More and more people around the world are questioning the relevance of trophy hunting in today`s world. Wildlife is in decline through most of Africa as human encroachment deprives species of habitats. Iconic species such as elephant and rhino are being poached at unprecedented levels in some areas. Other areas have been ploughed, mined, paved, occupied and the wildlife destroyed..
The media constantly reminds us of our inhumane treatment of wild animals and the severe threats they face. It is no wonder then, that the public perceive trophy hunting to be accelerating the decline of wildlife. More than ever, it is those of us who hunt, that must convince the general public that our actions are responsible and beneficial to conservation.
The majority of the public do not have a problem with hunting when it is for subsistence or if the animal is used for meat. However, the idea that people kill for sport or to achieve an award is not acceptable. Trophy hunting is perceived as killing for sport or to boost a hunter`s ego. It is perceived as an unnecessary and cruel waste of wildlife. This idea is fanned by the radical animal rights groups. The animal rights groups may be a small minority, but they are strategically intelligent, well funded, vocal and influential. Increasingly they are influencing the general public to believe that trophy hunting is money driven, an ego trip, a blood sport and that trophy hunters have no feeling or compassion for animals or conservation.
Hunters must take the blame for a lot of these perceptions. Too many times we see hunters in the news for the wrong reasons, like rhino horn laundering, poaching, canned hunting and other unsavory activities. The game ranchers are not doing hunting industry much good either. Extensive farms have been divided into camps for intensive breeding. Many of the animals so bred have no benefit or relevance to conservation. In fact many of them are detrimental to conservation as they promote inbreeding and reduce natural adaptability to natural surroundings.
The search for short term profit is undermining the long term stability of both the hunting and game farming industry. Already we are seeing a stagnation of foreign hunters coming to hunt in South Africa while the numbers going to Namibia are increasing dramatically. Hunters don`t want farmed animals, they want wild animals and wild places and these are becoming increasingly rare in South Africa.
The term “if it pays it stays” is not unconditional. The term “sustainable use” is also not unconditional. These terms must be paired with responsible conservation practices as well as compassion and respect for the animals hunted.
As long as the game industry and hunters continue with practices that are not centered on sound conservation principles, we will continue to lose public support which we desperately need. Without a healthy hunting industry, the game ranching industry will suffer. Let us all work together as hunters and game ranchers and work on a strategy to boost the long term interests of the game farmer and hunter. The starting point must be practices that are beneficial to wildlife and conservation and this end we should be engaging with the recognised and respected conservation NGO`s. Their endorsement is crucial to the long term sustainability of hunting and game farming in South Africa.