Stories and Traveltips

ID #3569

Hunting – the Case for and Against, South Africa.

Hunting is a controversial issue you are sure to encounter on trips to Southern Africa. Like most issues in the region, it is a complex debate.

On the one hand, it is argued that shooting a wild animal is a cruel, unethical act. Most anti-hunting protagonists find it impossible to appreciate that anyone could possibly derive pleasure from such an activity. Moreover, if they do then, by implication, the hunters are cruel and unethical and their activities abhorrent and morally indefensible. The argument becomes more strident if rare or endangered animals are involved.

In some instances, the above arguments are correct. The carnage that took place in Southern Africa before the turn of the 20th century was indefensible and unethical. Moreover, there are undoubtedly hunters whose behaviour is unethical. Recent cases of “canned” lion hunts attest to this fact.

On the other hand, many hunters I know find the above arguments incomprehensible. They are, for the most part kind, caring individuals with a deep appreciation of nature. Many spend time and effort protecting the wildlife and natural resources they allegedly destroy.  They discount the former arguments as irrelevant, coming from those who do not appreciate the issues involved.

The case for and against appears to be hopelessly polarised. Several facts need to be appreciated by both sides before reconciliation is possible.  For example:

• Trophy Animals. Allegation: The shooting of trophy animals will lead to a change in the gene pool, resulting in animals with shorter horns, smaller tusks etc.  Fact: Most animals only become worthy of trophy status when they are well past their prime as far as breeding is concerned. The above argument is thus in many instances false.
• Allegation: Shooting results in a decrease in the number of animals. Fact: There are many examples where, for reasons that are not always well understood (ecological systems are complex), hunting results in an increase in wildlife populations. Recent studies of the impact of hunting on game-bird populations in Kwa-Zulu Natal graphically illustrate this point.
• Allegation: The destruction of animals is always a cruel, reprehensible act.  The shooting of a dog with rabies, all will agree, disproves this generalisation.
• Allegation: All hunters are concerned, caring individuals with a deep appreciation of the wonders of nature. The truth is that some can only be described as “natural born killers”. Recent incidents of “canned lion” hunting graphically illustrate this point.
• Protein Yield.  Fact: The sustainable yield of protein from wildlife areas is many times greater than it would be were they restocked with domestic animals.
• Value of the Animals.  The selling price of wildlife is in many instances much greater than it is for a domestic animal of comparable size. While an ox sells for typically say R3000, a disease-free buffalo might sell for ten times that amount. This is particularly true of rare or endangered species such as black rhino, sable antelope, etc.  The demand/supply balance has shifted in favour of wildlife.
• Culling.  Inevitable at present if one is to maintain biodiversity in an artificially fenced environment. It is simply impractical to move thousands of elephant from one place to another.
• Hunting is an important source if revenue. In some instances, it is the only way conservation areas are able to finance the associated costs. 

There are other examples. Such realities as well as an improvement in both the knowledge of and technology associated with wildlife conservation have led to an increasingly sophisticated debate in conservation circles in the past decade. The result is that, while far from perfect, we have seen a spectacular increase in the number of game farms, conservation areas, etc. We now have more wildlife than at any time since the turn of the 20th Century. People in areas that are directly affected but previously excluded are now, more than ever, part of the process and beneficiaries of such change. The tourism potential of our natural heritage is readily appreciated by most. Policy issues are debated at the highest levels of government, etc. More needs to be done, but we seem to be headed in the right direction. The road ahead will be bumpy and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the debate is important if we are to realise our potential as the world’s leading eco-tourism destination.

Unfortunately, it would appear that public policy in Southern Africa is ahead of the rest of the world in this regard, as evidenced by the debates and voting at recent CITES conferences. We will have to assume a leadership role in such forums if we are to fulfil our potential in this regard.

One last point – animals are not stupid – they soon learn to associate humans with hunting. Avoid game farms where hunting takes place if you are intent on game viewing. You are otherwise unlikely to see anything other than their backsides through binoculars at long range. Alan McIver ALHuthe


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Last update: 2014-03-28 08:07
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.1

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