Ron Thomson has written a refreshing and hard-hitting book to remind hunters, game ranchers and ordinary nature lovers where they fit into the bigger conservation picture. Roelof Bezuidenhout reviews a book that pulls no punches.
One can only hope that someone high up in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism reads Ron Thomson’s latest book, Managing Our Wildlife Heritage – and then slips the minister a few urgent notes based on the views of this respected wildlife manager, conservation authority and professional hunter. Thomson contends emotion should be taken out of the wildlife/hunting argument, as most emotionally-inspired public demands only compound the complexity of proper wildlife management.
Clearly, Thomson has it in for animal rightists, but he also has some practical advice about what society calls “conservation” (see box: Wildlife Warnings). He suggests society’s wildlife management priorities should start with the wise use of soil and plants, before we focus on wild animals. “The demise of the passenger pigeon in the US has been blamed on market hunters who supplied nestling pigeons to East Coast restaurants. But the real cause of this bird’s disappearance lies in the massive expansion of agriculture towards the end of the nineteenth century.
This pigeon became extinct because its habitat was destroyed,’’ he explains. He points out that while American wildlife culture still opposes market hunting, it would be dangerous to impose that culture on other nations. “In southern Africa hunting is an important tool, without which it would be impossible to manage wildlife. But hunting won’t survive here unless society understands its values and benefits to wildlife, and unless there is a groundswell of public opinion that openly supports it.
“There’s even some merit in canned lion hunting. If stopping it causes game ranchers to give up and convert their farms to conventional agriculture, it would probably do more harm to wildlife than ordinary nature lovers would like to see. Canned hunting has created a minor industry that provides locals with jobs and income. It’s no different from other canned pursuits, such as rearing trout in hatcheries for release into streams for anglers, or selling surplus rhino and buffalo to game ranchers who get high-paying hunters to shoot them.
“If we are to deny one canned hunting practice then we should deny them all, but that would cause a collapse in the wildlife industry and two-thirds of the country’s wildlife area will revert to conventional farming. I’m in two minds about the canned lion controversy – except I could never call a man who shoots a lion under those circumstances a hunter,’’ Thomson concludes. Contact Magron Publishers on (012) 253 0521, or e-mail [email protected]