I have never received a greater response than I did to my blog, “Amateur Hunting Bodies Have Failed Their Members” both in number and the emphatic views expressed, only a fraction of which I published. Clearly, I was merely expressing in the blog what many of you have felt for some time.
Since then there has been the predictable tepid responses from amateur hunting and conservation associations.
Patrick O’Malley of SCI, referring to the Cecil debacle, wrote:
“Your SCI leadership took immediate action when the uproar was just beginning. Although the facts of the incident were unclear, emergency meetings were convened as quickly as possible so your leadership could assess the situation and take the necessary action.”
But, apart from meetings, quite what the ‘necessary action’ was that was taken is unclear.
O’Malley’s apologia goes on to state:
“SCI leaders operate in recognition of certain realities. One of them is that public opinion in support of hunting is not fixed. Survey research going back decades charts a majority of support for hunting that vacillates in the fifty to seventy percent range. Public support for hunting hit a peak of 78% in 2006. But this solid majority evaporates immediately when the word “trophy” is inserted before hunting. “Trophy hunting” garnered support from only 28% of the public in the same 2006 survey – a plunge of a full fifty percent. These findings have remained consistent through numerous surveys since 2006, and the same phenomenon is observable even among some other hunters, as many of us know from personal experience.”
Of course, this begs the question, “Why have the favourable public opinion polls been squandered over the last nine years?” In tracking the declining numbers, did SCI not ask themselves what, if anything, could be done about it?
SCI then supplies the following reasons:
“It is not surprising or inappropriate for those of us who are personally invested in trophy hunting to feel a certain sense of offense and outrage over this disparity. After all, the facts and the science are on our side. But the unfortunate reality must be recognized and acknowledged in charting our public relations efforts. SCI simply does not have the power or resources to change American public opinion as a whole. For the sake of comparison, it would take every single penny of SCI’s budget for fifty years straight to fund a public education campaign of the same scope that Coca-Cola routinely deploys to make Americans aware of its latest diet soda.”
To call the above nonsense is to dignify it with a euphemism it does not deserve. As an SCI member wrote to me:
“They miss the point. This is not about going unnoticed or staying off the liberal media’s radar. This is not about matching Coca Cola’s publicity. Millions of small companies do PR without trying to reach every single person in the world. Millions of companies have an outreach to people and industries that are important for their businesses.
We don’t need to reach the whole world, but why weren’t we active with IATA? Why weren’t we active with the cargo shipping companies? And what’s wrong or so hard or so expensive about actively seeking a working relationship with the likes of Reuters, Associated Press and such, getting them to report on conservation success stories, on the human/wildlife conflict issues, on the effects of the bushmeat hunting trade and the issues behind those problems and, in a roundabout way, how the hunting industry is working to mitigate that? Why aren’t they reporting on how hunting has saved the Balearean Boc on Mallorca Spain, or the markhor in Pakistan? Why has no one reported how private conservancies in Tajikistan are increasing markhor numbers and, as a byproduct, snow leopard numbers, thanks to hunting programs? Why was it when Nepal had a problem with man-eating leopards only a few years ago and their police and army could not remove the problem animals no one got a story done about how a safari hunter would be better equipped/skilled at targeting and removing the animal and saving human lives from a real world monster?
How would that cost an organization’s entire operations budget? We have great stories that we are already telling ourselves. We need to stop preaching to the choir and just share the great stories with the right contact outside our circle. — But now I am the one preaching to the choir as you and I are in complete agreement.”
SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association’s CEO, Fred Campher wrote this:
“During the last few weeks, an intensive public debate about the alleged illegal hunting of “Cecil the Zimbabwean lion” continued in the media and on social media in particular. SAHGCA took a deliberate decision not to take part in this emotive and speculative debate among mostly ill-informed participants. We have been widely criticised for keeping silent but decided that it would be irresponsible to express opinions or speculate without sufficient information.”
With the greatest of respect, what would do more damage – keeping quiet because there was no public relations plan to address an easy to imagine situation like Cecil occurring or publishing a timely, well written and well thought out response with possibly one or two minor errors, which could be corrected later if necessary? The plain and simple fact of the matter is, that neither SCI nor SAHGCA, two dominant hunting and conservation bodies on the North American and African continents, respectively, have never had a written public relations strategic plan to promote hunting supported by a professional public relations firm and that is the main reason why public support of hunting has fallen so dramatically in both the USA and RSA. As a result, when the Cecil story broke, both bodies were paralysed by indecision. There was no crisis management plan in place. No relationships had been built with the media over the years to ensure that they would contact the associations first before publishing the Cecil story and others like it. No effort worthy of the name had been made to consistently inform and enlighten the media on hunting and its role in conservation on a day to day/month to month/year to year basis. It was left to non-hunters like Rosie Cooney of the IUCN and independent reports in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times etc., etc. to put the case for us hunters well after the event.
And instead of making a simple apology, recognising the past mistakes and undertaking active steps to put things right, us members are treated to what can only be called obfuscation! This in itself shows how little these bodies and their management understand about public relations. Rule number 1 – “Do not try and defend the indefensible” – something the public relations firm involved has taught PHASA and which I have no doubt was behind their about turn on canned lion killings, on the one hand, and their acknowledged and very public stance on the Cecil issue, on the other hand. PHASA has a had a three year relationship with the PR firm of Du Plessis and Associates, one of, if not the, top public relations firms in the country and, although the image of PHASA is still woeful in the writer’s opinion and a public relations strategy takes at least three years to bear fruit, the positive results are beginning to be there for everyone to see.
I would urge you, as I have done before, to use your votes as members of these and other hunting and conservation associations to elect members to decision making committees and positions of authority who have a track record of business success and who understand the important roles strategic planning and public relations play in achieving such success if you want your children and grandchildren to be able to hunt where, when and how you have done.