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TROPHY HUNTING WILL END UP KILLING ITSELF Photos by: Solly LeviAuthor: Ian Michler and Dr. Ian McCallumThe following is an extract taken from the book – Living in Two Worlds - Addressing Humanity’s Greatest ChallengeBlood Lions® If trophy hunting has little merit, breeding predators in cages or captivity, only to be killed in confined areas, has absolutely no merit. My work among those involved in these industries has been an emotional rollercoaster, accompanied by physical threats and legal actions.
It started while researching the sustainability of hunting wild lions in the mid-1990s. I received a tip-off from a charter pilot that I should follow certain hunters as they headed south after unsuccessful lion hunts in Botswana. That I did, and ended up in South Africa’s Free State province, then the heartland of a fledgling predator breeding and canned hunting industry.
Soon after, canned hunting was revealed to the world through the Cooke Report, which was flighted on British television. It was shocking, but I had already discovered that one shooting of a lioness in a cage like enclosure at close range was not an isolated event. There were other ghastly practices, too, all seemingly perfectly acceptable to this community into which I had ventured.
To write with conviction, you need to become immersed in your subject matter, so I decided to delve deeper into that disturbing world in several different parts of South Africa. Over many visits across years, I posed alternatively as a buyer of wildlife or marketer of hunts, occasionally as a dumb but inquisitive journalist, and sometimes simply as a naïve tourist or lost trespasser. Those initial sorties to try to make sense of farmers and operators’ attitudes and behaviour were challenging to say the least. I simply had no idea that such brutality and brazen cruelty to wild species existed. What I saw and heard was often beyond my comprehension.
My time on those properties was harrowing, depressing even. They are utterly soulless places, festering sores of concrete blocks, barbed wire, and locked gates. They were utterly unlike the natural world and the habitat of wild animals. Many are owned and run by people with little empathy, consideration or care for the animals – sentiments that often also extend to the poor souls who work there. These experiences have informed my writings on these topics and my contributions to the award-winning documentary Blood Lions and its global campaign.
Working on Blood Lions was highly satisfying, not least because the visual and cinematic narrative conveys the horrors in a way that the written word seldom can. Many others partnered with us, and together we have advanced the campaign against these horrific practices in so many ways.
I owe special thanks and gratitude to Jason Bell, Christina Pretorius and Neil Greenwood at IFAW for supporting me in the earlier years. And then to Pippa Hankinson, whose idea it was to do the film and to cameraman/co-director Nick Chevallier. Their professionalism, warm friendship, honesty and dedication to the cause was unflagging. They trusted me to take them into the lion’s den, but we came out together and in one piece after some awful experiences, but with a compelling story.
Jeremy Nathan; Bruce Young; Dave Cohen; Dr Andrew Venter; Nicola Gerrard and Lauren van Nijkerk joined the team for postproduction and the campaign. They all added significant skills and scope to the project. More recently, Dr Louise de Waal, Cath Jakins, Janelle Barnard and Casey Pratt helped us take the campaign to the next level. The entire team should be immensely proud of shining a light on these industries in a way that spoke the truth.
These efforts may well bear fruit. As of March 2022, and after a lengthy consultative process involving a panel of experts and various public participation opportunities, the South African government is in the process of drafting a way forward that seeks to curb, and in some instances, end these practices. Why Has It Taken So Long? While there has been progress towards ending predator breeding and canned hunting in South Africa, there has been little change regarding so-called fair-chase hunting on the continent. As we have already noted, the act of trophy hunting has escaped scrutiny and exposure for too long. Delving into why this is so reveals a history that throws up a multitude of reasons.
In the early years of trophy hunting in Africa, when it was still regarded as a desirable and noble pursuit, the killings were sometimes nothing more than gratuitous slaughter. Though often denied today, sad stories and images of excess that drove some species towards the brink are available to all in history books and hunting journals. Very few concerns were raised, and the mostly outright endorsement of hunting at that time granted immunity from criticism. There was widespread ignorance, and among the few who felt unease, silence rather than opposition was the order of the day.
From the 1960s came the dawning of independence for many African nations. Brimming with hope, those newly elected governments were motivated to tackle the more pressing social and economic development challenges of the day. Deeming environmental matters, a secondary portfolio, they tended to follow the colonial mantra on general wildlife management policies and practices. With time, numerous countries even scaled back their mandated roles in securing nationally protected areas and the biodiversity they held. This came with the increasing promotion of a range of public/private sector initiatives and activities in the hope of filling state coffers. There was also a growing reliance on the NGO sector to raise funding and to perform protection tasks. Since the 1980s, the glue reinforcing this process has been a generation of managers, scientists, researchers and career administrators in conservation who have established their academic and field reputations on constructing or supporting the concept of ‘sustainable use’, of which trophy hunting remains a key policy.
They have also had a supporting cast: Journalists, conservation NGOs, tourist operators and others within the research and scientific community. Some give tacit support by turning a blind eye, while others condoned the killing because it remained legal. They attempted to escape any feeling of guilt by expressing their personal abhorrence for the practice.
For this latter group, their stance is a recognition that ethical decisions are part of our scientific endeavours. However, by not speaking out clearly about their concerns, they merely cloud the debate, while providing trophy hunting with a screen to continue. Is this muddled thinking, or does it mean they remain muzzled because the means-toan-end argument has been sufficiently oiled by vested interests? And if some are being funded, this is another ethical or philosophical choice.
In addition, the trophy-hunting lobby has always had a disproportionately influential voice within the corridors of power and conservation – one that continues to ensure their activities remain entrenched. This comes from its historical links and close association with our patriarchal world and its global, political and economic elites and their lobby groups. It includes residing and ex-presidents, a host of wealthy, influential corporates, and some otherwise highly regarded conservation agencies and researchers.
Their power and influence are all the more remarkable, given the flipside – a demonstrable fall in support for hunting in the us. According to a study by Outdoor Life magazine, the number of registered hunters in the USA – Africa’s largest source of hunting clients – peaked at 17 million or just over 7% of the population in 1982. Since then, registrations have dropped steadily. By 2016, they had fallen to approximately 11 million, below 4% of the total population. In the K, the results of a 2019 government-sponsored public consultation on the importation of hunting trophies showed that 86% of the 44 000 respondents called for tighter restrictions and bans on importing trophies. As a footnote, it would seem the traditional hunting narrative is also losing merit among the younger generations in Africa. A fascinating insight into this comes from Neo-colonialism and greed: Africans’ views on trophy hunting in social media, a paper published in the Journal for Sustainable Tourism in 2019. The authors contend that the anti-lobby in Africa has typically represented a Western view without considering local opinions. They found that African people did object to trophy hunting, but not on grounds pertaining to animal rights or conservation. Instead, their objections were based on hunting’s connections to colonialism and the exploitation of wildlife because of political greed, as well as ‘the way it privileges Western elites in accessing Africa’s wildlife resources’.
Lately, I have been struck by another consideration, one that has come about as my son has grown beyond toddlerdom towards becoming a young man.
Some sectors of our societies, whether here in Africa or across the world, permit young kids, some not even into their teens, to go out armed with hunting rifles (supposedly in the company of a parent) and to use them to kill wild trophy animals. Again and again, sad images appear in hunting magazines and on the internet of youngsters posing over their lifeless quarry, rifle cocked, and often with beaming parents at the side. Yet, these same kids are not allowed to drink alcohol (in some countries until the age of 21) or drive, smoke, gamble or have signing powers. They can’t get married (in some instances, they can with parental consent), and they have to stay at home until 18. Neither can they have sex until the age of 16 or 18, and they can’t even vote because they are deemed not yet mature enough to make choices or decisions on such life-changing activities. Where on Earth then is the sense in encouraging kids to kill animals, when we deem them incapable of making important decisions on a host of other issues, some of which have arguably far lesser consequences? Is there any reasonable explanation for this, and what does it say about our attitude towards the natural world?
Many will, of course, justify the behaviour in cultural or even religious terms, but such arguments simply bring us back full circle to the discussion about enlightenment. Given what we now know, these arguments cannot excuse a reluctance to change, when the failure to do so may add directly to species’ extinction risks. And what are the long-term psychological implications of encouraging children to gratuitously kill animals at such a young age?
While examining these questions is important, I believe they are linked to a deep-rooted reason: Our archaic education systems that continue to let both us and the environment down. If we are to have any chance at fundamentally altering our current abusive relationship with the environment, then education must play a central role. From the moment kids enter school, they should be learning about Earth and its life-supporting ecosystems and the services they provide. They need to understand how critical healthy biodiversity levels are for our own survival; about carbon and other cycles, and about the impacts that current living patterns have on the planet. Learning about one’s ecological footprint and how to reduce it is both fun and empowering.
Every living human soul needs to understand that we are simply one species of millions, and to appreciate that, we can’t impose dominion at our whim. We are all intertwined in complex ecological processes that are fundamental to the health of our planet and ourselves. In the same way that mathematics and languages are non-negotiable subjects throughout most school curricula, environmental and Earth sciences must be given similar prominence. In the end, I believe that trophy hunting or killing animals for fun is an act of violence and immense selfishness. It is done as a desire, willingly and calculatingly so, rather than as a necessity. Displaying the spoils is proof of having had complete control in the process. If you still suggest it’s not about the killing and the trophy, and that you are passionate about conservation, then in the name of logic and securing the gene pool of so many species, please don’t betray the causes and animals you claim to represent. Rather donate that money to sustainable, nonhunting conservation causes.
I would also like to pay tribute to many individuals and organisations, both locally and across the world, who fight against predator breeding, canned hunting and other abusive tourism activities in South Africa. We may never stop all abuse against animals, but I do believe that in time, South Africa’s captive lions and other predators may well get the reprieve that circus animals, primates and orcas are getting today. Recognition must also go to the growing list of journalists, ecotourism operators, conservation agencies, researchers, scientists and politicians, as well as many concerned naturalists who have actively lobbied against trophy hunting. Your work has already begun to tell. Today, the debate is being given widespread coverage, and there is far less intimidation aimed at hunting’s critics.