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An open letter to Dr Larry Rudolph, President, Safari Club International

Dear Dr Rudolph:

You will doubtless have noticed some criticism of SCI on this site. I personally believe such criticism is well-placed as I think SCI has drifted from ideals of ethics and sustainable hunting. You mention that SCI is “First for Hunters”, and I actually think that you and the SCI Members will stand behind this. I am writing you this letter to point out where your ideals and conservation messages have gone wrong when it comes to lion trophy hunting in Africa, to open up a dialogue with you and the SCI Organization to seek common ground where possible, and to determine a positive way forward.

Permit me to begin with some clear and open statements about some issues that concern me about SCI:

• You are closely associated with organizations like Conservation Force (John Jackson III, CEO) and the International Foundation for the Conservation of Wildlife (IFCW – Philippe Chardonnet, Executive Director). My problem with these gentlemen is as follows:

1)  John Jackson III (a past President of SCI) on the CF website openly boasts about how he has campaigned vigorously against uplisting lions to CITES Appendix I, and lobbies extensively to keep lions hunted regardless of the consequences. Jackson also sits on the Board of IFCW, and ensures that Chardonnet, who sits on the Board of CF, gets funding to conduct his lion surveys. 

2)  Philippe Chardonnet. In another blog  I termed him a “lion magnet” as wherever Chardonnet goes, he is able to find more lions than anyone else ever suspected of being there. He does not find these himself, but conducts interviews with “knowledgeable people” and then extrapolates from their replies. Sometimes this gets a bit out of hand, as Chardonnet’s “survey” of Tanzania apparently indicated that lions occurred in 94% of the country. With so many lions around every corner, it is indeed remarkable that pedestrians can still walk the city streets. Since Cardonnet, Jackson, and SCI are rather joined at the hip this is not surprising, as more lions found translates into higher quotas.

• At the most recent CITES knees-up in Doha (2010), which received pretty much universal scorn as to lack of effectiveness (including, I hasten to add, by some of the delegates), SCI was apparently so concerned about CITES’ financial straits that there was an offer of fiscal assistance. Now I don’t really mind if SCI and John Jackson lobby delegates at CITES meetings, as this seems an accepted modus operandi. Conservation organizations do the same. However, blatantly offering CITES money (and don’t tell me that you would not pull on the attached strings) is beyond the pale.

• The SCI Foundation seems to occupy hallowed ground, as they fund “conservation” studies worldwide (as long as the results are in line with hunting priorities). It is rather difficult to get an indication from the SCIF website as to what projects are actually supported, but let’s have a look at what is listed under Africa. Here we go:

1)  “The SCI Foundation’s efforts in Africa are centered on the sustainable use of African wildlife. As we have seen with many species and within many countries of Africa, conservation is most effective when wildlife have [sic] a value to humans. Worldwide, hunters have created this value.  Hunters have also generated the revenue needed to pay for wildlife research and management, especially in Africa.”  So far, this is rhetoric.

2) “Building on lessons learned from CAMPFIRE and other community-based wildlife management programs, SCIF continues to develop partnerships with wildlife agencies, local communities, private sector hunting companies and other conservation organizations." I have visited the shipwreck that was CAMPFIRE in another blog on this site, and the general failure of other community programs involved with hunting companies. By other conservation organizations, you probably mean your friends in CF and IFCW?

3) “The SCI Foundation is committed to supporting lion (Panthera leo) research such as population surveys, facilitating the planning and implementation of national lion management strategies, and working on human-lion mitigation for lion range states.  The lion workshops allow African governments to plan national and regional lion management policies and are the foundation of a cooperative approach to the conservation and sustainable use of the African lion.  Regional workshops have been held in Cameroon (2005) and South Africa (2006).  National workshops have already been held in Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Workshops and current population surveys are planned for the remaining lion range states.” We know that you have funded Chardonnet’s studies with predictable results. You part-funded the lion workshops, probably so you could have a lobbying presence. I find it worrying that the conferences mention nothing about the impact of trophy hunting as a source of mortality, reproductive disruption, and destabilization of populations in their final reports, so perhaps the lobbying was effective?

4) “Several years ago, SCIF realized that cooperation between government, industry and private stakeholder representatives was essential to enhance wildlife conservation in Africa.  In 2002, SCIF created the African Wildlife Conservation Forum (AWCF) to provide a way for African nations and other international agencies to obtain updates on current wildlife management issues, enhance communication among South African countries, and assist each other in solutions to common problems. The AWCF also includes professional hunting associations to provide an opportunity to discuss issues directly with their government representatives.  Conservation hunting operations? AWCF supporting professional hunting organizations so they can talk with government representatives?" What funds were spent and what are the positive outcomes? Did SCI, through AWCF, support a 2006 conference in Kenya to bring back trophy hunting after a 30 year ban? Overall, SCIF is a clear example of vested interest funding.

• The Safari Club International promotes the concept of ethics among members, at least on paper. This includes the ideal of “fair chase”, but that goes out of the window when your members set foot in Africa and engage hunting operators who bait and even call lions out of protected areas to bring them under the gun. You also turn a blind eye to those who would hunt on ranches in the USA and especially in South Africa, where canned lion hunts abound on game ranches. It would seem to me that “fair chase” is just a myth, that your ethics are fading over the horizon, and that your ideal of the “hunter conservationist” is now a term only used to make yourselves feel better. You have allowed the “trophy” to become the paramount achievement rather than the hunt itself. You award prizes and rings to those who kill the greatest diversity of species and bring home the biggest trophies.

• The Safari Club International rushes to embrace meaningless concepts like “hunting promotes conservation”, “hunting benefits communities”, “value must be given to wildlife otherwise it will disappear”, “hunters change the perceptions of communities so they no longer engage in poaching”, “hunting preserves habitats for wildlife in Africa that would otherwise be converted to farmland”, etc. But when you take your head out of your comforting sand, you might actually see that there are few outside your circle of friends who actually believe you anymore, as there is little proof behind such statements.
So, Larry, where do you and SCI go from here in Africa? Let me give you a few suggestions in the spirit of cooperation.

1. Do some reading of scientific literature and reports by international organizations that might be critical of trophy hunting as it is currently conducted in Africa. Accept the c-word (criticism) rather than fighting against it and labelling anyone who does not agree with you as a communist radical dogturd woolybrained bunny hugger.

2. Engage with hunting operators who actually support the high ideals you set for trophy hunting. Advise your members as to those and ignore the rest, no matter how many dollars they bring into your yearly conventions. Publish a list of SCI-approved hunting operators to recommend to your members - take a stance.

3. Commission truly independent surveys to have a close look at lion numbers, population composition, and reproductive success in hunting concessions. And do this for other “popular” trophy species as well. Engage with organizations like NGOs and Universities that might not support you and solicit independent verification of your message that hunting is a conservation measure.

4. All SCI members should hunt ethically. No more shooting of ranched animals, no more canned lion hunts, no baiting and hunting with dogs, no more hunting from vehicles, no more spotlighting at night, no more exceeding “bag” limits to attempt to get better trophies, etc. Take another stance.

5. No more blatant influence peddling with government officials and regulatory agencies. If your message about hunting is clear and strong, it should be able to stand on its own.

6. Encourage the operators to fully engage communities. Encourage them to form true partnerships and distance themselves from the current system of colonial style patronage.

7. Encourage your members to carefully assess the impact of lion trophy hunting on a declining population where hunting males has many more consequences than removing a single individual. Take a long hard look at the “conservation” value of lion trophy hunting, and consider a voluntary moratorium until much more data is available about the status of lion populations in hunting concessions – see #3. Encourage your associated hunting associations in other countries to take similar stands.

What we as NGOs can do is willingly engage in discussions with you on these various points. Please do not read more into this than an attempt to engage with you, and to establish some of the issues we seek to be addressed in a forthright manner. Neither should you see this initiation of contact with you as a willingness to negotiate concessions on the issue of lion trophy hunting. We do, however, retain a scientific rather than emotional approach to the issue, but be aware that the onus is clearly on you to convince in this area. Reports by your friends are not acceptable.

As an outgoing President, perhaps you could address some truly meaningful issues during the time that remains in your tenure – your personal contribution to lion conservation so to speak?


Pieter W. Kat PhD
Trustee, LionAid

Picture credit:

Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:43

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