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January 18, 2019

Well Regulated trophy hunting good for wildlife

Cecil the lion is seen at Hwange National Parks in this undated handout picture received July 31, 2015. Photo/REUTERS
Cecil the lion is seen at Hwange National Parks in this undated handout picture received July 31, 2015. Photo/REUTERS

I am quite Disney-fied when it comes to animals: I have never understood how a big cat killing a zebra or antelope is someone’s highlight of a game drive – I always felt for the poor zebra.

Can’t we all just eat vegetables and chocolate, and get on with each other? I also eat very little meat as I had to admit that sausages don’t grow on supermarket shelves, and I certainly would not kill a pig with my own hands to turn it into lunch.

So trophy hunters are a mystery to me. I don’t get the fun of hunting, I find the pictures of them posing with the dead animal utterly repulsive. Yet, I was increasingly bewildered by the global online outrage about Cecil the Lion.

Before I go on, here’s a disclaimer: If Evil Dentist and his local hires have broken rules and regulations, they should be held to account. And no, it is certainly not ideal that they did not manage to kill the lion immediately.

Here is another disclaimer: yes, I know you can care about more than one cause. So the argument that people screaming themselves hoarse about Cecil the Lion did not say a word about Cecil, the beaten-up opposition supporter in Zimbabwe, is not really valid but probably still true. And it is probably also true that very few of those people know much about human-wildlife conflict and the human suffering.

So it is a bit surprising that an older individual lion – who, to all intents and purposes, had a pretty good run in life – would trigger such an outrage storm, especially from people who are otherwise very happy to eat meat.

Poor Percy Pig who is, science tells us, a sensitive and intelligent creature and, like Cecil, he would like to live. When I pointed this out, one of the Focus Group just responded: “But bacon tastes good!” And another one of the Focus Group argued that hunting for pleasure was completely wrong, but eating meat was not. Again, Percy probably doesn’t care why you kill him – he still dies. But you can live a healthy life on vegetarian food with dairy products and eggs derived from happy free-range animals, so eating meat is … pleasure, no? Watch out, your hypocrisy is showing.

Back to what Reuters called the ‘global Cecil circus’. Poaching is not the same as trophy hunting in a reasonably well regulated regime. Poachers, we have seen in Kenya, will kill as many animals as they can possibly get away with. Kenya’s public institutions are pretty hollowed out (recent reminder: 1.2% of government public expenditures cannot be properly accounted for), but places like the Central African Republic are far, far worse. There are no public institutions left to even protect humans.

For elephants, these are slaughtering fields. This is horrific and a drastic threat to elephant populations. Also, in these cases, the bulk of the money that is made from ivory or rhino horn is not made in CAR or Kenya – local poachers get a pittance. And it is relatively easy to pay off any law enforcement agents.

It is however incorrect to compare this with regulated trophy hunting, and you really need to look at every country in detail (because Africa is not a country, remember?).

Generally, in a regulated regime, the number of animals shot by trophy hunters is very small. A Zimbabwean business journalist friend explained that in Zimbabwe, the number of licences auctioned every year is based on an annual wildlife headcount as well as on an assessment of what each territory in Zimbabwe can carry.

Licences will not be given for animals that are still important for the animal population – but old male lions generally are not anymore (and they often die a pretty drawn out, grim death if left to their own devices). Through an organisation called Campfire, Zimbabwe tries to channel some of the trophy hunting revenue to local communities. Since this is a local mechanism, it works better in some areas than in others.

Zimbabwe’s prolonged political crisis has affected general tourism revenues, so hunting revenues are significant – big game licences cost tens of thousands of dollars. And someone who spends that kind of money will also not travel like a penny-pinching budget tourist. If you are looking at the footprint, a trophy hunter may well be gentler on the environment per dollar spent than a pack of tourists traffic-jamming the Mara in matatus. And those revenues are particularly important for areas that are off the beaten track or unsuitable for agriculture.

Trophy hunting makes individual animals incredibly valuable, so there is a real incentive to protect populations (if you work with the more-is-more poacher logic, you won’t have a business next year). It also is an incentive to keep territory set aside for animals. Overall, the southern African countries with regulated trophy hunting regimes have healthier lion and elephant populations than those than countries that don’t allow this.

Still, it is a weird feeling to defend trophy hunters. To make up for this, I will now look at pictures of Amy Rapp’s efforts to provide healthcare for street dogs (under her lovely little trap-neuter-release programme). Dogs are people, too.

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