Personal pleasure vs. Earth’s sixth extinction


Don Pinnock, in his latest article ‘Proof trophy hunters don’t save a single animal’ asks a series of tough questions with regards to whether trophy hunters are really protectors of biodiversity. We summarised a few of these questions…

Who gets the money?

In dollar terms, trophy hunting certainly accrues revenue, though it’s often difficult to follow the money. This is partly because of concern in the industry for what are seen as prying ‘animal rightists’ and partly because of intermittent overlaps with poaching and trafficking of animal parts.

Walter Palmer, who illegally shot Cecil the lion in Hwange National Park, provoking an international firestorm of protest, reputedly paid $50 000 to pull the trigger. However, none of this would have accrued to government, communities or conservation as the hunt was illegal and the money was paid to the landowner and professional hunter.

South Africa alone hosts around 9 000 hunters a year. The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, claims this is worth R6.2 billion annually (approx. $462 million), although a scientific study by Economists at Large puts it at R112 million (approx. $8.3 million; a small fraction of tourism revenue).

Is trophy hunting sustainable?

Wild populations in Africa have been dropping steadily since firearms tilted the balance in favour of hunters 200 years ago. In the last 20 years, however, species decline has been catastrophic. Most of this is caused by habitat loss from human population increases plus, particularly, massive poaching of elephants, rhinos and lions for Asian markets.

Is canned hunting the answer?

Lions have always topped the list of desirable prizes. As their population in the wild declined, the status of having a perfect lion to hang on the wall and brag about increased. Being mostly both rich and busy men, foreign hunters demanded shorter hunt times and an assured kill, for which they were prepared to pay top dollar. In South Africa, a solution was to farm lions like cattle. There are no completely trusted sources on the numbers of lions in captivity in South Africa. The reason is that not everyone who breeds predators is obliged to be a member of the South African Predator Association (SAPA) and not everyone who is a member provides reliable or updated stats.

Provincial governments, which ought to have some sort of record, don’t and they seem to rely on the figures from SAPA and hunting bodies. Its head, Pieter Potgieter, estimates the number of captive predators at between 6 000 and 8 000. Most of these, around 7 000, are lions — the others are tigers, cheetah, leopards, dogs and exotics held in around 200 facilities. Over the past decade, however, there have been disturbing leaks about the conditions under which these so called ‘canned lions’ are bred.

A film just released, ‘Blood Lions’, reveals the shocking realities behind this burgeoning business. Possibly as a response, the president of South Africa’s Professional Hunters’ Association, Hermann Meyeridricks, sent an email to its members stating that PHASA’s position on captive-bred lion hunting “is no longer tenable”. He says there has been little progress in getting the government and predator breeders to “clean up” the industry. He also acknowledges that opposition to such hunting is no longer restricted to “just a small if vociferous group of animal-rights activists” but that “the tide of public opinion is turning strongly against this form of hunting”. As a public relations exercise, captive-bred lion shooting (it can hardly be called hunting) has been a disaster. Added to the international fury about the killing of Cecil, it has led to a groundswell against all trophy hunting. Australia recently banned the import of lion parts or trophies; airlines are refusing to transport them; Born Free USA called on concerned citizens to write to the US Fish and Wildlife Service urging them to stop all lion trophy imports; and Europe’s Nordic Safari Club has removed all lion trophies hunted in South Africa from its official record books.

Is the only way to sustain wildlife in Africa to allow rich foreign hunters to kill it?

Humans are in the process of bringing about the Earth’s sixth extinction of life forms. From an African population of more than a million lions in the mid19th century, there are maybe 20 000 left in the wild. Around 36 000 elephants are falling to rifle bullets each year and over 1 000 rhinos were poached in the species’ heartland of Kruger Park last year.

In the face of such declines, can we really afford to kill, for personal pleasure, even one of this planet’s wild creatures?

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