I refer to the recent articles by Messrs Vegter and Pinnock on the conservation of rhinoceroses and elephants.
Like them both, I am passionate about wildlife and wildlife habitats. Like them both, I support whatever conserves them and oppose whatever does not. So what we are arguing about so vociferously. I hope it is the means to achieve the aim, not the aim itself.
Both Messrs Vegter and Pinnok marshal facts, figures and others in support of their contentions but only in Mr Vegter’s case has there been a long term ‘experiment’ to support his views and that experiment is what has been happening in this country over the last 50 years or so.
We know that by the 1960s the blue buck and quagga were long extinct and at least four other species in South Africa – Cape mountain zebra, black wildebeest, bontebok and white rhino – were following hot on their heels as there were less than 50 of any of these species left. Worse still, in 1964, a survey quoted by Professor Jane Carruthers in her book, Wilding the Farm or Farming the Wild, showed that South Africa hosted only 557 00 head of game in total and there were no game ranches as we know them today.
In 2005, the same survey was repeated and found that there were now 18,7 million head of game and, today, the number of game ranches exceeds 9 500 covering some 21 million hectares or three times all land covered by the national parks and provincial reserves put together and none of this has cost the government a single cent. This subject is covered extensively in the book and documentary, The South African Conservation Success Story, which was awarded the Environmental Prize by the prestigious European body, CIC – The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, in 2012.
What caused this change? How did it happen? And what can we learn from this? Well, in 1977 Kenya banned all hunting and was soon followed by Tanzania and Uganda. Both the latter two countries have long since rescinded the ban but not Kenya and, by their own admission, Kenya has since lost over 70% of its game. As a result of the bans, the demand for hunting moved south and soon domestic livestock farmers here were being offered ‘more for a kudu than a cow’ and more for a springbok than a sheep. They set land aside for wildlife and wildlife habitat and replaced the ‘plough and cow’ in many instances. Those animals, like black wildebeest and the white rhinoceros, that were hunted most assiduously, recovered best and, before the rhino poaching epidemic broke out, their numbers exceeded 20 000. Before the government interfered and introduced the TOPS legislation, black wildebeest numbers exceeded 30 000.
The business of game ranching combined with hunting, effectively the trade in wildlife, resulted in the resurrection of both wildlife and wildlife habitat in this country on a scale never seen before on this continent where both are under severe threat and experiencing major declines from bushmeat poaching, population increases and habitat destruction, plus the overall failure of African governments to realise what an enormous renewable resource wildlife and wildlife habitat are if used sustainably.
We also know that the ban on the trade in ivory has not worked. Mr Pinnok’s own statistics of declining elephant numbers in the rest of Africa, excluding Southern Africa, show this. People of his persuasion, who fall into the animal rightist and/or anti-hunting camp, cannot point to one, actual, long term example where their proposed policies have been applied in practice and produced the results they claim. In fact, in the only country where it has been tried i.e. Kenya, it has been a dismal failure. Like the old Nedbank advert said, “Makes you think doesn’t it?” If nothing else, surely if Mr Pinnok and those who agree with him are so certain of their views, they should have put their money where their mouths are and tested them in practice over an extended period of time. And please do not plead poverty. Everyone knows that the animal rights movement in the USA alone raises hundreds of millions of Rands every year from the public, although little if any of it seems to be spent on practical on the ground conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat in Africa. Why is that?
Should we not proceed down the tried and tested route of what has been the most enormously successful wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation story and, for example, allow the trade in rhinoceros and elephant products? After all, if it does not work as it has in the past, the ‘experiment’ can always be stopped. Surely, this has to better than the current international bans which have clearly not worked on animals, animal products, alcohol or drugs, whereas regulated diamond trading, for example, has largely eliminated illegal activity in this field?
One last paragraph – Mr Pinnok makes use of ugly, insulting, personal attacks on Mr Vegter and people referred to by him in his articles. In my humble opinion, this is not necessary, does not strengthen his argument and is demeaning to the cause he purports to espouse. At the risk of sounding like him, if nothing else, it makes Mr Pinnok look like the nasty, irrational person I now strongly suspect he is.