Botswana and Zambia, two premier wildlife destinations, recently banned all trophy hunting within a few months of each other. This move heralds a major shift in thinking about how Africa’s wildlife resources will be managed in the future. Why did they do this? In short: Corruption fueling unsustainable hunting and poaching that threatens species survival. Photographic safari operators, like Wilderness Safaris, have been taking over the premier safari destinations from hunting operations for decades. What is the future of sport hunting in Mozambique and Zimbabwe where the same problems exist?
Africa is home to the largest remaining migrations on earth, the last prides of lion, the gorillas and chimpanzees, and most of the remaining elephant and rhinoceros. All kept safe on the most valuable wildlife properties on the planet.
Are we adequately protecting priceless wildlife resources? Right now, tourists from around the world coming to Africa to photograph the continent’s wildlife are the biggest conservationists by far. The operators and establishment owners that attract these tourists by selling the dream of an African photographic safari are the new ambassadors for conservation.
“Putting bums in beds” is funding millions of square miles of protected areas throughout Africa. Ecotourism adds value to wilderness by creating jobs and teaching people to be proud of their wildlife. We need to do everything possible to make all major safari destinations in Africa accessible and marketable. Travelers must feel safe when they come to Africa.
Africa’s “Great Work”, the extraordinary monument to the peoples of Africa, is the vast wildernesses that have remained wild since the dawn of time. This could, at long last, be the “African Century” with a united continent benefitting from vast mineral and fossil fuel reserves. More education, more opportunity, more prosperity without waste. A rising Africa wants to protect the continent’s natural heritage and global legacy.
Saving the great parks and wildernesses of Africa is becoming part of African national pride. Botswana must be proud that they have the largest remaining elephant population on earth. As South Africans we must be proud to have the largest rhino population in the world. Rwanda must be proud of the mountain gorilla. Tanzania proud of the largest lion population anywhere.
Africans are beginning to realize that our wilderness areas are not endless and that what we have left, the Serengeti, Okavango, Congo, Luangwa, Massai-Mara, Kruger, Namib… are, in fact, global treasures to be proud of. Africa needs things to be proud of in these troubled times.
Alarm bells ringing!!!
By the end of 2012, the alarm bells for wildlife war had been ringing for years.
Almost 700 rhino slaughtered in South Africa and Zimbabwe in a year. An estimated 25,000 elephant killed the year before all over Africa. The bushmeat and illegal wildlife trade has boomed in recent years on the continent.
Botswana protected areas raided by poachers on horseback for several years. We recorded evidence of poachers killing lechwe in what we thought was an inaccessible, untouched wilderness on the 2012 Okavango Wetland Bird Survey (www.okavangofilm.com).
Over 20% of the global population of African grey parrots are being harvested from the wild every year. Millions of green pigeons are being smoked as bushmeat in the Congo. Over 1,200 dead tree pangolins from Africa were confiscated by Indonesian authorities who discovered the 260 cartons of frozen pangolins weighing 5 tonnes.
Bushmeat markets flourish in and around Maputo in Mozambique as poaching escalates in the north. Poaching operations in Zambia are being supported by light aircraft. Illegal bushmeat is being smuggled by truck out of Tanzania. Rebel armies in central and West Africa feed themselves from the forests and grasslands.
Is it justifiable in this day-and-age to hunt one of the last big tusker elephants for $100,000? Is it ethical to shoot crocodiles that are over 100 years old and elephants that are nearing 70?
Is it possible to conserve large tracts of land in Africa without hunting adding value to wildlife? Do we need to draw a line between sourcing organic meat for your family and shooting a prize wild animal for a trophy? Most especially do we need to hunt in unfenced wilderness areas where animals roam free or could we restrict hunting to areas managed specifically for this purpose? Prize wildlife is traded at lucrative markets, resulting in increasing trophy sizes on most game farms in South Africa. Trophy sizes are going down in all wild areas…
Botswana and Zambia ban trophy hunting
Shocking declines in wildlife populations in northern Botswana 0ver the last 15-20 years has encouraged government to halt issuance of hunting licenses from January 2013, effectively banning all forms of hunting by 2014. This has been hailed by local conservationists and tourism operators as a visionary move by the President of Botswana, Lieutenant General Ian Khama, who sees the lasting legacy of being one of the only African countries left with healthy wildlife populations at the end of this decade. Hunting and photographic safari operations cannot operate alongside each other, as the latter need to habituate wildlife to game-viewer vehicles and people on foot. Hunting operations nearby makes wildlife viewing very difficult and sometimes quite dangerous.
The Botswana Environmental Ministry explains that: “The shooting of wild game for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna.”
This move has ostracized the professional hunting community in Botswana and polarized the local safari industry. Many professional hunters may have to seek alternative employment and then have to turn to poaching. Botswana will continue issuing “special game licences” for traditional hunting by local communities (e.g San and baYei) within designated wildlife management areas. Botswana government must be ready for a reaction by poachers and unemployed hunters.
Zambia is also taking the threat of further declines in wildlife numbers very seriously. Last year, newly-elected Zambian President, Michael Sata, dissolved the board of the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), stating that Zambia would halt the syndicates that have dominated their hunting industry for decades. Earlier this month, The Times of Zambia reported that hunting had been banned in 19 Game Management Areas in Zambia for a period of one year.
The Zambian Minister of Tourism and Arts, Sylvia Masebo, also closed all leopard, lion and elephant hunting across the country, basing her decision on corruption and malpractice between hunting operators and government departments.
She also fired the Director-General of the ZAWA and launched an in-depth criminal investigation of ZAWA.
Botswana and Zambia are taking the preservation of their natural heritage far more seriously than previous decades. This bodes well for the designation of the Okavango Delta as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the advancement of regional partnerships like OKACOM and the Kavango-Zambezi Transfronteir Conservation Area (KAZA-TFCA).
We have opportunity in the KAZA-TFCA (Angola/Zambia/Botswana/Namibia) to create the largest protected area on earth in support of almost 50% of the world’s elephants.
Many top economists write about “Africa rising”, as the continent gets rid of corruption and benefits more from abundant natural resources. Should we expect more hunting bans on the continent this year?
Conservation value of the “tourist gaze”
Hunting concessions on marginal land on the edge of protected areas have functioned as an effective buffer from poaching in past decades, aggressively pushing out poachers for at least part of the year. Sustainable hunting quotas are only possible if research on abundance is up-to-date and unaccounted for instances of poaching are kept very low. Poaching, poisoning, natural disasters and droughts have tipped the scales and forced trophy hunters deeper into the wilderness. Travelling by road through Africa you very quickly notice the difference between protected and unprotected areas. National Parks and reserves around Africa are predominantly financed by tourists travelling to Africa to see the “Big 5″ (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino). It is as if the “tourist gaze” helps the bush to blossom with abundant wildlife as wilderness flourishes.
The repeated beep of the digital cameras and rustling of tourists fiddling in their bags must be a comforting sound for wildlife that associate photographic safari operators with safe areas.
Lions and leopards lie in front of the vehicles as if basking in the safety they represent. The expectations of hundreds of thousands of tourists coming on safari and the dollars they bring has helped conserve Africa’s “Great Work”. The question is: Are there enough digital photographs to pay for Africa’s last wild places? Hunting has saved many areas from conversion to cattle farming and commercial agriculture. Game farms in South Africa are booming and all are funded through hunting. The times when trophy hunting happened outside of game farms establish for that purpose may have passed in Africa. It is now time to turn the “tourist gaze” upon the wildest places in Africa, as we showcase and protect the essence of this wild continent…
Life through our lenses…
By 2015, the number of digital photographs taken by Americans each year will go up to 105 billion or 322 per person, doubling the number taken in 2006. Better, cheaper digital camera technology and social media are driving the perception in most people that, if there is no photo or video, it obviously did not happen. The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s “2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” found that 13.7 million people or 6% of the US population (16 years or older) went hunting that year, spending an estimated $34 billion. An essential contribution to the local economy at an average of $2,484 per hunter in 2011. This contribution is, however, far less than the $41.8 billion spent by 33 million recreational and sport anglers. Over 71 million people spent $55 billion on watching and/or photographing wildlife in the US in 2011.
So right now there are more Americans taking more photos than ever, and one third of them enjoy the outdoors. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world that are becoming interested in the natural world and may be interested in travelling to Africa to see African elephants or mountain gorillas one day.
More and more people are making the decision to go to Africa to see and photograph this primordial continent’s amazing wildlife. New people were going on “safari” and they put away the hunting rifle, preferring to rumbled around in open-top LandRovers to see lions, leopards, cheetah, elephant and much else up close. No shooting meant that this industry could start habituating wildlife to the presence of vehicles and tourists. The thrill of being within metres of a hunting lioness at night or having a old bull elephants lumber over to your vehicle is life-changing and hard to describe…
“Photographic safaris” taking over…
The recent escalation in the ivory and rhino horn trades has been shadowed by increases in the illegal trade in lion bones, live animals, birds, furs, bushmeat, and valuable timbers. Increasing wealth in the Far East has fueled trade in endangered species from around the world. The threat posed by growing markets in Asia are no different from the threat posed by Europe 200 hundred years ago. We are just at a more advanced stage with much more at stake.
During the 1890s, for example, a single trading post near the Okavango Delta bought over 50,000 tusks per month from local hunters. Today, an ivory bust of 1,000kg makes international news due to the significance to global population levels.
In the golden age of African exploration in the 1850s and 60s the first explorers, like Livingstone, Cameron, Stanley and Andersen, all financed their expeditions with tonnes of ivory shot or traded along their routes. The scrabble for Africa was, in the end, about ivory, rubber, timber and hunting grounds. In South Africa, the carnage in the 1800s and 20th century was so out-of-control that all we have to show for it today are rivers, valleys, roads, farms and buildings named in memory of the animals and trees that used to be there. The last 200 years have been catastrophic for African wildlife.
By the mid-1800s many large “game” species had already gone extinct in Western Cape, including the Cape lion, Cape warthog, “bloubok”, and “quagga”. By the early 1900s most of the lion, buffalo and elephants outside of protected areas in South Africa had been eradicated by local farmers or colonists.
The original “safari” industry boomed after World War II with authors like Ernest Hemingway romanticizing the “great white hunter”. By the early 1970s the safari industry had hunted out vast tracts of wilderness in East Africa. Botswana and Zambia was used almost exclusively by hunting operators in these early years. Civil wars fed by bushmeat and ivory sales erupted when independence from the colonial powers came to Africa in the 1960s.
The next 30 years up until the mid-1990s were among the bloodiest in Africa’s history with innumerable elephant, hippo, lion, buffalos, wildebeest, rhino, gorilla, general game and people slaughtered by desperate poachers, ravenous armies, profiteering professional hunters, and hungry local communities in war-torn areas.
The number of guns on the continent increase with every conflict and has left Africa tatters by 2013. Wildlife numbers are lower than at any point in recorded history and local extinctions are occurring everyday. Hunters were the pioneers of Africa’s wilderness areas, but now that all of these have been discovered, we must look to photographic safaris as the primary economic driver. The global tourism market has shifted to a new generation of traveller from the US and Far East that grew up watching the National Geographic Channel and BBC Wildlife. Wildlife photography and ecotourism are massive growth industries and Africa is one of the main destinations. Governments around Africa see ecotourism development in remote areas as an important potential land-use.
The photographic safari industry in Africa has grown exponentially for the last three decades with over 30,000 established hotels, backpackers, camps, guest houses, and lodges spread across the continent that host millions of tourists.
By the turn of the millenium most of the recognized wildlife destinations in Africa had shifted from being all hunting in the 1950s to mostly photographic safaris in 2000. Small hunting camps were gradually replaced with much bigger lodges and hotels with more to contribute to local communities. Low-impact photographic safaris are the way of the future.
Is “game farming” the future of trophy hunting in Africa?
Smoked bushmeat can be transported in large quantities by porters, cyclists, boatman and drivers travelling thousands of miles from source to market. Consumers in distant markets have no connection to the remote forests these smoked antelope and monkey body parts came from and purchase them gladly. The vast forests of the Congo Basin are currently being denuded of all animal life by the bushmeat trade. In most areas, elephant and buffalo are long gone, as are grey parrots, monkeys and small antelope. Local hunters and commercial poachers now focus on catching tree pangolins, small antelope, snakes and anything else they can find in the forest. Millions of green pigeons are being captured to be smoked alive for bushmeat. Banning trophy or sport hunting in Zambia and Botswana could simply open up new areas for poachers. Unemployed professional hunters could become poachers themselves. The facts remain that wildlife numbers are declining rapidly and the trophy hunting industries in both Botswana and Zambia were corrupt and poorly managed. Both countries need to insure that the loss of revenue from hunting is quickly supplemented by growth in the ecotourism industry. Local conservation authorities and partnered NGOs will have to step up anti-poaching operations and make a final decision on whether to ban hunting and focus on photographic safaris or continue using wildlife management areas with hunting as a potential land-use. We need to make the right decisions and support them with subsidies and loans to stimulate positive growth. Shutting down hunting won’t solve the catastrophic decline of wildlife populations in Africa, investing local governments and communities in the future of Africa’s great wild places will give us a chance at saving this wilderness.
Today, hunting in the developed world is done mostly on well-managed private lands and remote wilderness areas were hunting quotas effectively restrict excessive off-take. Trophy hunting is highly regulated with permit and license systems that support stewardship and ecological balance. This is the theory and most of the time it works. Ownership of land and fenced-off wildlife has funded the conservation of vast tracts of land in the developed world.
Credit crunch or not, fiscal cliff or not, we need to tighten our belts, live with less and give more. I am not necessarily talking about donating money, I am talking about investing your mind power and energy in a new future. We do not need to riot or burn things. We need to act for the good of each other and break the cycle of mistrust that fuels the current destruction of our planet.
Selection of photograph by Ranger’s Diaries, the “Top 25 Photographs from the Wilderness”:
The “Ranger Revolution” is an effort to recruit as many people around the world as possible as ambassadors of the wilderness in their local communities, sharing photographs and stories that encourage others to visit the wilderness and help the world pay for the protection of the globally important wilderness areas that we cannot do without. We need more wildlife photographers sharing the wonder and beauty of the natural world as widely as possible… Follow at: http://www.rangerdiaries.com/