Question: I respect your charter in favour of respectful hunting but can you explain to me why why I find it disgusting to see all these dead animals, notably the rarer ones, on your site, as well as books with titles like ‘Death in the Rift Valley’, have these animals not paid the price many times over for human blood lust and now just hunted out of some fatuous bravado. Is it not time now to preserve these animals? I would appreciate your reaction. Thank you in advance ~ NH
My response: Thank you for your email dated 15 April, 2013, addressed to Rowland Ward Publications, which has been referred to me as an ex chairman of the company, for reply. After indicating your opposition to hunting, you raise a very pertinent question, namely, “Is it not time now to preserve these animals?”
This question was asked within three years of the first white settlers arriving at the southern tip of Africa in 1652 and answered by the then governor, Van Riebeek, who imposed a complete ban on hunting. Some years later, in 1822, Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape, also used legislation to try and protect hippopotami but, despite his best attempts, the last one was shot in the Berg River in 1874. In fact, between 1850 and 1890, the Orange Free State passed five important laws dealing with wildlife protection, the South African Republic six and Natal four, none of which served either to conserve or preserve game effectively in any of these territories which subsequently were united to form my own country, South Africa.
By the 1900s people were moving away from the preservationist philosophies of the past, which clearly had not worked and were focussing on conservation strategies. Over the next 50 years, this led to the establishment of most of South Africa’s current national parks and provincial game reserves and over a dozen were created. This did not work either as Professor Jane Carruthers of the University of South Africa pointed out in her book entitled, Farming the Wild or Wilding the Farm. According to a survey conducted in 1964 and referred to in the book, game numbers in South Africa totalled a mere 557 000 head.
By the 1970s both the blue buck and quagga (a kind of zebra) were extinct and four other species, namely, black wildebeest, bontebok, Cape mountain zebra and white rhinoceros were following hard on their heels as there were less than 50 of each of these species left.
What were the causes of this dramatic, some said catastrophic, decline? It has been scientifically determined that the major reasons were the two Anglo/Boer wars; the First and Second World Wars; the depression in between the two; government sponsored killing of game under the mistaken impression they harboured the tsetse fly – the cause of sleeping sickness in people and nagana in domestic livestock; drought; disease; plague; dog packs; the commercial killing for profit from hides and ivory and, the major cause, the killing by farmers for food and to make my way for their domestic livestock. Recreational hunting, as we know it today, had little or no effect on the deterioration in game numbers.
In the 1970s, however, two things happened which were to have a significant bearing on wildlife and wildlife habitat in South Africa. Hunting was banned in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda although, in the latter two countries, it was re-opened. Hunters who had previously travelled to these countries moved further south to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and, almost overnight, farmers were being offered more for a springbok than a sheep and more for a kudu than a cow. As a direct result, from a mere three game ranches that existed in the country at this time, the number expanded to over 9 600 today, covering 21 million hectares in extent, or more than three times the seven million hectares comprising all the national parks and provincial reserves put together. When the 1964 survey referred to by Professor Carruthers was repeated in 2005, it was found that game numbers in the country had multiplied nearly 40 times to some 18,6 million game animals. Those animals that had been hunted most assiduously in South Africa recovered best and, despite the poaching epidemic which continues to plague South Africa, there are more than 20,000 rhinoceroses in the country and over 20,000 black wildebeest.
In the meantime, the government of Kenya has admitted that, since the abolition of hunting in that country, they have lost over 80% of their game.
Namibia, on the other hand, which has followed and improved on the South African model, has enshrined the sustainable use of natural resources i.e. hunting in its constitution and introduced legislation in the 1990s to enable rural people to establish hunting concessions. As a direct result, it has seen revenue derived directly and indirectly from hunting increase to nearly six per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). At the same time, endangered animals such as the desert elephant increased from 150 to nearly 1 000 animals in the last 10 years and Hartmann’s mountain zebra now exceed 26 000 animals, to name but two examples of previously highly endangered species.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the Convention on Biodiversity, to which South Africa and many other countries are signatories, supports ethical hunting on a sustainable basis as does the IUCN, the United Nation’s conservation arm and all other major international conservation organisations.
Hunting in South Africa is an R8 billion a year industry, growing at approximately 15% per annum and providing tens of thousands of jobs in rural areas where they are most needed. In a recent study by Drs. Dry and Oberem, it was shown that game ranches employ nearly three times as many staff at salaries over five times higher than the domestic livestock farms which they have, for the most part, replaced. Game ranching has also been a major factor behind the reduction in veld erosion, the recovery of wildlife habitat, the establishment of food security, the provision of low cholesterol, low fat, low sodium and healthy protein and the provision of some R2 billion worth of foreign exchange introduced by overseas recreational hunters into the economy each year.
This trend, whereby hunters pay for conservation, is even more marked in North America where, according to a survey conducted this year by Southwick Associates and Andrew Loftus Consulting for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, in 2009 alone, more than $740 million was made available to states and territories from taxes paid on hunting and fishing equipment and, in addition, $1,4 billion was paid by hunters and anglers in respect of license fees.
As the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairman, U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller said, “This is one of the most impressive examples of how an American industry can profit and bolster the economy while restoring and improving our nation’s cherished natural resources.”
U.S. Congressman Mike Ross said, “The revenue from these excise taxes helps fund conservation and wildlife management efforts in a fiscally responsible way. Ultimately, the value and opportunities created by improved habitat and more robust fish and wildlife populations bring more sportsmen and women into the fold, which in turn spurs more revenue and keeps the cycle of investment strong.” Numbers of hunters have risen by nine per cent to 13, 8 million people over the last three years in the States.
“The conservation community has known for a long time that the excise taxes provide a vital funding source for state agencies and have enhanced fish and wildlife populations,” said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates.
While hunting clearly is controversial for some, particularly urban people removed from a close and personal interaction with wildlife, to others, it is as much part of their culture as vegetarianism is to some.
At the same time, your question raises a number of complex issues which I have not dealt with but which are covered, at length, in the 1 ½ hour documentary produced by me and entitled, The South African Conservation Success Story. It was awarded the Environmental Prize for 2012 by the prestigious European conservation body, CIC – the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and can be bought in DVD or book form from Rowland Ward’s online shopping site – www.rowlandward.com – or, alternatively, ordered over the telephone – +27 21 325 2150..
A similar documentary, Opportunity For All – The North American Conservation Model, produced by the renowned Canadian wildlife biologist, Shane Mahoney and which deals with similar issues raised by your question can be obtained from the North American Elk Foundation.
Mr. Hardy, I am a hunter, a trustee of WWF Southern Africa, a life member of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a founder member of the Peace Parks Foundation and the SA Wildlife College (where I will be teaching the week after next). I have devoted much of my life, time, effort and money to conserving the wildlife and wildlife habitat we both love so dearly. Ethical and sustainable hunting may not be the only way to ensure the future of both in Africa but, if there is another way, I do not know what it is. Conversely, I know, being an African and having travelled widely and run businesses in 19 different African countries that, stopping ethical and sustainable hunting, will effectively consign wildlife and wildlife habitat to the dung heap.
Thank you for your lengthy reply. I want to look into it in detail along with some of the articles on your internet site to give you my thoughts.
If I may say so, you strike me as an interesting character. I must also admit that I am a city dweller, though I have an instinctive love of Africa based on my reading and not yet unfortunately via travel, despite being 53.
What I do understand is that it is important for the public in general to have a real understanding of what is going on, rather than views based on a mixture of ignorance and misplaced sentiment, it is for that reason that I am communicating with you. I will try to look at the philosophical aspects when I give a longer reply later on (these may irritate you, or not, depending on your temperament).
I dont know if you have read the work of JM Coetzee? If so, I would be interested if you have any thoughts on his (sometimes obscure) hints at the problems of our relations in general with animals. On another issue, what stance do you have on bullfighting?
Many thanks for you time. If you prefer to wait to reply till my next e mail, that is fine by me. Let me say, finally for now, that I see there is a reference to death threats on your site. This implies that we are dealing with the heart of things when analysing these relations with animals/hunting and that such people need to undertake the analysis that I am trying to work through (in a slightly heavy way). In the meantime, I wish you all the best and hope that, for example, the vile ivory/rhino horn trade is not going to win out. Regards ~ NH