/ 12 September 2009

‘Conservationists first, and hunters second’

Trophy hunting for big game is a controversial blood sport. As well as lions, wild elephants, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs and leopards are also all fair game for trophy hunters, who bring $166-million to South Africa each year. But even species classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered, such as the black rhino, or vulnerable, such as hippos, are also hunted.

Advocates of trophy hunting claim the fees paid by tourists pays for wildlife conservation, creates an incentive to protect natural habitats, boosts tourism, prevents poaching and controls numbers. But critics say the blood sport is cruel and point out that Kenya, the only African country where trophy hunting is completely outlawed, enjoys a vibrant safari industry, worth about $800-million to the annual economy.

The number of animals that are allowed to be killed and exported is controlled by the UN-run Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). But campaign groups say that the Cites system is flawed because monitoring and policing is the responsibility of the individual governments who may lack the resources, or even the will, to see the quotas are kept.

The quotas for cheetahs and leopards in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe run into hundreds. Just one hunt operator in South Africa boasted to a prospective client that it had killed 400 leopards, all with hunted with hounds, in the last 14 years.

Zimbabwe’s wildlife is particularly at risk because of the dire economic situation the country and the land reforms over the past decade. Johnny Rodrigues, chairperson of the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force, said that no proper audit or stocktake has been done in the country since 1997. ”Zimbabwe can’t support these quotas. We can’t afford to lose these animals and they can’t back it up scientifically. I’m disappointed at the numbers in this quota. It’s frightening.”

In one reserve, he said a population of 54 rhino had been reduced to only five over the last ten years.

Americans are by far the most keen to spend about $60 000 on trophy hunts in Africa, but British and German hunters drive demand too. European hunters have killed many thousands of leopards and elephants since 1996, according to the League Against Cruel Sports.

Marina Lamprecht, who owns Hunters Namibia Safaris, said: ”Hunt operators are conservationists first, and hunters second. With human pressure on land there is less tolerance for wildlife . Trophy hunting is the single most lucrative form of commercial farmland use. The trophy hunters pay a day fee and a trophy fee but the meat remains the property of the community . It’s a win/win situation. We also employ 19 people — that’s 19 families supported by our work — and around 6 000 trophy hunters visit Namibia each year.”

But she added that the global recession has seen trophy hunting demand drop by about 30%.

The benefits hunters cite are disputed. The League Against Cruel Sports say less than 5% of tour fees go to the government for wildlife conservation. And trophy hunting does damage populations, say conservationists. Researchers who tagged leopards in a reserve in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa found 23 of the 26 leopards tracked between 2002 and 2005 were killed through hunting and poaching for bushmeat. From 2006, killing females and adolescents was banned in the area, and by 2008, numbers in the area were recovering.

Some campaigners who are opposed to canned hunting do see trophy hunting as potentially positive for conservation. Rob Parry-Jones, the regional director of Traffic Europe, said: ”High demand can fuel illegal hunting, like the trade in songbirds for food in eastern Europe, and abuse of trophy hunting systems, as recently seen with rhinos in South Africa, but well-managed trophy hunting, like that for Markhor in Pakistan, can make a positive contribution to conservation efforts.”

But campaign groups like Animal Rights Africa believe that the only way to stop canned hunting is to ban trophy hunting outright. Smid said: ”We are calling for a total ban on trophy hunting and trophy exports because that is the only way you are going to ensure the immoral practice of canned hunting doesn’t continue.” – guardian.co.uk