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How all members of the hunting industry can conserve lions

If we are to put an agreed programme forward for lion conservation, we must involve different views and different parties….

If hunting of lions as an overall conservation measure is to be considered, it is necessary for our readers to meet all parties involved.

Hunting safaris, as I understand them, revolve around five different categories of people. First, and most important, is the client. This is the person with the bucks who signs up for the safari.   Then there is the operator, who facilitates, does the bookings, owns or leases the land on which the safari is to take place, negotiates with the government where appropriate to arrange quotas, provides the camp, vehicles, staff, makes sure there is food and drink for the client, all the details.Then there is the professional hunter (who can also be the operator), the person who is largely responsible for pointing the client to the game at minimum. Then there is the local/regional hunting organization that “oversees” the activities. And finally there is the international organization that also promotes the operators at conventions and the like.

In South Africa, would-be professional hunters must attend a Professional Hunting school, pass exams both written and practical, and be over the age of 21 to gain their licence. Hmmm. They can then join the local Professional Hunting organization, become apprentice hunters and move up the ranks to gain the eventual status of fully fledged professional hunters with a licence to hunt “dangerous game” – in South Africa this means the Big Five and hippo as well. Some will become hunting company employees and others can elect to work on a free-lance basis, travelling here there and everywhere whenever a company needs an extra hand. If this involves other countries they must gain a hunting licence from that nation, and also join the local professional hunting organization. Licences come up for renewal periodically, but in South Africa the guidelines are not that strict – you have to prove that you have been on at least 3 safaris as a professional hunter OR completed a 21-day safari with an overseas client in the last 3 years.

An operator must also have attended a Professional Hunting school, but does not need to be an active professional hunter if he/she can prove ownership or lease of the land on which the hunting is to take place and can provide the necessary facilities.

The client needs no qualifications whatsoever apart from the ability to pay. If the client owns no guns, they can be rented. If the client is handicapped, special arrangements can be made. The client is king, and it does not matter, within reason, what demands are made. And this is where the worm begins to turn.

Best case scenario – an honourable operator, an honourable professional hunter, and an honourable client. They are all aware of the great numerical decline in lions, and will all do their utmost, in the best tradition of hunter conservationists, to ensure the survival of a species.

Worst case scenario – an operator who has only a short lease for the land and wants to cash in, a professional hunter hired from the pool who has no idea of local conditions in terms of lion populations, pride structure, and consequences of the hunt. A greedy client who wants a trophy and the future of lions be damned.

And then all the other seven other possible combinations of that trio.

And this is where regulations need to appear. No more underage males allowed to be exported and failing that, to be imported as trophies. No more professional hunters who allow such animals to be hunted at risk of losing their licence. An education programme for clients, to produce ethical hunters among them. A strong involvement by the local and international hunting organizations to set terms and standards for their members and truly professional behaviour. A big broom that sweeps clean, and does not just allow the dirt to be swept under the carpet to emerge again later. A much more regulated programme for operators to be required to return their lease for the next tender (for which they can bid) in a better state than they found it. A blacklist for those who do not comply. Carrots and sticks.

The hunters might say this is all unfair, as they are in the telescopic sight once again. The next post will be about scientists. Break through the current logjam and we can make progress more judiciously.

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 00:00

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