Last week, CBS News Originals aired a segment titled “Trophy Hunting: Killing or Conservation” featuring a number of hunters and wildlife conservancy managers who detail the crucial role hunters and hunting revenue play in funding antipoaching efforts, conserving land for wildlife and managing animal populations.
Pete Fick, who was interviewed extensively by CBS for this segment, is the wildlife guide in Zimbabwe’s Bubye Wildlife Conservancy and knows that “killing some animals so the rest of them can live is an absolute necessity out here.” As a defined area about the size of Rhode Island, Bubye conservancy has finite resources, so hunting manages the wildlife populations while also providing funding to keep the park open.
This segment goes on to discuss that the biggest threat to wildlife currently is not big game hunting, but rather habitat loss. By converting what was once a cattle farm into a lush preserve, Bubye stifled human encroachment and has become a sanctuary that is “teeming with wildlife, including several species listed as vulnerable.” Bubye, a park that covers 80 percent of its $2.5 million annual maintenance cost with hunting dollars, stands in stark contrast to the arid land surrounding it, populated by local communities that rely on game meats from hunters to sustain themselves.
To their credit, CBS remained unflinching when confronting the truth that hunting dollars, not only in Bubye but in many conservancies across Africa that are crucial to combating poaching. In fact, hunters go to the poorest places in the world that cannot afford to pay for welfare for its neediest residents, let alone maintain habitats for wildlife. It is the hunters who leave thousands of dollars behind directly benefiting the local communities and the wildlife.
Brian Gurney, who is head of the Bubye anti-poaching task force, adamantly states that “hunting allows us to have the funds to protect these animals from poaching” and that “we need more hunting.” When asked if the protected rhino populations in Bubye would decline without the funding from hunting dollars, Gurney said that they would “100 percent dwindle.”
While hunting may not generate a large percentage of tourism dollars, what it generates goes directly to keeping wild places wild and to supporting the poor rural communities. Hunting dollars has a direct impact in the places and with the people who need it the most. A few thousand dollars makes a huge difference to a rural African. It is more than many of them see in a lifetime. It is life-sustaining money for the local communities. Additionally, it is even life-changing because so much of it goes to provide clean water for communities, schools for their children, clinics, and a steady supply of protein to people who are protein starved.
The remaining dollars go to conservation efforts to counter poaching, fund conservation departments and conservation management programs and enhance habitat preservation. Remove hunting and all of the attendant benefits to the communities go away.
The greatest threat to wildlife is human encroachment – not hunting. What this means in a very practical sense is that land is under tremendous pressure to provide for human needs. (People NEED a place to live, a place to grow food, a place to graze livestock.) Five times more land in Africa is protected in hunting concessions than all the national parks put together! The national parks cannot pay for themselves. Almost all (if not all) of the national parks struggle for income to cover their costs.
Additionally, most of the hunting concessions are not suitable for ecotourism because they are too remote, too expensive to operate and not sufficiently picturesque. The reality is ecotourists don’t like to suffer real wilderness living and pay top dollar for it. Hunters thrive on it and will pay for the experience.
The other reality is that once hunting is stopped, the land in those areas will not stay wild. One of three things will happen: 1) The land will be plowed under, in which case the wildlife will be killed when it comes into the fields. 2) The land will be grazed over by cattle and goats, in which case wildlife will become competition for grass or predators of livestock. In either case it means dead wildlife. 3) The land will built on, whether its villages, towns or roadways. Once it’s built on, the habitat cannot come back and the animals won’t either and everything around the development is poached out.
When conservancy professionals like Brian Gurney and Pete Fick speak about the importance of hunting dollars in their mission with such certainty, it is puzzling to see why individuals like Kitty Block, the President of the Humane Society, questions why wildlife populations have to be managed “lethally.”
Block is just plain wrong. Hunters do not put value in wildlife’s parts. The value of wildlife is in what that small percentage of the population that is hunted can contribute to the preservation of huge tracts of wild habitat and the continuation of all the species in those ecosystems. That is the value that wildlife has when a hunter spends $50,000 - $100,000 to hunt iconic species.
There are more places like the Bubey Valley Conservancy. SCI has relationships with many of these operators. For example, Zambezi Hunters in Mozambique, where they reintroduced lions. Or the Sabie Game Park in Mozambique, where McDonald Safaris has successfully brought back black rhinos, after they have been extirpated twice! Another example is the Kalahari Oryx Lodge where the operator maintains one of only five wild managed lion populations in South Africa. It is in the middle of sheep country, where lions were long ago extirpated.
Finally, those opposed to hunting have the math wrong. When Bubey was first established, they did not have the number of lions and rhinos they have today. Those populations grew, even with hunting. In fact, they now have too many lions for sustainability.
When Sabie Game Park started, they were happy to see a rabbit. Now they have black rhino, elephant, lions and more. When Zambezi Hunters got their concession, it was poached to death. Now the game is plentiful. All demonstrable examples of how the math of sustainable use really works and what Kitty Block and friends say is just dead wrong. Hunting produces more animals, not less.
SCI commends CBS News Originals for taking a fair and in-depth look into the world of hunting and the inseparable relationship it has with ensuring the preservation of Africa’s most precious wildlife and invites all other responsible media to follow suit.