Dear Richard,

I always look forward to receiving my copy of the African Hunting Gazette which I have regarded as one of the best magazines that I subscribe to and was shocked to read your editorial in the Spring, 2018 edition. As a result, I  am writing this to you as a response to, and a criticism of, your editorial.  I have issues with many of your  arguments and I also think your conclusion that ALL hunters must stick together is dead wrong and here’s why.

First off I am a passionate  hunter living in Canada where just recently, in our game rich Province of British Colombia the hunting of one of our iconic game species, the grizzly bear, has been banned by the provincial govt. This was as a result of an emotion based  outcry against what was termed “an outdated and barbarous practice” according to an alleged opinion survey that supposedly was performed by the authorities. In my, maybe cynical opinion, this was something that was fuelled by the anti-hunting fraternity. This ban happened in spite of and in the face of,  a recent exhaustive and scientific study by the province’s environmental experts which found that the grizzly population of some 16,000 to 17,000 bears was thriving and increasing and that the grizzly bear hunts were being well managed on a sustainable quota basis. Public perceptions matter, whether it’s in Canada, Europe or in Africa and we better get that straight right off the bat if we hunters, who unquestionably are under attack, wish to survive. Living in a large city and being a “social animal” I am well plugged into public opinions of hunting in general and hunters in particular. Our image is rapidly eroding and the anti- hunting organizations all over the world are beginning to win the war of public opinion. We live in democracies and public opinion matters and  not all non-hunters are anti- hunters as your editorial implies. People vote. Fuel for the anti- hunting bonfire is not hard to find and some of our fraternity provide this fuel.

Your editorial fails to acknowledge the precarious situation that hunters, not only in Africa, but all over the world are currently facing – something the breakaway group from PHASA obviously has.

As with grizzly bears, there is a universal and often emotionally charged regard for the African lion, an animal central to your editorial. “A huge swell of public emotion” is a characteristic both these iconic big game species have in common. Beware,  because without any tangible reason, and without the above mentioned “fuel”, this British Columbia hunt for an impeccably managed species was banned . This action provides a good example of what can happen when alleged negative public opinion is harnessed and this could easily happen, and obviously has happened in South Africa where there are some real and controversial, issues surrounding lion hunting. I do a fair amount of African hunting and I have invoked the ire of some African PH’s when it comes to the issue of “canned lion hunting”, a practice I have challenged. This is ironic because this is something I am also confronted with by anti- hunting “groupies “– some of whom seem to make a living by moving from protest venue to protest venue. I do not buy the theory put to me by some PH’s that for every captive bred lion (CBL) hunted, a wild lion’s life is spared. Properly regulated, sustainable “wild lion” hunting should not constitute a problem to the species and should not be an issue. Unlike you, I personally find the hunting of a CBL in a limited fenced enclosure repulsive and not defensible. 500 acres is ostensibly a large chunk of real estate, but the operator generally know where the lions like to hang out -usually where they are fed donkeys.Yes, through lion “farming” the numbers of these magnificent felines have soared, but I believe the motives behind these programs are not altruistic and have nothing to do with conservation, but  have everything to do with making  money-  lots of it. This, after all is perhaps the top ranked, and most expensive species to hunt of all the African big game.

If hunting CBL was banned, I would not feel sorry for those businessmen who have seen the hunting of this iconic species as a route to riches. If they see this as a business they have to take the risk all businesses have to take. Tough.From what I have heard most of these operators are either wealthy businessmen or ranchers so I am not shedding too many tears for them.

So what does one do do with the thousands of farm raised lions.?? I don’t rightly know the answer, but there are areas, former lion ranges in Africa which conceivably might benefit from the reintroduction of these animals. Somehow I doubt this as the indigenous people probably have moved in with their domestic animals. This  relocation would cost a lot of money and maybe this is a time when the genuine animal rights, animal lover, etc. organizations would step up to the plate with the cash or an alternative solution and this might be doable -but my gut feel says “dream on”. Sadly human greed has resulted in too many lions and a huge  problem.

In the meantime I believe that if “wild lions” are to be hunted in established habitats as they should be, this must only be permitted on the basis of a sound scientific evaluation, taking such important factors  into account such as sustainability and the benefit to the local communities. If the price for such a hunt goes up, so be it. Only a small and select group of hunters would be able to afford  the privilege of such a hunt for what is unquestionably a magnificent animal.  I will not dignify the practices to do with ‘turbocharged” horn growth and colour variations with any observations other than once again it’s all about money and makes a mockery of nature with which mankind seems hell bent on interfering.

The schism in the hunting community in South Africa I think has everything to do with the above factors which in the end boil down to the “business” of hunting and money vs. ethics. My parents brought me up to believe that in life one is often  judged by the company one keeps. I believe this to be true. As a hunter I do not want to be judged  and lumped in with those individuals in the hunting community with whose practices I totally disagree. Individuals whose approach to something I hold to be precious seem to be  based on factors such as greed, results,awards, boasting rights, killing genetic aberrations, quantity not quality. And the list goes on.  Their actions could lead to the ending of all hunting on this planet. This, after all, is the goal of the anti hunting groups. The word “slob” is usually applied to some drivers -it can also be applied to some hunters -and they give us all a bad name.

I do not buy in to the arguments, either, about the “law permits the status quo.”(with regard to CBL hunting) which, somehow, makes it “alright. I say this because laws change and politicians can be lobbied towards many different decisions as they have in British Columbia. At the end of the day the things that count should be obvious to any ethical hunter and they should conduct themselves accordingly. In addition, I do not think any compassionate hunter that I know of would decry the right of a handicapped person or a wounded war veteran to their right to hunt with the assistance of some sort of mechanical device be it a wheelchair, a vehicle or any other means of conveyance. There are always sensible exceptions to be made to any rule.

The saying, “words are what we live by” is a fact of life, but lets not play word games with words such as “ethical”, “fair chase” etc. I think my nine year old grand daughter understands what is implied  by these words given the context in which they are used – without the need to resort to a dictionary

In this modern world few people need to hunt to feed themselves as mankind as hunter gatherers had to in the past.  We live in an era where, for example, thanks to all the technical advances that have occurred, “ hunting” (killing) from the back of a vehicle with a heavy calibre machine gun is certainly possible and has, indeed, occurred in some of Africa’s many wars. What about hunting with drones in the future?? Long ago and anticipating similar practices with the emerging  modern world, organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club in North America and the East African Professional Hunters Association, as two examples, laid down what they regarded as rules for “fair chase” and “ethical” recreational hunting. In my book these efforts were and are admirable and still valid.

“ United we stand, divided we fall” is an often heard clarion call. It sounds good on the surface but  one has to have a clear understanding of the issues that one is “standing up for”  Based on the fractured state of  the of sport hunting industry I don’t see that a “united front” holds true at this time.  If a thorough house cleaning is required and I think it is, only then can we stand united with a set of common ethical values.

At the end of the day, I believe, that if  the hunting industry promotes acceptable hunting ethics and conservation models that the non-hunting public can understand, this segment of our society might just appreciate what hunters have contributed to wildlife on this planet. Lets not turn non-hunters into anti-hunters. They need us and we need them. As already stated  – they vote.

Sooner rather than later, editors such as yourself will have to take a position on these crucial issues if hunting is going to survive. Your editorial endeavours to be” all things to all people.”I understand that the publication that you edit is a business and, given the vehemently opposing positions in the hunting world I can only guess at the fallout that inevitably will occur whatever position  you take, but that is the hard reality of life. With reference to the last line of your editorial in which you declare “I am not sure  – you  have to be the judge”  I see this as” passing the buck “-I can only suggest that you make up your mind about these crucial issues before it is too late.

Tony Marsh.   Toronto, Jan. 2018