About a dozen years ago, Colin Bell, the then CEO of Wilderness Safaris, an exclusive, luxury photographic safari business catering to the very wealthy, told me and the other guests at a dinner in Johannesburg that, when General Ian Khama became president of Botswana, he would ban all hunting in the country and hand over the previous hunting concessions to companies such as his offering photographic safaris to overseas tourists. His advice has proven to be prophetic.
In a recent article, The Daily News in Botswana stated that President Khama had banned all hunting in Botswana as from 2014. The reason given by him was that, unless he did so, given the huge reduction in game numbers as a result of hunting, the photographic safari industry would be negatively impacted to the detriment of the tourism industry in the country. And, of course, if what I have been told is true, namely, that he holds a significant interest in a photographic safari company himself, he would not want that to happen now would he?
Whatever the real reason behind the closure of hunting in Botswana, the only thing certain, is that it has nothing to do with hunting. President Khama seems incapable of learning from the lessons of the countries which surround him.
To the east, Namibia has formally enshrined the sustainable use of living natural resources in its constitution, the only country in Africa to do so and, particularly since the introduction of legislation leading to the establishment of conservancies in the country, the Namibian minister for the environment and tourism has proudly been able to point out how hunting has led to the resuscitation of game numbers in her country. Over the last ten years, to quote but one example, the endangered desert elephants have improved in number from some 150 to over 750 animals. In addition, the people in the conservancies have benefited not only from hunting revenues but also from the protein provided plus training, employment and game capture, culling and eco-tourism revenues. As Lamprecht pointed out in her article, Development of Trophy Hunting in Namibia – 1960 to the Present Day in African Outfitter November/December 2012, all told, hunting revenue accounts for 2,3% of Namibia’s GDP which, if other related income is added, almost doubles this percentage and it is growing at 12% per annum, way above Namibia’s growth target of 7%.
To the south of Botswana, South Africa has for over 50 years been a shining example of what can be achieved by private sector conservation initiatives based on consumptive use, particularly when government does what government should do by providing the enabling legislation and without unnecessary interference. It is well known that today the country has over 9 600 game ranches covering some 21 million hectares (or three times the land covered by all the national parks and provincial reserves) and which holds a vast variety of game estimated in 2005 to amount to some 18,6 million game animals in total.
It must be said, however, that recently the South African government has started to interfere in the hunting and game industries as it seeks to raise taxes wherever it can to fund over R100 billion worth of social grants as well as the more recently exposed R500 million worth of wasteful and/or unauthorised expenditure as per the report of the government’s auditor general, in addition to some R230 million which, according to press reports, was spent on the president’s private homestead.
Productive game ranches have been acquired by government and handed over to blacks who have, almost without fail, looted the assets and converted the land into subsistence farming. Numerous statements have been made by current cabinet ministers which have demonstrated not only crass stupidity but a dangerous and woeful lack of knowledge about these industries. These include comments that game ranches are strictly the preserve of rich white men; that game ranches are like golf courses and contribute nothing to the economy; and that land used for game ranches should be better used for growing “mielies and potatoes”.
After canceling previous attempts in September and October last year to host a hunting indaba, the minister for environmental affairs summoned members of the hunting and game industries to such an indaba on 12 days notice two months ago. In her press release after the first day of the indaba, the minister was quoted as saying, “Although government and industry will sometimes not agree on other matters, I am of the firm belief that the hunting industry and the game farming industry are important partners, who played a key role in terms of conservation, tourism, and economic development.” For these long neglected industries, the minister’s statement has been greeted, in some quarters, by near euphoria.
But is this response justified? Analyzing the rest of her statement, however, indicates the woeful lack of knowledge on the part of the minister and her department. Quoting out of date statistics from 2010, she referred to the R1,1 billion “generated by the local and trophy hunting industries collectively.” Firstly, this seems to imply that the local hunting industry is separate from and different to the trophy hunting industry. While it is true the local hunters are predominantly meat hunters, there are literally thousands that hunt for trophies as well. Secondly, although overseas recreational hunters primarily specialize in trophy hunting, many, especially from Europe, participate in local culling operations. Finally, seeing as she has no way of ascertaining what the some 300,000 local hunters spend on daily rates and trophy fees, this statement of hers is more than a little surprising.
In a further surprising statement, again based on out of date statistics, she said, “Statistics compiled in 2010 indicate there are approximately 18,800 white rhino in South Africa and the number of white rhino has increased tenfold since hunting and live-sales started.” In the 1970s when the first game auctions were held, Dr. Ian Player told me that there were less than 50 white rhino in the country which, if the minister were correct, would indicate that there are either only 500 in the country now or Dr. Player’s count was hopelessly incorrect.
She concluded her press statement by reporting that, “over 280 rhino had to been poached this year alone” which, at the time, was substantially less than the 470 reported by the industries concerned.
Given that this industry falls under her department and is such a massive generator of revenue for the country, her apparent lack of knowledge and statement that she will, “sometimes not agree on other matters” with these industries without mentioning what these matters were, is a source for concern. Although seemingly aware that there is more to these industries than daily rates and trophy fees, she seems not to understand that the other sources of revenue generated by them include taxidermy, veterinary services, game capture, game auctions, rancher to rancher live sales, game transport, culling, venison exports, local venison sales and the additional money spent by local and overseas recreational hunters on accommodation, airfares, car hire, gratuities, gifts and travel and entertainment both before and after the hunt come to an estimated amount of some R8 billion per annum, which has been growing at a compound rate of some 15% per annum. In other words, if this continues, revenue from the game industry is set to double over the next five years.
To the best of my knowledge, no one in her department has any practical hunting or game ranching experience and the abysmal lack of knowledge and organisational ability shown by her department recently does not fill the majority of people in the relevant industries with confidence. As most South Africans have learnt through bitter past experience, it is not what the government says that matters but what it does or, more importantly, does not do.
If I was still a game rancher or running a safari outfitting business, which thankfully I am not, I would certainly wait and see what the government did before investing further. As a senior scientist in one of the provincial nature conservation departments said to me recently, “We are currently conserving animals to death.” He was referring, amongst other things, to the comparatively recent TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) legislation and, more particularly, that relating to black wildebeests, which has led to many game ranchers culling herds of these previously highly endangered animals. As he pointed out, in the rare instances where there was indeed crossbreeding between a black and blue wildebeests, it was an easy matter for provincial departments to deal with and the “sledgehammer-to-crack-a-walnut” approach of the TOPS legislation was both unnecessary and precisely the wrong way to go about dealing with this matter.
Given previous abovementioned statements by cabinet ministers in the current South African government, Minister Molewa’s vague and inaccurate statements have only exacerbated the uncertainty surrounding the hunting and game ranching industries. Government policy is unknown beyond the doubtful benefit of ill-informed platitudes and the certainty of government’s desperate need to find new revenue sources to tax and to placate the masses with further “land grants” which, thus far, have merely converted the vast majority of such productive land into subsistence plots resulting in the country becoming a net importer of food for the first time in its history.
In a nutshell, current South African policy regarding wildlife conservation appears to be like a rudderless ship sailed by grossly inept people who have never set foot on a boat before.
If President Khama, however, wants a crystal clear example of what his current policy will lead to, he need only look further east to see what a ban on hunting has produced in Kenya where, according to authorities there, they have lost approximately 80% of their wildlife in a mere 35 years since the introduction of the ban. In the face of such concrete examples to the west, south and east of his own country, the president’s decision defies logic and common sense and, as he has previously said, both in private and in public, that he hates hunting, it would appear he has allowed emotion and self-interest to cloud his judgment and the very effects he purportedly wishes to avoid are about to be exacerbated. Certainly insofar as wildlife in Botswana is concerned, no more disastrous a policy has ever been introduced since this country acquired independence.
Interestingly enough, the IUCN is currently attempting to organize a conference in Nairobi early in the new year to which representatives of the wildlife communities of this country as well as Uganda and Tanzania will be invited to examine the role that sustainable use of wildlife has played in the economies of both SA and Namibia and could play in these countries. Kenya has previously attempted to reintroduce hunting but, due to a well orchestrated campaign of “carrot and stick” interference in the sovereign affairs of an independent country by well funded western animal rights groups, they have thwarted the attempts of a largely uneducated, ill-informed and deliberately mis-informed government and public when President Moi, himself the recipient of persuasive attention from animal rightists, refused to sign the Wildlife (Conservation & Management)(Amendment) Bill 2004.
As Norton-Griffiths wrote in his article in the Oxford Institute of Economic Affairs, 2010, entitled, “The Growing Involvement of Foreign NGOs in Setting Policy Agendas and Policy Decision-Making in Africa, “The true legacy of the Kenyatta and Moi era has been the gradual degradation of the body politic into a tight network of complicity, supported and shielded by lazy and compliant donors; the gradual erosion of the legal system to create a culture of impunity; and the degradation of the body civic, primarily through the erosion of educational standards.
The legacy of corruption has had two major impacts on Kenya. Firstly, a massive Diaspora of more than a million of the best educated and most entrepreneurial of Kenyans. Secondly, a policy and moral vacuum within Kenya into which foreign NGOs with their single-issue agendas find it easy to insinuate themselves.”
(As an aside, as a South African reading this, if you substituted the word “Zuma” for “Kenyatta and Moi” and “South Africa” for “Kenya” wherever they appeared above, the paragraphs would remain completely accurate.)
It would seem that militant animal rightists would rather see animals starve to death and/or become extinct than see them thrive, grow in number and expand into new geographic regions as a result of their sustainable use which, time and again, has proven to be the key building block in their conservation. They also have no compunction in interfering, by fair means or foul, in the internal affairs of African countries by using methods that would not be tolerated in North America or Western Europe, which provide most of their support base. In Botswana, they seem to have won their second major victory – a devastating loss for wildlife and conservation in the country, the true effects of which will only be felt by its people when diamond revenues run dry and the plus 60% of the population currently employed by government have to learn to work for a living.