By Johnson Siamachira
Harare, September 8, 2023 (New Ziana) – Southern African countries are on a collision course with the United Kingdom over its proposed legislative ban of imports of hunting trophies, spurred on by animal rights groups in the country.
Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are pressing for the proposed bill banning imports of hunting trophies into the UK not to be enacted into law.
All the six countries are claiming that with the region’s wildlife population well managed and increasing, there is no ironclad reason for undermining their controlled trophy hunting activities, especially as the UK itself permits extensive trophy hunting at home.
Their dissent comes amid claims that legitimate conservation concerns have been hijacked by animal rights activists who claim that it is inhumane to kill wildlife and unethical to make money out of game.
The wildlife economy – including trophy hunting – is an important part of the overall economy in Africa, especially in rural areas where natural resources are crucial for livelihoods and local development.
Southern Africa has a good record in biodiversity conservation, and it holds globally important populations of the world’s lions, buffaloes, elephants, rhinos, and many other species.
The UK government is pushing legislation to ban the importation of hunting trophies. The proposal, which those backing the bill say is intended to protect endangered species, have been widely attacked by leading scientists, conservationists and governments from across the Southern Africa region. Experts and commentators are calling it hypocritical and a form of neo-colonialism.
Far from protecting endangered species, the UK Bill will likely put species at greater risk by undermining a hunting revenue model which protects natural habitats, funds anti-poaching resources and compensates communities involved in human-wildlife conflict.
But the UK is refusing to listen to expert opinion, or the views of those who live and work alongside wildlife in Africa.
British ministers have even suggested that those impoverished by the hunting trophy import ban should apply for UK aid or grants, in what several African governments have described as a ‘19th Century’ attitude towards African development.
The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is a private member’s bill sponsored in the House of Lords by Tory peer Baroness Fookes (Conservative).
Labour peer Baroness Hayman of Ullock, said: “In my personal opinion, trophy hunting is cruel. It is inhumane and it is unjustifiable.”
But cross-bencher Lord St John of Bletso, who sits on the board of wildlife conservation charity Tusk, said: “Whilst I do not like the practice of trophy hunting, the evidence shows that properly regulated and managed wild trophy hunting does play an important role in wildlife conservation.”
The Bill would prohibit the import into Great Britain of hunting trophies from animal species listed in annex A or B of a piece of retained EU law referred to as the ‘Principal Wildlife Trade Regulation.’
The UK government describes these lists as “broadly equivalent” to the lists of species in appendices 1 and 2 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), established in 1973 and now adopted by 184 nations. CITES exists to curb trade in endangered animals and plants, and goods derived from them. It bans trade in ‘all species threatened with extinction’ and sets strict safeguards over other species seen as under lesser threat.
The landmark Hunting Trophies legislation is currently being scrutinized by the UK Parliament before it can become law. The bill will ban the import of trophies hunted from over 6,000 species considered to be at risk from international trade (though not necessarily trophy hunting), including elephants, giraffes, rhinos, big cats, polar bears, primates and hippos.
This has created intense conflict. A group of 103 people including government officials and community members who live and work in countries throughout Africa – including Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe- sent an open letter through the Humane Society to Members of House of Lords urging them to support the bill. Meanwhile, over 150 leading conservation scientists and experts sent a letter to the British Prime Minister highlighting the complexity of the issue, the fact that conservation science shows that trophy hunting can benefit wildlife, and warning of the risks of banning trophy hunting imports without better options for maintaining the land and wildlife concerned.
Some observers believe that a new conservation approach is slowly emerging from such conflicts, in which people rediscover ways to live in harmony with nature, rather than be entirely separated from it.
They reason that wildlife has a rightful economic as well as biological and cultural value. The more that economic value can be utilized to help local community development, the greater the likelihood that conservation will be successful.
Advocates of this approach include a former head of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). They imagine a 21st century in which national parks and nature reserves as we know them could all but disappear. In contrast, protected areas would become commonly owned resources managed so that local people earn material benefits from the wildlife in their areas by harvesting meat,ivory and other non timber forest products and by claiming revenues from safari tourism and controlled trophy hunting.
British conservationist, Professor Amy Dickman argues that 90 percent of protected areas with lions, for example, are severely underfunded.
“Conservation is my life’s work – and I know trophy hunting helps protect wildlife and isn’t making species extinct. Removing trophy hunting without providing a suitable alternative of revenue will expose those underfunded protected areas to further risks, such as poaching,” said Prof Dickman, who is professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Oxford.
The debate over trophy hunting goes to the heart of how wildlife in developing countries can best be conserved: by sustainable and profitable use, or by protection behind the fences and armed game warden patrols of National Parks. There are many local voices calling for national responses to local challenges.
“There’s a feeling in the West that once you give commercial value to wildlife, this encourages people to go and shoot the animals,” says Zoolakes Nyathi, vice-chairperson of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) Association in Zimbabwe. “But that is not true.” When the Nile crocodile was totally protected, it faced extinction, he says, but after a limited trade in it was allowed, “the numbers increased and now we have too many crocodiles.” There is, he says, no known species that has suffered extinction as a result of trade.
Says Nyathi: “Current policies to protect endangered species represent mainly the views of global and national role players, while local people, especially those who depend on wild plants and animals, are seldom party to the debate.” Some environmental organizations agree. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) notes, “Unless we work with local people rather than against their interests, we will not succeed.”
In Zimbabwe, the devolution of wildlife-use rights to landholders in 1975 resulted in a transition from game ranching being a hobby practiced by a few dozen ranchers to about 1,000 landowners and 27,000 square kilometres conserving wildlife by 2,000, with trophy hunting a primary driver of this change.
A community leader in Masoka area in Mbire district in Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe, Ishmael Chaukura said: “If trophy hunting is banned, people in my district would be relegated to poverty as we depend entirely on a wildlife-based economy here.”
Dividends from trophy hunting have made the district prosper, with investments in education, health and employment creation.
“Before the introduction of CAMPFIRE, we were a people without hope – we had no schools, no clinics…. We had nothing,” Chaukura said. “Wildlife predators kill people and livestock in broad daylight, the situation is very bad,” he adds.
“In Zimbabwe, the bottom line is that elephants, for example, are fundamentally in conflict with man and we have too many of them,” assets Chaukura. “Elephants need to pay their way if they are not to be pushed back by agriculture and livestock.”
“Prescriptive planning and imposed solutions will not work; locally derived responses are the key to success.” says development researcher Ian Scoones.
Safari Club International (SCI), a membership-driven organization headquartered in Washington DC in the United States of America, strongly supports trophy hunting.
In response to the Bill, SCI said: “Overall, the proposals expected in the Animals Abroad Bill will harm wildlife, including endangered species. Hunting is a conservation tool that provides incentives and, resources, to help ensure management of healthy wildlife populations ecosystems.”
“Safari Club International will continue to support scientifically driven, successful sustainable use wildlife management programs and defend hunters’ ability to conserve wildlife through hunting,” SCI says in a statement.
As economist Kreg Lindberg expressed it in a report for the Washington think-tank the World Resources Institute, “when wildlife pays, wildlife stays.”
But often, say critics, they stay at the expense of local people who gain little from their presence.
There is growing political realization that the needs of people and wildlife must be reconciled if both are to survive. At a conference on wildlife and development, held in London in April 1996, the then British aid minister Lady Chalker warned that “Sub-Saharan Africa must not become a playground for the rich of the developed North, it is not a theme park. It is home to over 30 million people, many without economic or educational opportunity or protection against disease, drought or malnutrition. People feel passionately about the fate of endangered species, and rightly so. But we must meet the needs of poor people today, if the wider and longer-term goals are to be achieved.”
In Zimbabwe, CAMPFIRE seeks to devolve control of natural resources down to the grassroots level and to ensure that there too, profits can flow from wildlife as a properly managed resource. It has become a test-bed for people-centred conservation without fences.
Annually, trophy hunting contributes approximately 90 percent of the total revenue in CAMPFIRE areas, according to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. A total of US$39 million was generated by CAMPFIRE between 1994 and 2012, of which US$22 million was allocated to communities and used for resource management (22 percent), household benefits (26 percent), and community projects (52 percent).
The CAMPFIRE programme operates in 58 of Zimbabwe’s 60 districts, involving 120 wards with around 800,000 households.
Nationally, photographic tourism generates an average of US$1,750 million every year, versus an average of US$16 million generated by the hunting industry.
No conservation strategies are perfect, and none can satisfy all the competing claims on a resource.
CAMPFIRE Association’s Nyathi sums it all up: “It is not fair for countries with most of their animals only found in zoos to tell us how to manage our wildlife. It doesn’t make sense.”