Opinionista Peter Flack 17 December 2017

It is canned killing, not hunting, that hampers conservation efforts

The resignation of experienced members from the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa after it was hijacked by a group of canned killers should be commended. By PETER FLACK.

The recent hijacking of PHASA by a group of these canned killers and the almost immediate and universal condemnation, locally and internationally, of this move, as well as the immediate resignation of large numbers of experienced PHASA members in good standing and the subsequent, long overdue formation of the Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation in South Africa, which will in time replace PHASA, make this a topical matter.

Last weekend, at a family wedding in Montagu, I was accosted by a proud father who told me his son had been chosen to give the class address at his Stanford University graduation ceremony. He chose to speak on the benefits of canned lion killing, although he referred to it as canned lion “hunting”.

When I said I totally disagreed with this and that, in my humble opinion, canned killing had done untold damage to South Africa’s reputation as a hunting destination and resulted in the loss of literally billions of rand of income for the country, most of which was spent in poor rural areas where it was needed most, he changed his tune and said, possibly, his son had talked about the benefits of trophy hunting.

Of course, there is no similarity whatsoever between the two but it interested me that an experienced accountant could conflate them. If he could, so could many others. The major difference is that there is no hunting involved in canned killing and the recently introduced sophistry by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) of trying to distinguish between canned killing and captive bred animal killing is a fig leaf behind which these greedy, conscienceless bastards are trying to hide their nefarious activities. It fools no-one other than those wanting to be fooled.

Trophy hunting is the fair chase of a particular, old, usually lone, male animal, out of the breeding cycle, whose death will not affect the herd from which it originally came and the money from whose death often funds the conservation of its species and many others.

The recent hijacking of PHASA by a group of these canned killers and the almost immediate and universal condemnation, locally and internationally, of this move, as well as the immediate resignation of large numbers of experienced PHASA members in good standing and the subsequent, long overdue formation of the Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation in South Africa, which will in time replace PHASA, make this a topical matter.

The three greatest evils that have beset conservation in South Africa in recent times have been:

1. The canned killing of game;

2. The intensive breeding and manipulation of game to produce unnatural colour variants and animals with exaggerated horn lengths; and

3. The rise in prominence given to untried and untested views of animal rightists and anti-hunters.

The first two factors have seen the number of overseas hunters visiting South Africa drop from a high of over 16,000 to about 7,500 today – a loss of about 55% – while at the same time there has been a more than corresponding rise in these hunters visiting Namibia, where the government promotes hunting and does not tolerate this kind of aberrant and abhorrent conduct.

Some simple, scientifically established facts:

1. In 1964, a survey quoted by Professor Jane Carruthers in her book, Wilding the Farm or Farming the Wild, showed that game numbers in this country had been reduced to approximately 557,000 animals.

2. The quagga and blue buck were extinct and white rhinoceros, black wildebeest, bontebok and Cape mountain zebra were following hot on their heels as there were less than 50 of each of these species.

3. In the same decade, only three game ranches existed in the country.

4. In 2005, a similar survey was repeated and the number of game animals had increased to 18.7-million.

5. The four highly endangered species had all recovered somewhat but those that had been hunted most assiduously had recovered best and, for example, there were close to 20,000 rhinoceroses in the country.

6. In the same decade, Professor Eloff of Potchefstroom University, established there were nearly 6,000 game ranches, which number has risen steadily to over 9,500 game ranches today.

7. The area of private land under game has increased to about 21 million hectares, almost three times the amount of land covered by all the national parks and provincial reserves put together and it has not cost the government a single cent.

8. This private land conserves not only game but a huge variety of flora and fauna which would otherwise not have a home and which, to state the obvious, is not hunted. Think tortoises, butterflies, birds, insects, trees, shrubs and grasses.

How do I know this? Well, it took a dedicated team six years to do the research and complete the documentary, The South African Conservation Success Story, which was awarded the Environmental Prize by the prestigious European body, CIC – The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, in 2012. The above facts have been empirically established by scientists and confirmed by the professional researcher hired by the documentary producers.

But how did hunting achieve all this? Quite simply, when hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977, it was followed shortly afterwards by similar bans in Uganda and Tanzania. These latter two bans were subsequently lifted but, before this happened, the demand for hunting moved south and soon domestic livestock farmers here were being offered more for a springbok than a sheep, more for a kudu than a cow and, instead of allowing friends and relatives to shoot the game for free, they set aside land for paying hunters.

The efficacy of hunting as a conservation measure is further proven by the fact that the Kenyans themselves have admitted that, since hunting was banned in their country, they have lost between 70 and 90% of their game, whereas in the countries of Southern Africa where hunting was encouraged, such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa and particularly the latter two countries, hunting-led conservation has thrived. In an Open Access report published in September, 2016, by six Kenyan scientists, they stated that: “Our results show that wildlife numbers declined on average by 68% between 1977 and 2016. The magnitude of decline varied among species but was most extreme (72-88%) and now severely threatens the population viability and persistence of warthog, lesser kudu, Thomson’s gazelle, eland, oryx, topi, hartebeest, impala, Grevy’s zebra and water buck in Kenya’s range lands. The declines were widespread and occurred in most of the 21 range land counties. Likewise to wildlife, cattle numbers decreased (25.2%) but numbers of sheep and goats (76.3%), camels (13.1%) and donkeys (6.7%) evidently increased in the same period. As a result, livestock biomass was 8.1 times greater than that of wildlife in 2011-2013 compared to 3.5 times in 1977-1980.”

Just as importantly, what the above documentary research also highlighted were the things that did not help conserve wildlife or wildlife habitat, namely, preservationist policies, legislation, the creation of parks and reserves and the banning of hunting. For example, legislation was introduced to stop the killing of quagga and hippopotamus. It had not the slightest effect in the areas where it was introduced. In fact, governments throughout Africa have been worse than useless at conserving either wildlife or wildlife habitats and the vast majority of national parks in Africa exist merely as lines on a map, devoid of game and usually plundered by the very persons appointed to conserve them.

Two other points I would like to make:

1. In a recent major survey conducted in North America, it was found that a vast majority – over 80% – of people approved of traditional hunting conducted by people such as the Inuits. Almost as many approved of hunting to feed people. This percentage dropped markedly to just under 30% when it came to trophy hunting. And yet, in my humble opinion, there is almost no difference between the two other than that deliberately created by animal rightists and anti-hunters to serve their own propaganda aims.

Meat hunters like to shoot the biggest animals of the species hunted or culled because they provide the most meat and the biggest bang for their buck as there is usually no price difference between a big and small animal. They will also often keep the horns/teeth/tusks/skin of the big animals they kill as a memento or from which to fashion tools or clothing for example.

Trophy hunters, their support staff and/or the communities where the hunt took place, on the other hand, will also eat all the meat of the trophy animals killed, in addition to keeping the horns/teeth/tusks/skin of the animals killed as a memento or to have tools and clothing fashioned for example.

The big difference between the supposedly two kinds of hunters is that, as a general rule, trophy hunters pay more for their privileges, employ more people and shoot fewer animals. South African government statistics, which are usually almost two years out of date, show that overseas trophy hunters spend some R134,000 on daily rates and trophy fees per hunt which, in my humble estimation, amounts to about half of their total expenditure when you add things such as domestic airfares, air charter costs, food, accommodation, sight-seeing before and after the hunt, taxidermy, curios, gifts, gratuities and so on ie +/- R2 ¼-billion per annum. In addition, they are hardy travellers and not put off by things which often result in US State Department travel advisories.

The difference between meat and trophy hunting has largely been driven by animal rightists and anti-hunters trying to separate hunters into smaller and different groups, which they find easier to isolate, attack and damage but, in reality, there is no real difference. It is the same tactic they use when they focus on the aberrant and often illegal behaviour of a handful of the millions of hunters worldwide, to try and tar all of us with the same brush and drive a wedge between non-hunters and people undecided about hunting, on the one hand, and hunters themselves, on the other.

They persist in ignoring all the good that hunting and hunting revenue does and insist on the tired, old, repetitive rubbish that hunters kill purely for thrills and/or pleasure. That trophy hunters kill things purely to hang on their walls and brag.

Driven by their desire to take responsibility for what their families eat, the fastest growing hunting segment is young, urban men aged 20 to 30, as exemplified by the interview conducted by Mark Zuckerberg in front of over 100,000 Facebook viewers while smoking venison he had hunted at his home for his lunch guests.

2. In a current study being headed by the world famous, Canadian, wildlife biologist, Shane Mahoney who, along with Dr David Mabunda, then head of South African National Parks, were the two narrators of the South African Conservation Success Story, he has looked at how much land would have to be put aside to replace the healthy protein (low in fats and sodium), provided by hunting in North America. Two random examples:

2.1. Some five-million quail are shot across North America per annum. At an average weight of two and a half pounds per bird, that amounts to 12.5-million pounds of meat.

2.2. In Mississippi, some six-million people (of which only roughly a third are hunters), eat over 35-million pounds of white tail deer meat per annum.

There are no equivalent, scientifically established statistics for South Africa but, if each of the some 300,000 hunters, which Free State University estimates there are in the country, each shoot only one springbok a year, weighing on average 18 kgs (after the removal of head, feet and insides), then we will have to find nearly 5,5-million kgs (or over 12-million pounds) of extra protein.

Last, allow me to address a few words to animal rightists and anti-hunters, although I know this will largely be a waste of time as, whenever I have tried to debate this matter with them on radio, TV or in public, I have found on the few occasions they have let me finish speaking, they have merely repeated what they said previously but only louder the second time.

South Africa and Namibia are examples of the very real advantages that hunting-led conservation has achieved for wildlife, wildlife habitat and the peoples that live closest to these wonderful renewable natural resources which, if used wisely, can provide opportunities for all, especially the wildlife and wildlife habitats which we all love with a passion, in perpetuity.

The various preservationist policies of the animal rightists and anti-hunters have never been practised on a country wide scale anywhere in Africa for any length of time other than in Kenya and more recently Botswana where they are both manifest disasters. No objective, thinking person in Africa who has the best interests of wildlife and wildlife habitat at heart can come to any conclusion – much as it may pain those who think that hunting per se, no matter how well it is practised, is unacceptable – other than that fair chase hunting of game is the only cornerstone which has provided and can continues to provide a foundation for conservation on the continent.

As such, the principled stand of those who have resigned from PHASA because of its support for canned killing and formed the Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation in South Africa must be acknowledged and commended by all thinking hunters. DM