State of the Hunting in Namibia by NAPHA President Danene van der Westhuyzen

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Ladies & Gentlemen – and all protocol observed The Namibia Professional Hunting Association marked its 45th year of existence in 2018. It is an achievement to be proud of. I know of no other African hunting association that has reached such a significant milestone.

NAPHA’s milestone is important because it speaks of our history, reminds us why we live the way we do and why we are where we are. It also reminds us to learn from mistakes and strive to become better. It helps us understand how people and societies behave. The past causes the present, and thus the future. Furthermore, history contributes to moral understanding, but more importantly, it shapes our identity. Namibia’s history includes a broad repertoire of skills and interests, cultivated over years of evolution, and the concurrent shaping of culture. In Namibia hunting is an integral part of a successful conservation model which benefits communities, wildlife and natural ecosystems. Twenty years ago Namibia’s total population was 1.655 million people, with a density of 2.01 persons per square km. Today, our population stands at 2.587 million people with a projected 3.686 million people by 2038.

Namibia is a country that still offers the marvelous wide open spaces, and habitats for all species to roam freely. But more importantly it has proven beyond any doubt that its conservation efforts for all game species through responsible hunting. Despite the growth of our human population, our elephant population has increased from 7000 to 23 500 over the last 20 years, the lion population in the northwest has increased from 20 to 150. We have the world’s largest free roaming populations of cheetah and black rhino, and well over 70% of Namibia is under one or other form of conservation management. This makes for one of the world’s largest contiguous areas of protected land. We have more wildlife in Namibia today than at any time in the past 150 years. Why is it then that the hunting community is facing such extreme pressure globally and on all fronts? NAPHA, as well as our Ministry of Environment and Tourism, has demonstrated abundantly and with ample merit that conservation through hunting WORKS!

Nevertheless we are faced with international bans on trophy imports, airline bans and charges on transporting hunting rifles and trophies, extreme social media uproar and aggressive anti-hunting campaigns to the extent of identifying hunters and sending them insulting hate mail and even death threats. The anti-hunting community likes to deceive the world and blames the decline in African wildlife numbers seen in other countries on hunting, but refuses to distinguish between legal hunting and poaching. The anti-hunting proponents don’t seem to want to understand that the real Armageddon for wildlife in Africa is the population explosion and the concurrent loss of wildlife habitat.

Not to mention the over-exploitation and growing environmental footprint from over-tourism. An increase in asphalt roads, electricity lines, water usage, mountains of garbage and a never decreasing list of requirements and needs to be met for the tourist wanting to observe game from already worn-out gravel roads. By contrast, one hunter seeks nothing more than unspoiled open landscapes, and wild animals unaffected by humans. Such a hunter brings the same amount of revenue into our country as roughly 2000 tourists.

The knife in the back of us hunters is a handful of uninformed people in Namibia who run anti-hunting campaigns, who rave on social media about hunters who share photos of animals that have been hunted, who post ugly comments about NAPHA because of our leopard census project, who crucify our Ministry of Environment and Tourism for moving lion to bigger and more protected habitats, and for granting licenses for problem animals because of human-wildlife conflict. Unfortunately the list goes on and on.

NAPHA members operate responsibly within the framework of the law, within the ethics of our profession and our code of conduct, and with the aim to protect wildlife and its habitat from modern society. I cannot even imagine the cost of reclaiming and restocking a formerly pristine wilderness area after it has been totally destroyed by poaching, overgrazing, timber cutting and over-tourism. In principle any system that is self-serving is also self-motivating and produces the best results. No businessperson worth their salt is stupid enough to neglect the resource on which they depend.

Who are the culprits when it comes to conservation? Who are the senseless killers? Is it those who oppose hunting or is it the poacher that kills wildlife out of poverty? Is it me who selectively hunts old males, thereby raising money to protect all the wildlife and their habitat, or those who publish wrong information or who are raising millions of dollars to misinform the public and demonise hunting? A lie doesn’t become the truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it is accepted by the majority. Proffering baseless assertions as truth is not only immoral and unethical, it also undermines the stability of our democratic society. Reliable information is the bedrock of any institution, be it science, government or private enterprise. If our citizens cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction, then the entire project of civilisation turns to dust. Mainstream media outlets also ought to have a better understanding of their responsibility to the public and should refuse to signal-boost these kinds of outright lies.

Ladies & gentlemen, I want to also throw a rock in the bush here today, hoping that an angry leopard won’t jump out, with a subtle warning and hopefully leave you with some food for thought…

With all of these onslaughts going on, our wildlife has never been more vulnerable, and our hunting community has never been more weak and desperate.

We are constantly looking for means and ways and arguments to uphold and save our businesses, our hunting community and most importantly our passion and our history. And thus, we have been hammering and abusing the whole sustainability concept – we use money and meat and harvesting horns as the constant arguments for hunting, but let’s face it, they are the spin-off’s which contribute to conservation. Have you ever been able to explain to someone WHY you really hunt? Isn’t it time we become brave and voice this sufficiently as well? And not only by hiding behind the money-driven concept…

NAPHA members play a leading role in conservation. We invest in and conduct studies and scientific assessments, and as science progresses, our members are the final implementers. However, many people tend to ignore our local knowledge, which is vital in conservation. – why is this going to waste?

And yes, it is an indisputable fact that hunting provides the necessary economic incentive to conserve our wilderness areas and to justify them against the pressures of alternative use like agriculture and livestock keeping. Hunting is the ONE THING that preserves habitat – and without a healthy and natural habitat, we won’t have any wildlife left. We do not merely hunt, we are also nature lovers who strive for sustainable and ethical hunting methods that contribute to conservation strategies.

BUT ladies & gentlemen – Hunting is ALSO an indelible part of our history and has its place in teaching us who we are. It provides us with an expansive sense of what it means to be a human being, where we fit into the circe of life, our rightful role of participating in nature, and therefor representing the fact that no being is omnipotent or invulnerable. It tells us that as powerful and dominant as even the kings and emperors of their respective domains, one day, they too will be subject to failure and collapse. We are anchored to this world just as the smallest insect is, and as such our fates are entwined. We all will experience the wheel of natural progression. Hunting makes us realise our place in this world. Just as Moufasa was telling Simba to return to reclaim the throne, he also told Simba that he must once more embrace the realities of life, and find his place in the world. To this effect, all of us, as hunters, have a role to play in modern day society. We must facilitate the interaction that allows others to enjoy true wilderness experiences. Experiences that change people….and have a restorative power which is meaningful into todays cramped world.

In the end we conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. And we understand only what we are taught. I am convinced that if you want to save something – your soul, your heart, your relationships, your marriage, your family, your country or the world – you stand up and fight. No excuses, no detours, no debates, no patience, you stand up and say, enough is enough! And this is what we will do.

One of my favourite antelopes is the gemsbok (Oryx gazella). This large and beautiful Namibian antelope has a striking appearance with its distinct coloration and long spear-like horns. But its unique adaptation to harsh conditions, where scarce water and intense heat are the norm, sets it apart from the others. The gemsbok was chosen as Namibia’s national animal because of its courage, elegance and pride; the national coat of arms bears the image of this unmistakable desert dweller. It is Namibia’s most formidable swordsman, and so are we, the hunters – especially the ones with the NAPHA logo on their website…

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