Unfortunately, there is corruption and not all of the money goes to the programs that is supposed to support, but income from hunting does go to conservation programs, including funding wildlife protection officers, funding research projects, and supporting community initiatives for income generation and wildlife conservation.
- On a community level, people and villages are supported by income from hunting safaris. Almost all of the people staffing safari camps, from cooks to trackers and skinners are from a nearby community. In some cases, these people are former poachers who are now using their skills to help other people hunt animals. Safari camps traditionally give a large amount of meat to communities in the surrounding area (the rest is used in camp), which also prevents small-scale poaching for meat.
- Hunting safari companies are also able to fund major programs that prevent large-scale commercial poaching, especially of elephants and rhinos. These safari companies have the resources to fund these initiatives beyond what the local government does to prevent poaching, both large and small scale.
- Many of the national parks and preserves, in the U.S. and abroad were started at the urging of hunters. In the U.S. our national park system was started by Teddy Roosevelt, himself a noted big game hunter. Hunters recognize the need to protect the animals so that future generations can see these animals (and yes, maybe even shoot them). Hunters were some of the first people to realize that protections must be put in place to save animals from extinction.
Aren’t these animals endangered?
- There are different levels of ‘endangerment’. An animal might be highly endangered in one area, but overpopulated in another. The wildlife authorities in the country look at population counts, overall and localized. African elephants, lions, cheetah, are currently listed as vulnerable, white rhinos and leopards listed as near threatened, and cape buffalo are listed as least concern[iv]. So technically speaking, none of the animals that this young woman from Texas killed are endangered. Also, many rhino hunts are done with tranquilizer gun, so that the animal can be tracked and researched in order to understand the population and ensure their survival.
- Each country sets a quota for every safari area on the number of each species that can be taken. For example, one area might only have one elephant license because the population would not support taking more. However, in an area with overpopulation issues, the quota might be 15. Depending on the species, most of the time only animals of a certain size are taken (and often only males). Of course, there are always unscrupulous or unethical hunters and safari companies that bend these rules.
How can you kill such a beautiful, smart animal?
- Yes, elephants and other animals have been shown to be highly intelligent. I am certainly not advocating for the large-scale culling of elephant herds. As elephants age, their teeth fall out and are replaced by new teeth, up to six sets. After that there are no more replacements, and these elephants are unable to eat as efficiently (or at all) and slowly starve to death. By removing older elephants, you are preventing them from suffering from a long, drawn-out death from starvation.
- As mentioned above, many people in rural communities hunt for meat for their families. The most popular way to this is through snares. Snares are inherently cruel, and lead to the slow starvation of animals rather than a clean, quick kill shot. By providing a source of income and meat, illegal poaching is less enticing to most villagers. Local people also deal with ‘problem animals’ – elephants destroy crops that are often the only source of income for these families, so farmers destroy the elephants or other wildlife that is destroying their livelihood. Again, these are often cruel deaths. Research is ongoing on non-lethal ways to control problem animals, but until a solution is available, farmer will continue to protect their crops by any means they have available.
Why is a hunting safari more beneficial than a photographic safari? People will pay money just to look at these wonderful animals – you don’t have to kill them!
- Yes, it is true that photographic safaris are a huge draw for tourism in African countries. These safari companies also employ large numbers of local people and benefit local communities. Hunting has the added benefit of managing populations and keeping them healthy, not to mention hunting safaris are significantly more expensive. In Zimbabwe, an elephant hunt will cost about $30,000 in permit fees and for a professional hunter. A lion hunt will likely exceed $55,000[v]. These numbers do not include flights, lodging and money spent on extra sightseeing, souvenir buying or other costs. Compare to a photographic safari of the same length (ten days) without flights at about $5,000.
I believe there is a place for both hunting and photographic safaris in Africa. I believe that hunting plays a vital role in conservation for many reasons that benefit wildlife and local people. I know the system is far from perfect, with too much room for corruption, abuse and unethical treatment of animals. Hunting is one small part of wildlife conservation and one that must be maintained. I love and appreciate wildlife as much as the next person, but I realize that by removing a few animals from the population, it allows the population to thrive.
[i] Sports Afield (http://www.sportsafield.com/notes-from-afield/africas-elephant-explosion). Retrieved 3 July 2014
[ii] Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-16/zimbabwean-hunters-count-costs-of-u-s-ban-on-elephant-ivory.html). Retrieved 3 July 2014.
[iii] American Hunter (http://www.americanhunter.org/articles/hunting-saving-african-wildlife). Retrieved 3 July 2014
[v] Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-16/zimbabwean-hunters-count-costs-of-u-s-ban-on-elephant-ivory.html). Retrieved 3 July 2014.