Hunting is not poaching

Repressing hunting will only increase poaching, says Adri Kitshoff, CEO of the Professional Hunters’ Association of SA.

The US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) recently suspended the importation of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe for at least the rest of the year. The USFWS claims it was not able to make the positive findings required by the US Endangered Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to allow importation.

It said that its decision had also been based on the countries’ questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance, resulting in uncontrolled poaching. In Tanzania, in particular, there had been a catastrophic decline in African elephant numbers.

The USFWS also noted the poisoning last year of elephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Clearly, it was unaware that the poisoned elephants had been discovered by hunters, who brought it to the Zimbabwean authorities’ attention.

Of little consolation to hunters who have already taken an elephant in Tanzania this year and are now unable to take the trophy home, is that the USFWS recognises the importance of sustainable hunting to a country’s conservation efforts. This is why it does not have a problem with elephant trophy imports from South Africa or Namibia.

Missing from the statement is any mention of an attempt to engage with the wildlife authorities of Tanzania or Zimbabwe about the USFWS’s concerns. This omission is of grave concern to our association.

Effect on the economy
More than 60% of revenue generated from hunting in these countries comes from Americans, thus the USFWS’s decision will have a strong impact on their wildlife management. This is in effect one country dictating policy to another based on speculation and without properly engaging or consulting with those countries’ wildlife decision-making bodies. It is unlikely, moreover, that America can manage conservation in these countries any better than the Tanzanian or Zimbabwean authorities can.

Effect on wildlife
In 2010 Kenya attempted – and failed – to propose a zero quota on the exportation of Southern White Rhino trophies from Swaziland and South Africa. Thanks to fancy footwork by the Department of Environmental Affairs, hunting associations and environmentalists, South Africa was able to quash this proposal.

Here was a country with only 300 to 400 rhino in total, all of which came from South Africa, trying to impose sanctions on a country that is home to 90% of the world’s black and white rhino population, based entirely on reports about the abuse of the permit system and without considering what such a proposal could mean for South Africa’s wildlife.

Kenya is a good example of what happens to wildlife when hunting is banned. Before the ban in 1977, there were about 176 000 elephant and over 8 000 black rhino. Today, experts believe that Kenya has lost close to 80% of all its wildlife. The Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire, abolished hunting in 1984. The Northern White Rhino is now believed to be extinct and the forest elephant is a rarity.

Poaching is rampant in both countries. Likewise, before Tanzania’s ban on hunting in 1973, there were an estimated 380 000 elephant and 18 000 black rhino. By the time the ban was lifted in 1983, elephant numbers had dropped to 80 000 and rhino to fewer than 100. Following the unbanning, the elephant population increased to around 130 000 by 2009.

Wildlife suffers

It is counter-productive to target hunting in order to curb poaching and the USFWS’s actions will lead to the following predictable outcomes:

  • Anti-poaching patrols and law enforcement by hunting companies will be scaled down or terminated in many wildlife areas, due to the lack of funding that lawful hunting provides, or because of hunting outfitters closing shop.
  • Government game departments will lose the income they obtain through licence and concession fees, negatively affecting the implementation of anti-poaching and law enforcement measures.
  • Poor, rural communities will lose the income they earn through legal hunting, fuelling poaching. Human competition with animals for land will intensify, leading to animals being killed by the community or wildlife authorities as damage control measures.
  • Wildlife will not be viewed as an economic asset. As long as communities see value in wildlife, they will look after their natural heritage. 

Phone Adri Kitshoff on 021 667 2048.

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly