Big Game Hunting Good for Africans

By Glen Wunderlich

Last week, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the 2014 ban on importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe was to be lifted, affected African nations celebrated, as well as big game organizations from the United States.  Yet, within a few days, President Trump flip flopped, as follows:  “Put big game decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”

With his ear directed at social media, the president caved, as he threw out years of research and reforms by African game management officials, since the 2014 politically motivated ban.  He’s heard the outrage of the animal-rights extremists and the disappointment of American big game hunters, but who’s listened to the people affected in elephant country – those folks who live and raise families there?

Rosie Cooney, chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, informs us that human-wildlife conflict is rife with elephants destroying crops, houses and even killing people, because they are huge, dangerous, and have massive food and water needs. This is poised to worsen as the needs of people intensify — Zimbabwe’s population growth rate of 2.3 percent is among the highest in the world.  Almost two-thirds live below the poverty line, with more than 4 million people facing food shortages this year.

In fact, Zimbabwe has witnessed the power of incentives, with a remarkable and large-scale shift of land use from livestock and crops back to wildlife in the late 20th century, thanks to policy reforms that made it possible for private sector and community landholders to benefit from conservation.  However, it all takes money – American money from hunters.

From the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies comes this:  “Hunting and other forms of sustainable use also contribute to the conservation of wildlife in other countries. Although governance models differ, reflecting differences in values and cultures, legal, well-regulated, and sustainable hunting can make significant positive contributions to both wildlife conservation and the livelihoods of local communities.”

In Game Management Areas (GMAs) in 2015 and 2016, approximately $1.36 million in hunting fees were distributed, as well as $10,000 per concession paid by hunting operators.  Under the new Wildlife Law, board officials must invest those funds as follows: 45% towards wildlife protection and patrols, 35% towards community improvement projects such as construction of schools, clinics, and water infrastructure, and 20% towards administrative costs. 

It is apparent that managed hunting benefits wildlife herds while providing funds to equip game rangers to fight the pervasive poaching that had reduced herds by almost 30 percent in years past.  And, just like here in the U.S., hunting dollars are the catalyst for conservation.  Furthermore, there is not one instance in the history of regulated hunting in which any given game animal has been threatened with extinction; Africans, that have experienced modern progress, wish to continue with the benefits derived from hunters, because they’ve seen failures and now successes. 

No doubt that tourism funnels some cash into the mix and that it can help to fund conservation in some accessible areas.  But, without the hunters’ dollars, communal lands remain rough without electricity or improved roads – and continue to be rather uninviting to foreigners. 

It takes a lot more than bellyaching and no amount of it from afar has the slightest capacity to meet life’s challenges for these poor people.  It’s all about sustainability of the herd, and like it or not, trophy hunting dollars make it happen.

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