The role of hunting through the eyes of a non-hunting conservationist
August 22, 2017
A conservationist beyond any doubt – Kai-Uwe Denker
August 22, 2017

Following the big conversations, what future for conservation?

Major conferences are defined by the interim periods and none more so than the period now, which follows the back to back IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 (Hawaii, 1-10 September); CoP 17 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) (Johannesburg, 24 September to 5 October); and CoP 13 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (Cancun, Mexico, 4-17 December 2016). These events were characterised by their polarised debates on the future of conservation which, ultimately, came down to divergent and entrenched positions – “sustainable use” versus “protect and prohibit at all costs”. We are also seeing the post-truth style of contemporary politics being played out to a greater extent at these fora. Simple seductive (prohibitive) solutions are posed for highly complex problems which are wrong.

Photos ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Angus Middleton, Greg Stuart-Hill, Elly Hamunyela and Pauline Lindeque

B ut why do international fora matter? These are the platforms that define the conservation agenda for the intercessional periods, as well as the media message that reaches the otherwise ‘neutral or uninvolved’ majority of the global population.

The escalation of the illegal killing of rhinos and elephants is certainly of concern and was highly publicized in the build-up to CITES, mostly in the context of pushing the protectionist agenda. Yet it is the range states such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia who are bearing the brunt of the onslaught, and are already consuming a large portion of conservation resources and efforts, at the expense of other deserving conservation priorities. Even then, the resources are desperately insufficient. Nonetheless, efforts to legalize trade in ivory as a means of raising funds for conservation efforts, continue to be opposed, on the argument that a legal trade facilitates illegal trade.

It is therefore interesting to note that one of the conclusions of the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) report tabled at CITES CoP 17 was that in as much as the MIKE Programme documented a “considerable increase” in levels of illegal killing of elephants in Africa between 2006 and 2011: “The MIKE Programme has found no evidence that levels of elephant poaching increased or decreased as a direct result of CITES decisions concerning the trade in elephant ivory. Instead, MIKE has documented strong correlations between: poaching levels and the quality of human livelihoods at the site level; the quality of governance at the country level; and demand for ivory at the global level.”

Which leads to the matter of people’s livelihoods, and when and how are the voices of those most impacted by – and impacting wildlife – heard in the context of CITES decisions. Namibia (together with Tanzania and Zimbabwe) co-sponsored a document put forward by Zambia proposing the establishment of a Permanent Rural Communities Committee of the Conference of the Parties. At the core of the motivation was the argument that indigenous peoples and rural communities have been neglected in the CITES decision-making mechanisms, yet these decisions to allow or disallow trade often directly affect the livelihoods of many rural poor depending on that trade. This in itself can have unintended consequences, including an increase in poaching. Although there was support for the principle, the final decision was to establish an inter-sessional working group to consider how to effectively engage rural communities in the CITES processes. This ensures that the subject remains on the table, and is definitely a step in the right direction.

Losing former allies close to home – notably Botswana, who banned all trophy hunting in 2013 and at CITES CoP 17 clearly aligned its position with the non-use block – does not make the task any easier. On the other hand, perhaps Botswana’s position will ultimately act as the definitive test of the two positions. When the trophy hunting ban was introduced, some predicted that as hunting concessionaires vacated the area, and were no longer a permanent presence on the ground, poaching would increase. Three years later it would seem from media reports that illegal killing of elephants in Botswana is on the rise, and conservationists in Botswana report alarming increases in poaching for bushmeat. Of course, there is no proof as yet of cause and effect, but suggestions are being made that the decision to ban trophy hunting left many community members without a source of legally acquired meat, and finance to employ community game guards. We know that a hungry disenfranchised community is one more likely to embark on illegal activities.

The challenge increasingly facing Parties to CITES is how to deal with different conservation statuses of populations of a species across its distribution range. It was reassuring that proposals submitted to transfer other Party’s populations of lion and elephant to Appendix I were rejected on the basis that the populations in question do not meet the biological criteria for inclusion on Appendix I. Ultimately, “it is not possible to manage a species – management is applied to individual populations because pressures on different populations are highly variable” (Ron Thompson).

There is absolutely no doubt that wildlife faces a crisis globally. Across the world almost every large mammal species is in decline, many to the brink of extinction. It is no wonder that people are demanding that something be done, and in response, individuals, civil society organisations and governments across the world are at last declines and calamitous extinctions. Much of this new energy is being driven by raw emotion, which is extremely positive in that it energizes action. But unchecked emotions can easily blind one into simplistic quick- x solutions, where science and logic are ignored.

“ Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. “

– Albert Einstein


As an example, in the Middle East, despite decades of up-listings, absolute trade bans, huge investment into protected areas, species declines continue. Is the solution to simply invest more and more into these simplistic, emotive and yet failing interventions?

Surely there is another way?

Namibia has, with other countries in the region, found local solutions to tackle the problems our wildlife is facing. Is is despite the demands of rapidly growing human populations and the urgent and conflicting need for socio-economic development. This is as a result of new policies that were introduced, the most fundamental of which is devolving some form of communal or private ownership over wildlife, and allowing people to benefit from wildlife through any number of means.

This is probably one of the main reasons why our voices at events such as CITES, the IUCN World Parks Conference and numerous other events is consistently ignored; or shouted down by those entities who are using who are using the global wildlife crisis to generate significant revenues. Despite valiant attempts by IUCN and the CITES Secretariat to maintain some sort of scientific integrity, emotion-based mob-rule and vested organisational interests are increasingly dominating proceedings. This might be good for those entities who win the political battles at this international level, but it does little for wildlife on the ground and for those ‘dirty boots’ conservationists trying to find that win-win compromise between increasing human population and wildlife.

We don’t have to – and should not – follow the crowd, even if this makes us somewhat unpopular. We need a backbone, a clear head and statesmanship; and that is exactly what CITES CoP 17 got from Namibia. Maintaining the status quo at CITES was a great achievement given the tsunami of emotive knee-jerk simplistic approaches that were on the table, and not to forget the politics of self-interest groups. But we can’t rest on this success as there will be other CoP meetings; and besides, the status quo is not enough to meet the future challenges facing wildlife on our continent.

Increased advocacy for the sustainable use principles, supported by factual data and examples, will be needed over the next three years, in preparation for CoP19 in Sri Lanka in 2019. e interim will see harder stances on prohibition approaches but at the same time, there is a counter-movement outside of the usual spheres questioning this approach. A growing number of serious conservationists and people who are interested in nature are increasingly uneasy with the bed that has been made with well resourced protectionist organisations who raise significant funds on simplistic emotive propositions. There is a growing realisation that as imperfect as our approaches may be, the alternatives are often worse. In Namibia, we already include photographic tourism in the mix but even with this, usually touted as a panacea for everything, “eco-tourism” has its limitations and increasingly we are becoming aware of the impacts it generates.

So we need to work hard to build on our successes, and to help our neighbours do the same. Specifically, we need a concerted national effort to scientifically document and maintain track of our conservation success story, to work together to establish a national monitoring and evaluation system that will enable Namibia to keep track on wildlife numbers across the country, to track the amount of land that is being made available for wildlife, and map out species’ range expansion as game reintroductions occur. These data will be absolutely critical at the next CITES meeting.

We all need to reflect on our own practices and decisively clean up our own backyard by eliminating any bad practices that still exist; we need to be more strategic and intelligent with regard to getting our story out there, and in doing so, make sure the right people are telling the story.

Hunters have a big role to play in this by making a concerted effort to achieve best practice in the industry, applying peer pressure on colleagues to do the same, restructuring marketing materials, modifying operations and being more alert to our story-telling so that trophy hunting is less offensive to the general public, and hunting in general is valued for the great pursuit that it is. By doing so, hunters can be the greatest advocates for conservation and keep hunting as a powerful tool in the conservation toolbox.

This article was first published in the HuntiNamibia 2017 issue.