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Loaded for Bear: Animal rights activists and climate change deniers have a few things in common

Loaded for Bear: Animal rights activists and climate change deniers have a few things in common

Here we go again. Having failed last year to legislate a ban on the import of hunting trophies, UK MPs are trying to ram through a similar bill while once again ignoring African voices and conservation scientists. It is a campaign based on lies and distortions, bringing to mind the rejection of science by climate change denialists.

In the UK, about 350,000 deer are hunted or legally culled each year. These include red deer stag hunted for sport in the Scottish highlands at places like the Royal Family’s rural estate in Balmoral.

Yet the hunting of charismatic African species such as elephants and lions has elements of the British chattering classes in a froth, despite the overwhelming evidence that regulated trophy hunting is an important conservation tool in remote and rural areas on the world’s poorest continent. 

Animal welfare campaigners and British MPs are once again trying to ban the import of trophies taken from such hunts – typically a mounted head or pelt – on the false grounds that trophy hunting is a threat to endangered species.

It simply is not; an inconvenient truth that animal rights activists ignore or distort. Like climate change denialism, this is a rejection of science to advance an agenda that will have a detrimental effect on conservation and the environment.

Facts matter, and conservation scientists such as Amy Dickman of Oxford University and others – experts who don’t hunt and have no skin in the game – have been the public face of reason in these “debates” in the UK.

And the facts speak for themselves. The biggest threats to African megafauna such as lions, elephants and rhinos are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, and human/wildlife conflict, with climate change an emerging threat.

Properly regulated trophy hunting is not a threat to any African species, including the ones that really trigger emotions up North.

There is evidence that trophy hunting of lions can have an adverse effect on local populations if relatively young breeding males are taken. 

But overall, trophy hunting and sport hunting more generally in recent decades has been a plus for African wildlife, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.

As Dickman and other conservation scientists such as Craig Packer have noted, much of the remote habitat in countries such as Tanzania is ill-suited for other kinds of wildlife revenue such as photographic tourism. 

Hunting bans in such areas provide no incentive to conserve either habitat or wildlife.

The comparatively rich wildlife in Tanzania, where hunting is allowed – compared with Kenya where it was banned in 1977 – is one of many examples. Yet while Kenya’s wildlife population has since plunged, its policymakers remain in the embrace of animal welfare NGOs and their denial of science and history.

South Africa’s private game farms – many of which are dedicated solely to hunting – have seen wildlife populations climb and flourish.

Trophy hunting – which generally targets old, non-breeding males – is no more a threat to wildlife in Botswana, Tanzania or South Africa than it is in Scotland.

But there is no comparable legislative initiative to ban deer hunting in the UK or prevent foreign hunters from exporting their trophies from the highland landscape.

I wrote about this issue roughly a year ago when MPs first voted in favour of the ban, pointing out that some animals are more equal than others. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: UK trophy hunting import ban: Some animals more equal than others

That effort eventually withered and died in the House of Lords, but the emotions stirred by the issue remain red-hot. So here we go again, with a second reading of the new bill debated in the House of Commons last Friday. 

One of the points often lost in the debate is that UK residents represent only a fraction of the foreign hunters who come to Africa each year. The big numbers hail from places like Texas.

So even if trophy hunting was an extinction-level threat to elephants or Cape buffalo – which it isn’t – banning such imports to a country that accounts for only about 5% or less of the total is hardly going to move the needle.

African government officials and communities are increasingly annoyed by this legislative circus, which is a legacy of the fallout over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by American dentist Walter Palmer in 2015. The furore over that incident also pointedly annoyed and mystified Africans.

Read more in Daily Maverick: A Tale of Two Cats, Cecil and Sylvester

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi told Sky News last week that the proposed ban was “condescending” and a “resurgence of a colonial conquest”.

Botswana also threatened to send 10,000 elephants to Hyde Park so “… Britons can try living with them.”

The barbed point of that “threat” was that the British public does not have to contend with wild animals that are huge and dangerous. Foxes raiding garbage bins hardly compare.

Opposition to trophy hunting, it must be said, is perfectly legitimate and people in the free world are free to speak their minds. Some people – mostly drawn from the urban middle classes in affluent, developed economies – simply abhor hunting. And trophy hunting touches a raw nerve in ways that hunting for meat consumption does not. 

But you lose the moral high ground when – like the climate change denialists of the US far right – you dismiss empirical research and the advice of scientists to push your agenda or gin up public opinion.

This also puts such animal welfare activists in the same league as “Creationists” who deny the overwhelming scientific facts of evolution. 

You also lose the moral high ground when a former colonial power closes its ears to the voices of people from affected countries in Africa.

As Botswana’s president said, it is “condescending”. Not to mention hypocritical, when you think of those 350,000 deer mowed down in the UK each year – an average of about 1,000 a week.

The UK, through its democratically elected parliament and government, is of course entitled to ban the import of anything it wants.

But wrapping this initiative in the blanket of “conservation” is disingenuous.

A more honest approach would be to say that we realise this may have some adverse impacts on conservation and there is opposition to the bill – and virtually no support – from the countries targeted. But we simply find the trophy hunting of African wildlife more barbaric than the hunting of domestic stags.

The trouble, of course, is that such honesty would not translate into policy or law because it would wither on the vine of its transparent shortcomings. DM

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  • Aragorn Eloff says:

    What absolute nonsense. Dickman is an industry shill with a background in climate science denialism and her citations are usually of other free market grifters and smog bloggers. The trophy hunting industry has spent decades perfecting its ‘regulated trophy hunting = conservation’ trope, but it’s pure nonsense, as well-known anti-lobbyist and exposer of grift Jared Kukura has pointed out in a recent meticulously referenced piece (which you can search for online), ‘Amy Dickman, climate denier ally, obscures the truth about the trophy hunting debate’.

    It’s ironic that you cast animal rights activists – who have a large amount of credible conservation/ecological science on their side on this issue – with climate denialists when Dickman has LITERALLY been affiliated with industry climate science denialism. Up is down and left is right in the topsy-turvy world of biased online commentary I guess.

    • John Nash says:

      You forgot to add that Professor Dickman is a vegetarian who does not like trophy hunting, but being an scientist, accepts that it is useful in many places. That does not make her a “shill”. It makes her honest. She spends half her time in Africa and is a world renowned field scientist specialising in mitigating human-wildlife conflict.
      Jared Kakura is a Californian urban animal rights zealot with a proven and abiding hatred of private enterprise.
      Animal rights are a belief system, not science. There is no such thing as animal rights. Ask any impala as it is being ripped apart by a hyena or a mouse being tortured to death by a cat. Where are their rights? Nature doesn’t do “rights”. To give the impala and mouse rights, you must take them from the hyena and cat. It’s a nonsense. A philosophical one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
      You can be kind to animals, but that is a human gift to animals, not a right of animals. We cannot avoid killing animals. It means that animal rights are not about animal rights – they are about urban human feelings.
      South African game farmers now ranch more than twice the area of SanParks for live sales, hunting and meat production. It is the biggest private rewilding scheme in the world and supports billions of non-hunted animals and plants. SA can be very proud of it.
      It makes no difference whether you kill an animal to grow veggies, build a city, for a trophy and then eat it, or kill it for meat and keep a trophy. It’s life.

      • Carolyn Fryer says:

        Your argument that animals hunt and kill each other in order to survive and keep the balance in check means that animals have no rights and are just commodities in your mind is very egotistical and ignorant. If you compared human behaviour with murder, rape, pornography, child molestation just to name a few for reasons such as greed, sex, jealousy or just general psychosis you could argue that humans should be the species that have no rights! This attitude will definitely lead to the extinction of more species and animal cruelty and exploitation.
        If you take a close look at the communities who are supposed to be benefitting from trophy hunting in Botswana or other African countries I think you would see they still live in poverty. It is the hunting computer that gets majority of the profit, but they love to tell the tale of how the help conservation

      • Carolyn Fryer says:

        Hunting companies not computer

  • Alastair Stalker says:

    I’m pragmatic re trophy hunting and it is a necessary activity in some areas. Where I have a problem is when it affects the gene pool of a species. There are quite a few unscrupulous professional hunters who are less than diligent in following guidelines on ages of animals to be hunted. Lions which are glossed over above is a case in point. The gene pool for elephants is also being affected. At present, hunters are permitted to shoot bulls over 40 years of age, but recent research has shown that elephant bulls only reach their breeding prime between 40-50 years. By taking out bulls with reasonable ivory under this age, we are ensuring that there will be no large ivory bulls in future. Of course, we have been doing this for a long time. In the 1850’s, tusks of 175lbs were not uncommon but today less than 0.075% of bulls have 100lb tusks. Ironically, a lot of these magnificent tusks found their way to the U.K.

  • Simon Espley says:

    Some oft-trotted-out nonsense in this ideological rant:

    1. “Properly regulated trophy hunting is not a threat to any African species, including the ones that really trigger emotions up North.”
    Whereas the United States Fish & Wildlife Services has listed lion trophy hunting as one of the causes for the reduction in free-roaming lion populations

    2. “The biggest threats to African megafauna such as lions, elephants and rhinos are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, and human/wildlife conflict, with climate change an emerging threat.”
    Whereas, if an activity further reduces the population of a species or genetic trait already in decline, then that activity is, by definition, not sustainable. Claiming that other factors contributing to population declines are ‘worse’ illustrates a lack of conservation thinking.

    3. “As Dickman and other conservation scientists such as Craig Packer have noted… ”
    Whereas Craig Packer was kicked out of Tanzania for proving via his research that lion populations have been decimated by non-sustainable quotas and shooting of young males.

    4. “The comparatively rich wildlife in Tanzania, where hunting is allowed – compared with Kenya where it was banned in 1977 – is one of many examples.”
    Whereas Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia have seen similar population crashes to Kenya. Those 3 countries all practise trophy hunting.

    I could go on, but have run out of allowable space …

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