From half-way around the world, the e-mail said, “I’m in Botswana right now and they have just closed down hunting in the Okavango Delta—truly unbelievable.”
It can’t be! This was the storied Okavango Delta, the destination of dreams, home of African safaris, the very soul of man’s predator-prey connection to nature.
The date was Sept. 4, 2009.
Could African governments be eliminating or seriously reducing hunting opportunities? Was it possible the very industry which created sustainable-use conservation, jobs, a viable economy, and a regular source of protein for so many was being closed?
The answer is yes.
However, as is typical in wildlife management and conservation matters, it’s not a simple “yes.” Understanding why the anti-hunting movement is gaining ground in Africa is far from one-dimensional. It’s a multi-faceted scenario, replete with foreign influence, international rule-making, evolving government leadership and programs, targeted propaganda campaigns, and a healthy dose of apathy.
In the early 1990s, notable African figures Peter Capstick and Peter Hitchins lamented the growing American influence there. Hitchins had “very sharp words” for Americans who were trying to run South Africa’s wildlife management—encouraging anti-hunting sentiment.
The anti-hunting agenda is being pushed in Africa. And, it has reached high enough levels that many who make their living directly through hunting now hesitate to speak openly. My requests for interviews were regularly met with responses like, “I can’t talk about that right now.” Other requests to noted authorities went unanswered.
In Botswana, a well-established Professional Hunter recently revealed all hunting concessions and permits were being “re-tendered” for non-consumptive use only…“after 40 years of sustainable government hunting quota allocation.” (Note: Some concessions will continue hunting until current licenses expire.) And sources who would rather remain nameless, for obvious reasons, point to the October 2009 presidential elections as at least partial reason for the intense politics involved in the overhaul, noting the involvement of anti-hunting groups and their influence—backed with funds—largely from America and Europe.
Craig Boddington, thought by many to be America’s pre-eminent African hunter, has been on more than 80 safaris. He pointedly says the closure of lion hunting in Botswana, for instance, is the result of anti-hunting influence from the large photo-tourism industry in that country.
News and rumors from Namibia circulated earlier this year that leopard and cheetah hunting opportunities were dwindling due to increasing pressure and influence from groups such as the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
And, in fact, leopard and cheetah hunting were closed. The Namibian Government’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism established a moratorium on issuing cheetah and leopard permits in April and June 2009, respectively.
In fairness, Boddington noted, “Namibia’s moratorium on leopard hunting was due to the simple fact they have been exceeding their CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) quota of 250 sport-hunted leopards annually, thus dipping into the next year’s quota. The leopard closure was enacted so they could catch up.” The Namibian Professional Hunting Association’s Executive Committee agreed to support that decision.
As anti-hunting discussions tend to be passionate, it’s important to note there are also good wildlife management efforts taking place in Africa. Not all closures or reductions are the result of anti-hunting sentiment.
“The cheetah closure in Namibia, however,” Boddington elaborated, “was definitely caused by anti-hunting influence, and it’s a tragedy for the cheetah because they no longer have value [and] won’t be tolerated when they take livestock and privately owned game.”
As Boddington noted, there is a growing list of attacks from Africa’s nature photographers. In a separate response where the author asked for their identity to be withheld, a well-known African wildlife photographer, who is pushing hard against hunting, was identified as a close adviser to the country’s president. Clearly, the battle between hunting and photo safaris is significant.
In a recent conversation, Tony Makris, host of the television show “Under Wild Skies,” said, “…lots of money from anti-hunting groups outside of Africa is going to people and organizations that want hunting to end. The anti-hunting effort in Africa is broad, but they target species they can impact most readily—the big cats, elephants and rhino—species around which they can most easily build their emotional appeal and propaganda campaigns.” Makris categorized Africa’s photo-safari contingent as “rabid anti-hunters.”
Familiar anti-hunting and animal welfare organizations are readily named as active participants in the anti-hunting movement in Africa—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Animal Liberation Front (ALF), HSUS, IFAW, etc. And, according to some industry insiders, they appear to be infiltrating conservation Non-Governmental Organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and CITES.
Don MacLauchlan, International Resources Director for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, has attended CITES meetings for almost two decades. He observes that the anti-hunting groups are becoming more active, while the pro-hunting groups are sending fewer representatives to these important meetings where international agreements and policies on wildlife management are made.
“The anti-hunting groups are taking a much more active role in these meetings to influence decisions and inject their philosophy onto the world platform,” MacLauchlan said. “There are fewer pro-hunting groups in attendance.”
The result is less science-based management information and more emotion-based arguments being heard in the committees. The critical reality is that the anti-hunters are raising and spending money to spread their views and influence and the hunting community isn’t keeping up. MacLauchlan implores, “We must stay vigilant!”
Without exception, the experts interviewed for this article emphasized the world is interconnected—what happens in Africa will have a decided impact in America and elsewhere. And they agreed hunting plays a key role in maintaining the balance between animals and their habitat.
“If hunters don’t contribute to keeping the balance, governments initiate culling programs to reduce over-population, the local people receive nothing from the trophy fees, and the animals are usually left on the ground,” Makris said.
He points out that when hunters take African game, the outfitters earn money, employ and feed local people and patrol their concession areas to help stop poaching.
Makris notes that hunters typically spend thousands of dollars per day. “Photographers,” he said, “spend hundreds. If the anti-hunters are successful in destroying the existing equation, they will be doing it at the peril of the local people and wildlife.”
The reason: Wildlife competes with local people for resources and destroys crops and livestock. The current hunting system works because hunters' dollars give value to wildlife, so local people are tolerant, affording them some protection. Without that income, the animals lose their value and become pests rather than resources.
One African PH said there really isn’t much of a pro-hunting movement from within Africa as most Africans don’t really care about wildlife, except as a food source.
So, who is standing up for hunting in Africa? Clearly, African professional hunter organizations and some sportsmen’s groups are working to countermand the anti-hunters, as are groups like Safari Club International (SCI), the Dallas and Houston Safari Clubs, NRA, Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI), The Conservation Force, and the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities.
Hunters and conservationists who care about Africa’s wildlife, and who want future generations to enjoy the vast and majestic animals of that mystical and inspiring place, must focus on this festering issue and become better organized—and better funded—to counter the growing anti-hunting movement. There are indeed global ramifications.
The author is President of Chaffin Communications, Board Chairman of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, and has spent more than 30 years combined in wildlife management and the hunting, fishing and shooting industries.