Of Demons and Dragons.
The preservationist, anti-sustainable use doctrine is a formidable global force. Selling the creed to the Western world is both simple and lucrative. A 24/7 stream of cuddly Disney movies, TV documentaries, news reports and newspaper articles that portray Africa as some kind of idyllic Eden that needs no human management has laid the platform to cast safari hunters as the evil villains.
Kenya is the preservationists’ posterchild in Africa where the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have had a stranglehold on government environmental policies since the mid-1970s when safari hunting was banned. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Born Free and the African Wildlife Foundation lead the NGO pack. Under their watchful eye, it has been estimated that since 1963, Kenya has lost 90% of its wildlife and 80% of its forest land. Thirty to forty per cent of the rangelands have turned to desert. This damning evidence shows that these institutions are more concerned with the raising of funds than the wildlife they purport to protect. They realize all of the benefits of their unique position through the ability to raise awareness and money for their assorted campaigns with the added bonus of not being accountable for their actions. The day-to-day consequences resulting from their shenanigans are left to the people who live with the wildlife to deal with.
In stark contrast is South Africa’s wildlife success story, probably the greatest the world has seen. Pioneers of this program were Dr. Ian Player and his colleagues in the Natal Parks Board. Faced with an overpopulation of white rhino in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park in the 1970s, a decision was made to sell excess animals to private ranchers. A key aspect was that the rhino owner could do whatever he liked with his rhino. Profit could be made from his investment through photographic and hunting safaris as well as through the selling of excess animals onto other game ranchers. This radical concept was the engine that drove the establishment of game ranching in South Africa. From a countrywide population of around 500 000 in 1964, South Africa’s wildlife numbers now stand at around 22 million head.
Botswana followed a similar progression, centered around consumptive sustainable use, until Ian Khama became president of Botswana in 2008. He was hell-bent on changing tack and emulating the Kenyan model. He reportedly once said that the only endangered animal in Botswana would be the professional hunter. With the support of animal rights activists such as Dereck Joubert (National Geographic’s “Explorer in Residence”), Colin Bell and many others, the country’s safari hunting industry was systematically dismantled.
The closure of safari hunting in Botswana (except for plains game species on private land) had devastating consequences for both people and wildlife. “The effects of the safari hunting tourism ban on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana” was written by Prof. Joseph E. Mbaiwa from the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana.
He states that between 2006 and 2009, safari hunting generated US $ 3 120 000 for rural communities, while photographic tourism generated only US $ 415 000. 49.5% of revenue from the safari hunting industry was used in the local district, 25.7% at the national level, and only 24.8% was being paid overseas, mainly in the form of agents’ commissions and profits. Over 600 jobs were lost, and 4 800 livelihoods affected. Photographic operations have not picked up the slack in marginal areas because these areas are not suited to photo-tourism. Community projects such as the construction of houses for the needy, funeral insurance, scholarships and household dividends have dried up.
The loss of protein in the form of meat from the hunted animals was substantial. In the last five years prior to the hunting ban, each community was allocated a total of 22 elephants or 154 tonnes of meat per annum. This was in addition to the meat from other animals hunted such as buffalo. The communities were permitted to sell any excess meat, and in one area alone, Sankoyo, $600,000 was realized from meat sales in 2010.
With these losses, human-wildlife conflict has increased appreciably and the nationwide reports rose from 4 361 in 2012 to 6 770 in 2014. Poaching is on the rise and is having a significant impact on wildlife populations. Fortunately for Botswana’s people and wildlife, the current president Mokgweetsi Masisi realizes the importance of sustainable use of natural resources, and, hopefully, safari hunting will once again be an integral part of the country’s community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) program.
In South Africa it seems that the preservationists are gaining some traction. When “Skye the lion” was supposedly shot on the border of Kruger in June 2018, the anti-hunters were hoping for another “Cecil the lion” story. But, unsurprisingly, the international outcry was muted. That fairy tale has lost its mojo. The lion in question may or may not have been “Skye”. It’s irrelevant. Kruger lion are not endangered, there is a healthy, growing population of around 1 800. A male lion was on quota as set by the appropriate authorities, and all of the various hunting protocols had been followed. There was an upshot to this saga however.
An enquiry into the Kruger and Private Reserves Benefit Sharing Agreement by the parliamentary Environmental Committee for Environmental Affairs was initiated. At least five anti-hunting presenters were invited to the enquiry, and not one pro-hunting representative. Any subsequent committee findings could therefore hardly be described as unbiased. The chairperson of the committee, a certain Phillemon Mapulane, was livid when he found out that the cooperative agreement between the Kruger National Park and the Association of Private Nature Reserves was signed despite the directives of his committee not to. As Stephen Palos the CEO of the Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa (CHASA) pointed out to Mapulane, while committees hold an oversight role and a responsibility to report and make recommendations, they have absolutely no mandate to directly interfere at the operational level. It is untenable to expect any functionary to try serve or appease two different masters. SANParks is governed by a Board, duly appointed and empowered in terms of legislation, to oversee the operational activities of its executive and staff. To drag that same executive and staff to answer and act at the operational level to the Portfolio Committee is not just illegitimate in terms of law, but also highly immoral. It must prove very disheartening to the capable, dedicated and passionate people who try run our parks. They will surely prove the legitimacy and correctness of the processes they have followed towards the benefit sharing and expansion of area on Kruger’s western border.
Palos goes on to question whether the Portfolio Committee has not somehow been captured by the doctrine of animal-rightism, which has a coordinated and devious agenda to replace conservation with preservation, at huge potential cost to human needs.
And so like some warped “Game of Thrones” melodrama the battle continues with dragons to be slayed and villains to be vanquished and all the while we are left to ponder when common sense, if ever, will prevail.