The trigger vs shutter debate

Taking pictures might sound more civilised to some people, but hunting remains the driving force behind wildlife and habitat protection under most conditions, writes Roelof Bezuidenhout.

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Hunting, which at first almost wiped out game, has been pivotal in increasing the number of wild animals. Today, there are many more than what there were in the early 1900s, after the rinderpest. Wildlife photography came into the picture only recently. But while it plays a role in conservation, it cannot control population growth or problem animals, and it cannot be profitably practised everywhere.

Some people get a thrill from hunting in the bush, while others prefer photography. The trigger versus shutter debate is pointless; hunting and photography should co-exist, as they both have a role to play in conservation. It is clearly easier to slate hunters, as they practise a blood sport. Despite this term, however, hunting is humane in terms of the law of the jungle. Nonetheless, certain hunters have been guilty of inexcusable acts, showing little respect for the quarry.Generally, though,trophy animals are past their prime.

And commercial culling of animals for the meat market is mostly done by marksmen who kill cleanly – resulting in a better death than that administered in abattoirs. This is why hunters are puzzled by consumers who buy meat products but are against the killing of animals. So, establishments that offer both hunting and photo tourism may try to keep the hunting hidden from their tourists, for fear of bad publicity.

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Clean image
Wildlife photographers and film makers are not squeaky clean. It is easy for them to misrepresent the true image of Africa’s wilds. Also, research has shown that not all lensmen understand what happens in the bush. They’re not necessarily conservation-minded, being primarily interested in the Big Five. They may not even know the difference between a park run on conservation management principles and one that unethically draws tourists by improving game viewing via gross overstocking, providing supplementary feed, or clearing bush.

Taking pictures does not draw blood but trophy hunting creates incentives for wildlife and habitat protection under scenarios in which photography cannot.Any limitation on hunting would diminish the profitability of protecting wildlife, particularly in large, remote regions. This would lead to a move back to livestock farming at the expense of conservation and put an end to the fledgling game meat industry. The health value of game meat is still undeveloped. Unfortunately, stricter regulations in the harvesting and trade in antelope could eventually stop this from becoming an affordable source of protein for poor communities.

According to Dr Peter Lindsey, lead author of a study on the role of trophy hunting in sub-Saharan Africa, photographic ecotourism generates greater revenues than trophy hunting, and where large numbers of tourists visit, more employment opportunities arise. However, hunting generates more income per client. Consequently, the money made from hunting comes at a lower environmental cost in terms of littering, fossil fuel use and habitat conversion for infrastructure.Trophy hunting on private land has been instrumental in conservation and promoting wildlife and could play a much bigger role in many African countries.

This is if solutions for ethical, biological and social problems could be found – including corruption and the failure to allocate enough benefits to communities. Researchers suggest that where trophy hunting has performed poorly, it is a result of human population pressure, the depletion of wildlife due to the bush-meat trade, lack of privately owned land, and the decreasing size of areas of wilderness. In addition, not all African countries have capitalised on US hunters, or offer high- value, dangerous species.

Today, according to researchers, trophy hunting is self-regulating, because modest off-take is required to ensure high trophy quality and thus marketability of the area. Low off-take rates mean that trophy hunting can play a key role in the conservation of endangered species. Revenues from regulated hunting can provide incentives for careful management, protection and reintroductions such as those on private ranches in South Africa.But one fact that everyone can agree on is that it’s as difficult to build a thriving wildlife photography business as it is to build a successful hunting operation. Both take years and depend on good service and reputable agents.

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