WWF – Its True Colours

Since my expulsion as a 30 year member and 20 year trustee of WWF Southern Africa for the crime of being a hunter, the controversy surrounding this matter will not die down. An article by Derek Carstens in the March issue of SA Hunter sought to establish the reasons for my expulsion as they and I both seemed to have the same objectives, namely, the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats.

After examining the issue in some detail, Carstens asked the question, “What then did Peter do to warrant his expulsion?” And answered his own question as follows:

“Having gone through the exercise and not finding anything rational or objective in terms of WWF’s motive, the only conclusion I can come to is that emotion has entered the fray. And nothing stirs emotions and clouds the thinking as much as hunting when it comes to non-hunting conservationists.

This is the 12 year old photograph of my Cameroon rainforest elephant hunt used by Survival International to try and embarrass WWF Southern Africa and which led to my being expelled by them after serving as a trustee for over 20 years and having been a member for over 30 years. There was nothing secret about the photo as a similar one was used to illustrate a book of mine, Hunting Icons of Africa, published in 2009 and in magazine articles at the time. The elephant itself killed a Pygmy tracker a few days before my arrival in the rainforests of southeastern Cameroon, according to his friends who were photographed with me. A full mount of the elephant now resides in the Iziko Museum of South Africa in Cape Town along with a number of other mounted wildlife donated by me.

Is it perhaps because Peter’s departure point always has been and always will be that hunting, in particular ethical hunting, has a fundamental and proven role to play when it comes to conservation and sustainability of the species?

Is it perhaps the case that the hunting conservationist of today faces the same challenge of being “accepted” by non-hunting conservationists as that which the rich man in the Bible faced in terms of getting through the eye of the proverbial needle to earn a place in conservation heaven?

On the contrary methinks that the real challenge is for the non-hunting conservationists to pass through the storm cloud of emotion and to accept the self evident facts that hunting has been fundamental to the success of game conservation both here and worldwide …

And perhaps that is where the rubber hits the road – follow the money as they say. Could it then be that the possible endorsement of hunting, and in this case a particular high-profile hunter, represents some kind of threat to WWF’s donor base?

As a consequence could it be that a decision has been made here NOT to be a broad church accommodating all those with shared principles and intent, in pursuit of the same worthwhile objectives by different routes?

Has the choice been made to represent a particular interest group and in so doing deny the fundamental, proven role hunting has played in the growth in game numbers in this country, from approximately 550,000 in the mid- 1960s to in excess of 18,000,000 today, to appease an armchair donor base? If so, fine – just say so, but then please change your mission statement.”

This view has been picked up by SAMPEO – the South African Movement for the Promotion of Ethical Outfitters in the March/April issue of African Outfitter in an article entitled, “The dilemma of conservation NGOs”. They wrote as follows:
“All conservation NGOs depend on financial donations. They do not earn money but raise funding from donors. There is huge competition amongst them for donor funding. It is this competition that often undermines some of the realities of real conservation in the field. If the NGO’s conservation ethic is not in line with what donors want, they risk losing that donor funding. That is a big problem …

Unfortunately, there are aspects of conservation, e.g. culling in parks or trophy hunting, that are unpalatable to many donors and sponsors and the public they are trying to please. For example, if a conservation NGO released a public statement endorsing the culling of elephants as a necessary conservation tool, it may outrage the donor and the public. This becomes especially problematic when a competing conservation NGO takes up a contrary position of anti-elephant culling. To which NGO do you think the public donors are going to steer their funds? … The same can be said about trophy hunting. It is a fact that trophy hunting is often the best tool for conservation in certain areas, but which conservation NGO is brave enough to publicly support trophy hunting?

Secretly, many do support trophy hunting but cannot say so for fear of losing donors. That is unethical and a disservice to conservation. They are putting financial gain before fair and honest comment. Instead they will publicly criticize trophy hunting, using clichés such as “sustainable abuse”. This is all done to make sure that donor funding comes their way and their NGO remains financially viable …

They deliberately omit some of the hard truths. They omit to mention the facts that the public or donors might not like. They continue to push a sanitized view of conservation to the world, leaving out the unpleasant truths, all because they do not want to risk their funding … Therein lies the tragedy that is damaging so many conservation efforts in Africa …”

The Pygmies with whom I hunted during my Cameroon rainforest elephant hunt posing next to the dwarf forest buffalo that nearly killed my tracker, Mombatou (second from left), my guide, the late Geoffroy de Gentile and myself when, from nowhere, it ran straight at us out of the screening green shrubs from about 12 metres.

In my humble opinion, SAMPEO could just as easily have named WWF Southern Africa and Survival International, the latter which has lodged the first ever formal complaint admitted against WWF with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the intergovernmental body which exists “to build a stronger, cleaner and fairer world.”

Survival International – not an NGO I have ever come across or even heard about anywhere in Africa in all my years of criss-crossing the continent – is at loggerheads with WWF. As more and more NGOs – there are over 250 in Africa alone, for example, all fighting to save the rhino – compete for shrinking funding given the growing disenchantment with the lack of real progress actually made over the long term by the vast majority of these bodies, the fight for the remaining funds becomes commensurately more vicious. In a recent article published in an ezine entitled Counterpunch on 10 March, Survival International’s CEO, Stephen Corry published his take on WWF and my expulsion. The full article can be found at the following link – http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/10/the-world-wildlife-fund-trophy-hunters-and-donald-trump-jr/

He states that, “… the real reason WWF South Africa is evicting Flack is because Survival International is drawing attention to WWF’s duplicity in supporting trophy hunting on the one hand, while colluding in forbidding subsistence hunting on the other. At the same time as the organisation carefully models its image to attract support from the animals rights faithful, it quietly asserts the importance of sport hunting, [12] the very thing those animal lovers detest. WWF bosses doubtless want to see the back of Flack because he exposes them to scrutiny.”

One thing I have found when following the exploits of the NGOs operating in the African conservation sphere is that none of them are frightened of gilding the lily, gross exaggeration and even of manufacturing their own ‘facts’. Mr Corry is no exception.

As I also wrote to Mr Corry and WWF Southern Africa – which he has chosen to ignore – that I have never come across any persecution of Pygmies by any safari outfitter ever. This would be completely counter-productive. It is impossible to hunt in the rainforests without the active help and support of the local Pygmy peoples. No hunter in his right mind would do anything to offend them and, to be fair, I have never heard even the remotest rumour that WWF was, directly or indirectly, behind the abuse of Pygmies for whatever reason.

None of the safari outfitters or guides I dealt with had anything but the highest respect for the hunting abilities of these little people and one of the main reasons why many hunters go to the rainforests is to have the privilege of sharing a hunt with these iconic hunters whose skills are rivalled only by the Bushmen of Southern Africa.

It is an accepted fact that, when hunting with Pygmies, when they come across food, the hunt stops until they have gathered what they want. Conversely, one of the reasons they guide hunters is that they get to eat most of the meat of the animals killed.

No-one I have come across while hunting in the rainforests or elsewhere has ever expressed any opposition, directly or indirectly, to Pygmy subsistence hunting. Having said that, the people I have come across poaching in the rainforests have been Bantu commercial bushmeat poachers and the Pygmies I hunted with detested them and were eager to catch and hand them over to the authorities, not that that did much, if any, good. And yes, I am aware that when they caught them, the Pygmies did manhandle them but more because the Bantu, being much bigger, thought they could fight their way out of the situation.
I have also heard of cases where commercial bushmeat poachers have paid Pygmies to poach for them and have threatened to harm their families should they refuse but I have never come across this in person.

A Gaboon viper, one of the less pleasant dwellers in the Cameroon rainforests, which we encountered during my rainforest elephant hunt. The Pygmies pointed it out as they wanted to kill and eat it.

To my mind, Mr Corry is creating and/or exaggerating spooks in the dark and possibly conflating Bantu commercial bushmeat poaching and the response to these parasites, with subsistence hunting by Pygmies. In other words, manufacturing a Heartbreak Hotel, sob story to squeeze money out of the pockets of uninformed and ill-informed urban dwellers in the developed world on the basis that, he and only he and his organisation, can fix the problem. A bit like Don Quixote creating windmills that only he can see and demolish.

He makes a number of unsubstantiated statements:

  1. “… big game hunters … always opposed it (subsistence hunting) because it reduces “their” game …” Hunters do not see wildlife as belonging to themselves outside those private game ranches where legislation has transferred ownership of the animals on this land in certain circumstances to the landowner. What all conservationists object to – hunters and non-hunters alike – is the illegal, uncontrolled, capture or killing of wild animals on an unsustainable basis, regardless of quotas, breeding seasons, sex or age of the animal and, even more so, to the slow, cruel death of animals in captivity or those caught in snares and leg traps where the poachers do not bother to return to put the animals out of their misery or where they are killed for commercial as opposed to subsistence reasons, for example, to sell their meat, tusks and horns.
    His statement, therefore, that, “White people can hunt but African subsistence hunters can’t. If they try to (or even if they don’t) they are evicted, beaten up and labelled “poachers” is beyond rubbish and just so much unsubstantiated, emotional claptrap. Some of the people in his videos who make these claims, firstly, do not look like Pygmies and, secondly, none of them refer to actual times, dates, places or people that supposedly abused them but make vague, generalized accusations which reek of fabrication.
  2. He quotes with approval the rubbish re-iterated again and again by animal rights organisations such as HSUS that, “Many of the species sought by trophy hunters are threatened by extinction.” CITES specifies which animals are threatened by extinction and African governments will not issue a hunting quota for them and, even if they did, they could not be imported into any of the 187 signatory countries to CITES where all of the so-called rich, white hunters come from. In fact, as all hunters know, seeing as it has been empirically established by scientific facts, it is only legal and ethical hunting which has placed a value on wildlife and which, in turn, has retarded poaching.
  3. He talks dismissively of “big” conservation practised by NGOs like WWF as if there was a “small” conservation which was somehow different and better, much like the label some idiotic, Western, academically led, communistically inclined buffoons have tried to do to “big’ business, as if somehow developing a profitable, growing, professionally run, global business, which employs many people, was a criminal offence.
  4. He tries to play the ever so tired race card – which, in Africa, is usually the last resort of corrupt, black politicians when all else has failed, their egregious greed and disgusting dishonesty can no longer be denied and they have their backs to the wall – by accusing big, rich, white men of abusing poor, little, black Pygmies which, as I have shown earlier, is the least likely thing to happen given their co-dependence. This is no different to the grossly incompetent and corrupt South African government using the phrase ‘white monopoly capital’ devised by their white PR firm, ad nauseam, to blame all the manifest ills created by their woeful leadership and management of the country.

The real problem Survival International should address, apart from the population explosion is that few, if any, African governments seem to realize the huge advantages that can be obtained in perpetuity for their people by the sustainable use of their natural resources, in general, and their wildlife and wildlife resources, in particular.

Instead, given the short-sighted greed of their politicians, on the one hand, and the increasing poverty of the people, on the other hand, their leaders plunder these natural resources as hard and fast as possible and these egregiously corrupt practices cascade down to the lowest levels of the army and police who actively aid and abet this terminally stupid destruction, secure in the knowledge that they and those they support are safe from any form of prosecution.

So, here I am, a retired, 68 year old (who has devoted most of his disposable time, effort and money to his lifelong passion for the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats), caught between two entities fighting tooth and nail for donors’ hearts, minds and wallets to sustain their own businesses, privileges and lifestyles – regardless of who or what is trampled in the process.

Whether they have any real desire to conserve wildlife and wildlife habitats, on the one hand, or uplift rural, indigenous peoples, on the other hand, is debatable given their questionable, the-means-justifies-the-ends, money-grubbing behaviour. This must surely beg the question whether the money given to them is well spent in trying to achieve any of their supposed aims. If their hypocritical, unedifying, unscrupulous conduct is anything to go by, where all’s fair in the donation game, then this is debatable. Follow the money as Derek Carstens advised. See where it comes from and how much and then see where it goes and what it achieves. I know that, if they ask me for money in the future what my answer will be and I suspect most hunters may well feel the same.

Survival International could have used this photo of the Pygmies with whom we hunted in the Cameroon rainforest but, of course, this would have belied their propaganda of how badly the Pygmies are treated by hunters. This is a photo of the guides and Pygmy trackers used by my hunting partner and I during our hunts in the Cameroon rainforest. The men and their families stayed in accommodation not that different to ours in a village right next door to where we stayed. I can vouch for the fact that they and their families were well treated, well fed and, amongst other benefits, were shown movies selected by them two to three times a week. I remember that their favourites were old style Western movies.