The conflicting demand of people and animals throws up complex questions that need intelligent, reasoned answers, not emotive knee-jerk reactions.
The question of to ‘hunt or not to hunt’, is a highly emotive subject, with firmly held views and opinions on both sides of the divide; for divide it is. There appears to be no bridge between the two sharply conflicting viewpoints. In particular, the politically correct standpoint brooks no discussion on this subject and, rather sadly, refuses to countenance anything that offends their point of view. There are always two sides to every argument, and each and every one of us is entitled to individual beliefs. Respect for the other side of the argument is the only way forward.
There is no more majestic sight in nature than an elephant in its natural environment, the bush, African or Asian. They have no place in zoos and yet sadly, unless efforts are made to monitor, manage and control their numbers, and the depredations of poachers, generations to come will only see them in enclosures. Africa is no longer big enough for the vast herds that once roamed so freely. The conflicting demand of people and animals throws up complex questions that need intelligent, reasoned answers, not emotive knee-jerk reactions.
Poachers and their customers, and here some groups and nationalities might well be singled out, have no consideration for the aesthetic aspect of wildlife; it is a commodity to be exploited at every turn. Wishful and possibly well-meaning thinking wishes to ban the sale and movement of all animal products. Although an admirable aim in itself, it leaves several points unanswered.
Firstly, it ensures that poaching and the subsequent illegal trade are driven underground, the response throughout history to any ban. Such a ban, in turn, increases the value of the goods and as a result, the pressure to poach. The rewards are too great to be ignored. This is apparent already.
Secondly, what is to be done with the confiscated ivory recovered from poaching. Burning it is, at best, a highly questionable tactic aimed squarely at political expediency, votes and the over-loud politically correct lobbyists. At worst, it is an appalling waste of a resource that could, and should, benefit the wildlife departments of the countries concerned. Sold legally, and through government-approved outlets, the ivory is out in the open and not hidden behind layers of corruption.
Although not a point of view that finds universal enthusiasts, an animal is a natural resource, with a commercial value, and as such must be managed, if its survival is paramount.
So What is the Alternative?
Legal, controlled hunting allows for the open-for-all-to-see aspect of animal control. Unpalatable as it may be, it allows for sensible control of an animal population that, left unchecked, would spiral out of control. Many of us remember all too clearly the dilemma found in Tsavo – too many elephants and not enough food or water for them to survive. Control becomes essential, but must be done in such a manner that is of benefit to all.
The wide-open spaces that many may remember from childhood television wildlife programmes have dwindled in scope and area. The encroachment of man, with his goats and cattle and insatiable demands for land, has meant a rapidly decreasing area within which to roam at will.
Although not a point of view that finds universal enthusiasts, an animal is a natural resource, with a commercial value, and as such must be managed, if its survival is paramount. They are not, as some vociferously maintain, something that belongs to the world, they live where they live and belong very firmly to that country. It is the country of their existence that has to balance the often conflicting needs of human and animal.
It is our privilege, not right, to be able to see animals in their natural habitat. We, in the West, have the right to see them in the wild and appreciate their majesty, but we do not own them. We, in the ‘developed’ world, do not have to worry about the depredations of the lion, or the destruction of our crops caused by hungry elephants. Our sanitized world has nothing of this sort to contend with. We have lost sight of the raw realities of living with wildlife. There are places in Africa where even to walk down the road becomes a dice with death – some lions have discovered that it is easier to hunt their prey on the roadside, where they are abundant and easy to catch. This does not happen in Paris or London, or even New York.
Models for co-existence do exist, in some far-sighted countries with game departments dedicated to the survival and protection of their charges. There are some excellent, private game ranches, where control becomes a necessity due to the constraints of space and species balance. There has to be a place for them in a world that is increasing in population.
In the wake of the current corona virus pandemic, it will almost certainly be a shock to see the numbers of animals that have been slaughtered by poachers. This is happening as I write this piece. With lockdowns in the majority of countries, it is worrying that there is no longer active monitoring of the bush.
So what of the role of the professional hunter? Far from being a murdering thug, as some would have us believe, they, along with the people living in the areas where animals are found, are the only people who have the greatest to win and lose from preserving the animals. They should be the guardians of the wild even, dare one say, the farmers of the bush. For many villagers, the animals form the only source of prime protein available for themselves and their families. Poachers are the only people who leave the carcasses where they have been slaughtered, to be picked over by the ever-present scavengers. There is very little of the carcasses left by hunters after the meat, hide and bones have been removed. All is of commercial and nutritional value.
Finally, if one involves the local population in the control of the hunting in their areas, one gives them a reason to see the animals conserved. They have to have a reason for allowing something weighing over a ton, that can destroy ones crop overnight, to roam through their areas. Worse, the predators that will kill and eat people can only have a value if the people of the area are given a chance to realize that value. Remove these reasons and people will have no incentive to protect a valuable resource that will enrich their lives financially and aesthetically. We in the West never have to deal with such things as an elephant trampling our crops or lions taking people from the side of the road – they do, in some cases on a daily basis. The tragic, and sadly inevitable result of a ban on hunting will be an unchecked rise of poaching, and when the animals are all gone, and the growth of human encroachment into areas hitherto the realm of wildlife.
Local people and properly licensed and regulated professional hunters are the key to the survival of wildlife. Support them.