A stand on hunting
For those of us that concern ourselves with the welfare of wildlife, specifically in East Africa, one of the more significant issues to consider is hunting. Hunting is the pursuit and killing of an animal, and can be for three purposes: food (or livelihood subsistence), trade or recreation.
Hunting for food (or subsistence) is often linked to indigenous communities, for which the hunt also has cultural and possibly religious implications. We won’t get into that debate here.
Hunting for trade is basically illegal in most of East Africa, and dealing in wild animal parts is considered illicit trafficking. This is intrinsically linked to the scourge of poaching, which is tragically a daily occurrence in East Africa. It is causing massive drops in elephant and rhino populations, and moreover the money and procurement/supply/trading networks are linked to several other criminal enterprises like drugs, human trafficking and terrorism. This blog will delve into the harrowing story of wildlife poaching in a separate article.
Hunting for recreation is a topic that arouses a great deal of emotion on both sides of the debate. Many of the arguments are based on personal viewpoints about life, human relationships to animals, ethics and individual philosophies. That makes it difficult to navigate in the wider interest of what is best for the greater environment and sustainability. Perhaps it is possible to sift through the debate from the perspective of fact in order for neutrals to decide their position on the issue of recreational hunting in East Africa, and this article will attempt to do so.
Pro-hunting advocates argue that hunting is a tradition – a skill to be nurtured and a bonding experience – that also boosts conservation efforts because of the fees and licenses they pay to wildlife management authorities. In addition, it is argued that they contribute to the management of wildlife numbers to keep them sustainable, so that there is no boom in the population of animal X that strains the resources of its immediate environment and therefore causes a subsequent degradation of that environment. For example, elephant populations in Amboseli National Park are sometimes so high that they over-consume the plantlife and cause an increase in a dry, dusty landscape.
To provide some background for our context, Kenya has banned recreational hunting in 1977, Botswana and Zambia (lions and leopards) introduced bans a couple of years ago, but Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia all continue to allow it. So Discover Kenya Safaris would not be able to offer a hunting safari, but Discover Tanzania Safaris potentially could, although we don’t and never have.
In reviewing the pro-recreational hunting positions, we may begin with the first point of tradition. While it might be true that there is an element of tradition and even culture in hunting, it would presumably involve a hunt in your own location. For example, in the Maasai community of Kenya and Tanzania, a group of young men had to hunt and kill a lion in the savannah plains around them in order to enter the ranks of the moran, or warriors. However, hunters flying to an African country from another part of the world, usually to hunt an animal that doesn’t exist in their native country, does not fit into a framework of tradition. If Maasai communities wished to continue hunting lions for the initiation of their youth, that would be a different consideration, but there seems to be no argument in favour of the tradition of foreign hunters coming in to hunt big game. As an interesting side note, most Maasai have voluntarily given up their claim to hunting lions as part of the transition into warriorhood.
Moving on to the second argument, fees and licenses charged to hunters are often used partially for conservations efforts. This is true, but doesn’t seem like a sufficient justification for recreational hunting in East Africa. Money is certainly needed and helpful for conservation, but money can always be sourced elsewhere. For example, national parks in Kenya and Tanzania charge every visitor through their gates a daily fee (between USD 50 and 100 per person), which is a massive revenue stream for their conservation work. Additionally, providing money for a good cause does not necessarily make an activity itself worthwhile – skimming money from a charity for homeless children in order to build houses for refugees does not validate the former activity. Therefore, while the money raised by big game hunters is useful, it should not be sufficient reason to support the activity.
Finally we come to the argument about helping sustainability of animal populations. There certainly seems to be a need to control numbers of certain animal populations. Australia is a great example of how settlers coming from abroad brought in non-native species like cane toads, rabbits and camels which became invasive species that threatened native species and entire ecosystems. In North America, there have been arguments that certain deer populations grew and exceeded the carrying capacities for the habitats in which they lived, and without significant presence of predators in those areas, hunters contributed to bringing those population levels under control.
However, this article is concerned with the East Africa cases (although many parallels are shared with the southern African cases), and the animals that recreational hunters wish to target are not invasive species or pests. There is no lack of predators, and decades of booms and busts in animal populations have demonstrated that natural cycles keep the food chain in balance. It is true, though, as mentioned above, that elephant populations in particular can cause significant decimation to forest, brush and grassland when they over-graze, and countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa are particularly adamant about the need to control their numbers through culling (legal killing).
Yet one of the frequently-affected parks, Amboseli, is in Kenya, so why hasn’t Kenya considered such options. It turns out that elephants in Amboseli historically migrated there seasonally from Tsavo (nearby parks), and the development of a highway and accompanying human settlements had begun to obstruct the migratory routes of the elephants. Some wildlife trusts and funds therefore set about trying to maintain migratory corridors for the elephants between Amboseli and Tsavo through a combination of buying land, lobbying the government and working with communities on the ground. This work is ongoing and critical, but provides a route to elephant sustainability that seems more promising, particularly in light of how our understanding of animal behaviour is evolving.
A recent scientific study has suggested that killing adult elephants from a herd through a cull will leave the younger elephants more likely to react to surprising noises with increased aggression and violence, and generally disrupts their society for years afterwards. Although more study is needed, the authors concluded that the culls basically made younger elephants into less cooperative and more anti-social members of their herds, and was equivalent to PTSD. A targeted hunt will not have the same effect as a cull, but given the insights into herd disruption and social structure that arise from removing senior members of an elephant community, we think it safe to say that it is probably not beneficial for elephants herds to lose matriarchal/patriarchal figures to hunters.
A final, very delicate consideration is the potential abuse of hunting permits. In eastern/southern African countries where hunting is allowed, permits are supposed to be allocated very carefully in order to ensure that conservation goals are primary, and not too many animals of any species are killed by hunters. However, while it is possible that the government agencies in question are very rigorous about controlling the flow of hunting permits as per the latest environmental impact assessments, it is also possible that corruption can enter the system, and excess permits be sold to hunt an endangered species. Given the proliferation of corruption in government agencies over the world, perhaps it is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to wildlife conservation.
Discover Kenya Safaris and Discover Tanzania Safaris stand against recreational hunting in East Africa. Please stand with us.