We are more than just hunters

 In Features, Hunting

At Aru Game Lodges, we believe we are more than just hunters. There has been an obvious tension between hunters and anti-hunters for some time now with both interest groups claiming that their intention and methods are the best to protect nature and its wildlife.

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 misconceptions 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.

Conservation

The ex-President of NAPHA, Kai-Uwe Denker, explains that a common problem with accepting the notion of hunting for anti-hunting campaigners 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 part of the natural order.  The success and survival of species 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 species 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. But this could not be further from the truth. The real conservation concern should be the destruction of natural habitats by modern man. Industrialisation and expansion in the modern world has seen wide-scale destruction of animal life and habitats. Intensive agriculture, the pollution of air and water, road traffic, housing developments, regulation of watercourses, and various forms of industrialisation such as mining all take space and habitats from animals. Man has a need for resources that continues to grow.

Regulated hunting that removes a few members of a species a year cannot then be solely shouldered with the blame for decline in animal populations or destruction of habitats.

Trophy hunting

Arguments favoured by anti-hunting groups is that trophy hunting is neither ethically nor ecologically justifiable. They base these arguments 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. 

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. Animals that are past their prime are targeted; they are bulls who have fulfilled their reproductive role or older animals who are more likely to spread disease amongst the population. NAPHA encourages this hunting approach through 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. If it were not for our modern society, under natural circumstances, hunting would be 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. A clean shot from a firearm on the other hand is quick and almost painless for the animal. 

Hunting is often reduced to just “killing for sport” by cynics. But it is far from that, it is all about the experience of being out in nature, testing yourself against the wits of another being and appreciating the life that surrounds you. It is long stalks, missed shots and trying conditions. It is waiting for the right animal, wasting nothing and putting back what you take. 

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 conservation 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 minimal 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 those 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.

Conclusion

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.

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