I have traveled and worked in over a dozen African countries in the zoo and wildlife industry for more than 35 years. Africa has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and through my travels over the years, the fascination for Africa’s people and its wildlife is in my blood, making me feel as if I’m coming home every time I travel there.
To most Americans, Africa is referred to as a “country” rather than a huge complex continent encompassing every climatic zone, 56 countries, and well over 4,000 individual cultures. Due to this immense diversity, Africa’s wildlife conservation issues vary widely throughout the continent, with wildlife holding its own in some countries while suffering greatly in others.
There is no easy, one size fits all solution that’s works to fix the challenges facing wildlife’s survival. We here in the west tend to have an easy “solution” for all the wildlife problems in Africa, but rarely does that solution consider the a myriad of factors affecting the African people, who’s existence has been intertwined with their local wildlife for thousands of years. Africa’s problems are great, and may get worse thanks to these three individuals, their dastardly deed, and the resulting misguided outrage being perpetuated around the world against trophy hunting.
During the last half of July, I traveled to several locations in Zimbabwe including Hwange National Park, and stayed near the area where Cecil the lion was shot, to get a perspective on the development of the eco-safari industry in the area along the Zambezi River Valley and Hwange National Park. I wasn’t aware that Cecil had been shot until I returned to the US.
The death of Cecil the lion is truly a tragic event; we should all feel the loss of such a magnificent beast under such lawless circumstances.
Cecil was, in fact, lured out of Hwange National Park, first shot with a bow and arrow, followed by a rifle after suffering more than 40 hours before being found and finally dispatched. Those responsible should be, and are being punished for their illegal deeds. Both the professional hunter and the landowner are being charged with several criminal counts, including poaching, the professional hunter has lost his license for life, and both will likely receive jail time or very stiff fines for their illegal activities.
As for the dentist from Minnesota, his activities are being seriously scrutinized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see if he violated the Lacey Act, as well as by the Zimbabwean Parks Department, and if he is found to be party to this atrocity, he too will be charged, though I doubt he will be expedited to Zimbabwe to stand trial. His membership, along with the professional hunter’s membership in Safari Club International, one of the premier hunting organizations in the world, has been revoked.
Outraged animal rights organizations such as PETA think this dentist should be hanged, and all hunting in Zimbabwe should be suspended. Several misguided airlines such as Delta, American, and United quickly reacted to the PC crowd have said they will no longer fly big five trophies from Africa. This action is symptomatic of just what is wrong in the US and the world. The airlines chose to instantly take action in order to please a vocal minority rather than consider the potential cause and effect of their actions. So lets explore this a bit.
How much money do you think PETA, HSUS, and the long list of other animal right organizations contribute to conservation efforts in Africa? Not one dollar! How much money do you think eco-safaris (photographic safaris) and international conservation organizations contribute to conservation? NGO’s, non-governmental organizations, contribute considerably less than hunting in most countries with the exception of those countries who have banned hunting all together.
Those countries, such as Kenya, which banned hunting over 30 years ago, rely on eco-tourism and international conservation organizations (NGO’s) for their conservation dollars. Since hunting was banned, wildlife populations are down 70% in Kenya due to unintended consequences of the hunting ban. Normally, hunting safari operators acquire hunting concessions through a bidding process. As part of that contract, they are bound to protect the wildlife in their concession. The presence of these safari operators in any given concession has gone a long way towards protecting the wildlife over the years. Now, with their absence, no one is watching, poaching is rampant, and most governments do not have sufficient funds to staff their wildlife protection units. This is the case throughout most of Africa. This issue, coupled with rampant government corruption, means that wildlife has little or no chance of survival.
But back to my earlier question: how much money do you think hunters’ permit fees contribute to wildlife conservation in Africa? Latest estimates are well above two hundred million dollars. Yes that’s right, hunters contribute by far the largest amount of money to wildlife conservation in Africa and the rest of the world. Ok, you could say that they do this is for their own selfish purposes, and to some degree you would certainly be correct. But the fact remains if it were not for hunters traveling to Africa and spending their money on hunting fees and related expenses (including many who fly first class on the very airlines that now won’t carry their trophies), wildlife conservation in Africa would be much worse off than it is now.
In Zimbabwe, for example, the Parks Department receives not one cent from the central government. Their entire existence depends on hunting permit fees, along with a small amount from eco-tourism. Much of the time they cannot pay their staff, have no vehicles, and sometimes no fuel for the vehicles they do have, and yet, you find these people dedicated to preserving wildlife and working hand in hand with the safari operators to do their job. Without these safari operators aiding the game department wildlife would suffer even more.
Simply put, this outrage perpetuated by the misguided animal rights community to ban trophy hunting could very well lead to the annihilation of wildlife in Zimbabwe and much of Africa. Someone should ask PETA, HSUS and others why they don’t put their money where their mouth is and support wildlife conservation in Africa rather than sitting on the sidelines and spouting tripe about something they no nothing about.
Should we stop hunting lions in Africa? Possibly. The lion population in Africa is declining in all countries except South Africa. Numbers are down from 100,000 lions a couple of decades ago to 20-30,000 today. Numbers are declining, not due to licensed trophy hunting, but through human conflict due to the burgeoning population in Africa, retaliation for livestock predation, and disease being introduced from domestic dogs and cats. I never thought in my lifetime I would see the day when lions were put on the endangered list, but that’s exactly where they will be in the near future if the current trend continues.
Am I in favor of trophy hunting? Not really. I do not hunt, but until the world gets serious and comes up with a sound management plan that addresses all the issues affecting wildlife conservation throughout Africa, it may be our best option at the moment, as flawed as it may be.
Tanganyika Wildlife Park