We are more than just hunters
There has been an obvious tension between hunters and anti-hunters for some time now. Both interest groups claim that their intention is to protect nature and its habitat. This is not the case.
Social media has been adding fuel to this fire, ultimately pitting one interest group against the other. It has also made any sophisticated debate between interest groups rather impossible. This post seeks to explain what true hunting really is, what the hunting industry does to preserve nature, and to debunk assumptions surrounding trophy hunting. The pro-hunting argument will be supported by and adapted from the latest position paper put forward by the Executive Committee of the Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA EXCO). The findings will show that hunters are in actual fact nature lovers who seek to adopt sustainable and ethical hunting methods that contribute towards conservation strategies; with the aim of protecting wildlife and its habitat from modern man.
The President of NAPHA, Kai-Uwe Denker, explains that a common problem with accepting the notion of hunting for anti-hunting campaigns is that they struggle to accept death as a natural way of life. Denker’s argument is that environments revolve around food chains. It is a natural cycle to kill or forage for one’s food, and the notion of “eat or be eaten” and “hunt or be hunted” is an ancient philosophy. All rejuvenation on Earth rests on the principle of birth, growth and death. We have to accept that death is inevitable, and a fundamental precondition for rejuvenation in nature. The majority of deaths in nature are brought about by physical killing – a reality necessary for any specie to survive. Death keeps the natural balance intact. We must remember that man was also part of the natural world before he turned to nature-destroying developments and technologies.
Anti-hunting groups argue that hunting goes against conservation efforts. This could not be further from the truth. Hunters found that the real conservation concern is the destruction of natural habitats by the modern man. Industrialisation and expansion in the modern world has seen wide-scale destruction of animal life and habitats. Research shows that the decline of animal species and the destruction of habitats is the true reason for animal misery. The major cause for this misery includes, but is not limited to: intensive agriculture, the pollution of air and water, road traffic, housing developments, regulation of watercourses, and various forms of industrialisation such as mining. Man has a growing need for limitless resources. This has hugely impacted on natural habitats, which is why the Principle of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources came into effect.
We can therefore infer that regulated hunting cannot be identified as having a negative impact on nature and animal populations. Hunters certainly do not contribute to the large-scale killing of natural environments.
Arguments favoured by anti-hunting groups is that trophy hunting is neither ethically nor ecologically justifiable. They base this argument on two theories. Firstly, they believe trophy hunting of threatened species like the lion and elephant occur regularly. Secondly, they hold that trophy hunting selectively targets individual animals, which are particularly important for the population. Hunters counter this argument with the following thoughts;
With regard to the first theory, species such as lion and elephant suffer the most from loss of habitat. The fact is that lion and elephant need vast territories. This has resulted in constant conflict with human expansion and agricultural activities. Rural communities have taken their own measures to remove these species from what they consider to be their land. But Namibia’s adoption of the Principle of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources has resulted in alternative forms of land use for rural communities, which in turn helps in protecting the habitats of these species. Trophy hunters directly contribute to nature conservation by allowing communities to compensate crop and stock losses via income from hunting quotas. A happy medium is therefore reached for everyone.
The second theory that trophy hunting targets individual animals that are important for a population is a weak argument, because trophy hunting only removes a very small percentage (0.6-2%) of an animal population. Species past their prime are targeted; they have fulfilled their reproductive role and can cause more harm to themselves and the population by incurring disease among other issues. NAPHA encourages this hunting approach by the introduction of the Game Fields Medal, which aims to create incentives to allow well-endowed specimens to grow old and fulfil their natural role within the population.
It is important that conflict species like elephant and lion who are threatened by habitat loss and human/wildlife conflict, have a financial value to secure their long-term protection. Human interference in natural cycles has resulted in disturbance of the natural balance and exponential increase of certain species, resulting in horrible diseases. Reduction of numbers by sustainable use is the obvious measure to keep the natural balance intact.
Regulated trophy hunting is advantageous for the protection of habitats and has no negative ecological implications, as is proven by the success of Namibia’s Sustainable Use Concept.
Emotions of hunting
Radical anti-hunters consider hunting an “indispensable evil” with regards to successful conservation strategies. They also label hunters as “immoral”. But hunters are convinced that sustainable and ethical hunting is an important and morally just doing. Hunters are not prepared to accept being labelled as the “bad ones”, the “indispensable evil” of conservation.
Hunting is not instilled into a person; it originates from within the nature of mankind. It is an ancient instinct. An important aspect of human evolution is deeply embedded in human instincts. Hunting is therefore, under natural circumstances, a totally normal occupation.
However, man has a conscience and the ability to feel compassion. Hunters clearly state that hunting should be conducted according to very strict legal regulations, ethical behaviour and always be sustainable.
The majority of the open-minded general public agrees that hunting for meat has its role in conservation, while trophy hunters are made out to be the rotten apples amongst hunters. There is clearly a misunderstanding of what trophy hunting is. We have to look into the past to understand this.
Ancient practices of killing animals was more inhumane than today’s practices. The slaying of the animal was painful and cruel, because hunters had to get close enough to kill an animal with primitive weapons such as clubs, snares, spears, and bow and arrows. This led to the development of the firearm, which made hunting much easier and killed animals more humanely and effectively.
Hunting is often reduced to “killing for meat” by cynics. Trophy hunting is all about the experience of being out in nature while securing meat. The trophy hunter spends time in search of one specific, cunning old animal and once found, tries to outwit this special animal. He has to refrain from shooting the first animal he comes across. If he is unsuccessful in finding that special animal, he is prepared to return empty handed. Trophy hunting, in principle, is obtaining meat under more challenging conditions. The trophy hunter is the dedicated high-end tourist willing to travel to remote regions and hunt under adverse conditions, and even prepared to return empty handed. This kind of low-impact high-output client is indispensable for true wilderness conservation.
A question that anti-hunters ask is: why do trophy hunters shoot animals like lion and leopard if their meat is not consumed? The answer lies in the interaction of all creatures in nature. In order to survive under natural conditions any creature has to fit into the natural hierarchy. Homo sapiens were inherently made to fear these dangerous animals, because the survival of man depended on being alert and cautious in order to protect its offspring and its livestock. Even today, it is necessary to scare off dangerous wildlife from communities in rural areas. It is not realistic to think that these wild animals won’t prey on humans if hungry. Early hunters had to rely on their boldness to create a natural fear for man. This understanding between man and animal is necessary for coexistence to be possible.
All true hunters agree that there is a fine line between skillful “fair chase” hunting and unfair human technical superiority – crossing this line results in a negative deviation from true hunting.
Hunting and economic upliftment
The Communal Conservancy Program, initiated by the Namibian government, is widely acknowledged as a good example of practical nature conservation through the concept of sustainable use. This program is aimed at helping rural communities who have little job opportunities, but have an abundance of natural resources such as wildlife. This abundance of wildlife aids job-creation, creates additional incomes, and provides incentives for practical nature conservation. By placing a financial value on wildlife, it lends support to conservation efforts and a tolerance of these wild animals. This is precisely why Namibia’s government announced in March 2016 that it opposes any call to ban or restrict hunting and the export of wildlife products from Namibia. The country’s economic stability is dependent on the wildlife business. However, all hunting in Namibia is based on game counts and a management plan, which has to be approved by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism via strict quotas. Communal conservancies within Namibia have derived the following benefits from hunting:
- Conservancies generate more than N$70 million per annum which directly benefits rural communities
- Conservancies generate 2000 permanent jobs and 3500 temporary jobs
- 13% of Namibia’s population live within conservancies
This holds that the continuation of trophy hunting is of critical importance for the financial sustainability of the program. It can be concluded that the Communal Conservancy Program has dramatically contributed to social upliftment and economic empowerment of the Namibian people. Strictly regulated trophy hunting is one of the most important pillars of the sustainable use principle.
Namibia relies heavily on natural resources in order to generate economic growth. Tourism and hunting has always contributed a significant chunk of the country’s GDP. Also, 27% of all employment in Namibia is directly attributable to the travel and tourism industry.
A study conducted by the WWF on 77 Communal Conservancies in Namibia between 1998 and 2013 found many economic benefits in trophy hunting. The title of this study is ‘Complimentary Benefits of Tourism and Hunting to Communal Conservancies in Namibia’. The authors found that:
- Conservancies generate benefits from hunting within 3 years of formation opposed to after 6 years for tourism
- The main benefits of hunting are income for conservancy management and meat for the community at large, while tourism benefits include salaried jobs at lodges
- A ban on trophy hunting significantly reduced the number of conservancies that were able to cover their operating costs
- Tourism and hunting combined can provide the greatest incentives for conservation
The findings of this study weighed with the financial gains from trophy hunting indicate that a ban on trophy hunting would be detrimental to the economic stability of Namibia as a whole. The majority of conservancies would no longer be financially viable. This could result in severe consequences, such as an increase in poaching and the natural habitats of plains game and the big five would be lost to accommodate for cattle and sheep farming. This would also exacerbate the human/wildlife conflict, and the slaughter of these animals on farms.
According to government studies, hunting on commercial farms in Namibia generates in excess of N$351 million per annum. A ban on trophy hunting would result in a massive financial loss, as well as 100% job loss on exclusive hunting farms. This translates to a loss of 3500 jobs in a country with a high unemployment rate (28%). It goes without saying that hunting is an integral part of Namibia’s business plan. If hunting were to be banned, unemployment rates would increase dramatically, the number of communal conservancies would dwindle, and poverty and crime (including poaching) would increase.
Hunting and education
The NAPHA Executive Committee is prioritising the education on hunting aspect, so that conservation efforts can be maintained in Namibia. Hunters are taught to follow a rigid code of practices, in order to promote present and future conservation programs. But, this can only be successfully achieved once anti-hunters and hunters have entered into rational and unemotional debate. Education on nature topics, as well as its interaction and interrelation is incredibly important for creating a healthy environment. The Principle of Sustainable Use needs to be more widely understood.
There is a serious need to see that ideological campaigns on social media platforms are detrimental to life in Africa; of both man and wildlife. These campaigns intentionally hurt conservation efforts by generating mass public outcry, and withdrawing much-needed public funding.
Hunting practices do need to be monitored. There is no place for ego-driven personalities. The few hunters who live according to their own laws need to know that they are harming the image of the hunting industry. Hunting has to be based on sustainability, and not alter the ecological function of habitats and the species living therein.
While hunters need to be educated on ethical conduct pertaining to hunting sustainably, they also need to learn to respect the opinions of the anti-hunting sector. For the interest of practical conservation, both interest parties must delegate with mutual respect and rationality. The common goal of caring for nature can therefore be attained.
It must also be noted that the collaring of wild animals to claim possession over them, and personalising these wild animals with names undermines the Principle of Sustainable Use. Interest groups involved with these practices must realize that this development is impeding on conservation efforts and the hunting industry. When an animal is collared and adopted, it exaggerates the domesticity of these animals. They are wild, and cannot be domesticated. They should be allowed to roam freely in nature. They hunt for food or are hunted as food in a natural life cycle. The outrage of hunting such animals stems from the perception that they are domesticated animals. These animals do not belong to anyone. They are not commercial products. Collars used for scientific purposes have helped humans learn more about animals, especially about how to protect and manage threatened populations. But there is a downside. Realistically, animals wearing collars on a long-term basis are subject to negative consequences such as fights, pain and death. The process of collaring is also extremely stressful to the animal; lions in particular suffer the most. The less humans interfere with animal behaviour, the better their chance of survival.
Through this discourse NAPHA EXCO hopes they have provided an honest background on true hunting methods, how the hunting industry contributes to conservation efforts that are essential to maintaining the sustainability of nature in Namibia, and debunked the myths surrounding trophy hunting. The most basic right of wild animals is to lead a natural life in a natural environment according to the laws of nature. The destruction of natural habitats by modern man is the biggest threat to this basic animal right.
In Namibia, the Principle of Sustainable Use of Natural Resources has hugely contributed to social upliftment and economic empowerment in remote rural regions, thus resulting in the protection of natural habitats. This success story should not be jeopardized by purely ideological campaigns, and without providing a workable alternative. The hope is to unite the hunting fraternity, the non-hunting conservation groups, and the animal rightist movement in a common goal towards achieving practical conservation through rational debate. Hunters do not merely hunt, they are also nature lovers who seek to adopt sustainable and ethical hunting methods that contribute towards conservation strategies; with the aim of protecting wildlife and its habitat from modern man.