Future of wildlife secured through hunting

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Trophy hunting in Namibia has increased the value of the country’s game considerably. So much so, says freelance journalist Sven-Eric Kanzler, that nowadays a game farmer is often better off than a cattle farmer. In fact, paradoxical as it might seem, it is through hunting Namibia’s wild animals that a secure place is reserved for them on commercial and communal farmlands.

The advertisement promises ‘first-class cattle farm’, substantiating its claim with the statement ‘no game on the farm’. Professional hunter Volker Grellmann likes to refer to this kind of ad, many of which appeared in Namibian newspapers in the sixties. “The more I saw them, the more alarm bells I started hearing,” he says.

The ad aptly sums up the hostile attitude some farmers had towards wildlife in those days. Game was considered worthless and even detrimental to the land. Its sole benefit was the meat, but venison fetched far lower prices than beef.

Furthermore, game was to be hunted only during the hunting season (June–July) and all wildlife belonged to the state. Small wonder, therefore, that farmers mercilessly killed predators that ‘interfered’  with their cattle, and got rid of game because it diminished the – often sparse enough – grazing (gemsbok), damaged fences (zebra) or carried disease (blue wildebeest, buffalo).

But let us not point fingers. Farmers just happen to be at the frontline of areas subjected to man’s selfish purposes, where nature is tolerated only in a tamed form. “In the old days there were islands of people in the animal kingdom, now there are animal islands in man’s kingdom,” says Volker Grellmann. The founder and former long-serving President of the Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) has studied the relationship between man and wildlife intensively. “If you want to protect wildlife and its habitat you have to integrate the animals into man’s world,” Grellmann concludes. “This can indeed be achieved with trophy hunting.”

Doesn’t this sound infinitely cynical? Hunters promoting the protection of wildlife and nature just to bag the animals in the pursuit of exciting leisure activities? At a closer, more sober look, however, it becomes obvious that these suppositions are based on rather emotional and polemic ground, and that the facts have not been considered.

Because trophies have, in fact, increased the value of game considerably. So much so that a game farmer nowadays is often better off than a cattle farmer. Many Namibian farmers have survived extended periods of drought only because they established hunting as an additional source of income.

It is a fact that game farmers want to preserve their game populations so that hunting can continue to grow as a business. Admittedly, this is a selfish interest. However, financial gain seems to be a far more effective reason for engaging in nature conservation than regulations and fines.

Furthermore, it is a fact that not only has trophy hunting increased considerably in Namibia since the sixties, but so have game populations. One reason is the growing number of farmers taking care of their wildlife. More importantly, the increase is due to a simple mechanism of nature. Hunters usually look for male animals past their prime. They are strong and experienced enough to keep younger rivals at bay, but they may be in charge of more females than they can cope with. If old males are taken out, younger and sexually more active animals take their place, producing more offspring.

It is also a fact that game populations in many communal farming areas have recovered – due to trophy hunting. The Namibian government provided the pre-requisite when it introduced the conservancy, a legal body that receives land utilisation rights upon registration. Rural communities that have established conservancies are entitled to grant concessions to professional hunters, stipulating the species and number of animals that may be shot. In return the conservancy receives a major share of the profit, enabling it to provide employment and training for its members. In return they value the income and hope for the future increases. Thus they preserve wildlife and nature in their conservancy area and take action against poaching.

Another fact is that old animals often die an agonisingly slow death by starvation. Elephants are a good example. At the age of 55 to 60, when their sixth and last set of molars have become worn down, they start to lose weight and either die of hunger or, because they are weak, are attacked by lion or hyaena. By comparison, death through the bullet of a trophy hunter would appear to be a more humane end. What’s more, old elephant bulls represent a trophy for which hunting guests pay most handsomely. What a waste if this source of income were not utilised.

It is a fact that nature conservation, in addition to the right attitude and true commitment, needs financial resources. Without trophy hunting rural communities would hardly be able to conserve game even if they wanted to, because they would lack the funds. Conservancies established by commercial farmers that have money at their disposal can also do more for their areas with the income derived from hunting. The Namatanga Conservancy east of Windhoek, for example, charges 10 per cent of the price of a trophy to finance expenses such as purchasing more or different game species, finance research and combat poaching. For each successful cheetah hunt, a N$1 000 levy is paid into a NAPHA fund for research on and management of the big cat.

Volker Grellmann does not reject the argument that conservation funds could just as well be generated by non-hunting tourists, i.e. ‘non-consumptive tourism’. But, he points out, one hunting guest spends ten to twelve times as much as an ‘ordinary’ tourist. “Take a photo-safari,” he says. “Who would pay N$1 000 for taking a picture of a kudu?” Admittedly, while he can’t be bagged a second time, the kudu can also be photographed by the next tourist. This is not decisive, however, when it comes to sustained utilisation through trophy hunting. Far more importantly, Namibia with its limited water resources and sensitive environment needs to attract smaller numbers of tourists, in effect, the well-to-do tourist.

Finally, it is a fact that trophy hunters cannot just go out into the bush and shoot at everything that moves. Trophy hunting is strictly controlled by law. Each hunting guest is only allowed two trophies per species. Permits and veterinary documents needed for exporting are part of the controls. As in (sustained) fishing, hunting quotas are allotted to individual areas as a result of meticulous game counts.

Conservancies can carry out their own census and submit utilisation proposals to the Ministry. In trophy hunting the quota is usually between five and ten per cent per species.

The facts speak for themselves. By attaching value to game animals, a secure place in man’s system is reserved for them – or rather, on their wildlife island in the kingdom of man.

This article appeared in the 2004/5 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

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