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Southern African National Parks Provide Trophy Hunting Opportunities

What we thought were protected animals could be and are now fair game. I will discuss two countries here, South Africa and Zimbabwe that have embarked on a slippery slope of condoning trophy hunting in National Parks, and the trend could well spread. It has to do with economics in South Africa and desperation in Zimbabwe, but is nevertheless a worrying trend.

Let’s start with South Africa first, that bastion of wildlife conservation that has given us “canned” lion hunts and white rhino hunts that have doubtless had a tremendous contributory effect on the current wave of rhino poaching. Kruger National Park (KNP) is bordered by four Associated Private Nature Reserves, and with an agreement to create a “Greater Kruger”, fences were taken down and wildlife is now free to move between the APNRs and the Park. Kruger is also bordered by community wildlife areas to the north and in Mozambique by the Sabie Game Reserve. Trophy hunting takes place in APNRs like Timbavati and Klaserie, and in 2009 the following quota was assigned: elephant 55, buffalo 144, impala 5003, lion 2, zebra 7, kudu 19, white rhino 7, leopard 1, etc. A safari operator, Thormalen and Cochrane advertises trophy hunting in Timbavati, mentioning that wildlife flows freely in from Kruger.

South Africa National Parks (SANParks) denies this, or at least attempts to. They would not like to be seen as condoning trophy hunting of animals that one day are protected in the National interest in Kruger and the next available to hunters in Timbavati. Undaunted, Gerhard Damm, board member of Conservation Force, a man highly cherished in hunting circles, and Editor of "African Indaba", a newsletter for sport hunters, recently came up with this solution for the financial woes of South Africa's National Park system:

"I understand that KNP must be run as a profitable business venture, especially in view of ever diminishing government subsidies and should not depend on taxpayer handouts. Hotels are a potential solution but come with an enormous ecological footprint and high capital and running costs. Strictly regulated conservation hunting operations, if conducted in restricted wilderness/remote zones of suitable parks, would probably far surpass the monetary profits of hotels, have negligible ecological footprints and most of all would be sustainable through the years without incurring any significant capital expenditure. David Mabunda, CEO of SANParks said not so long ago that “SANParks needs to find sustainable methods to fund the operations and protection of the entire national parks system and hence SANParks views responsible tourism as a conservation strategy.” Maybe it is time to evaluate conservation hunting as one more option. SANParks could produce sustainable NET PROFITS in the region of 40 to 50 million Rand annually from very limited and strictly controlled hunting without compromising the SANParks Conservation Strategy. The National Treasury could apply the subsidies paid to SANParks in the past to service delivery on many fronts. My proposal will be challenged with all kind of moralistic assertions that hunting simply cannot take place in National Park; but those who argue against should please consider that successful and sustainable conservation strategies rest on THREE pillars: Ecology, Economy and Social Politics."

Already hunted in the APNRs, Gerhard now wants to bring wildlife under the rifles of hunters within the Park as well, as it would add income. Seductive to cash-strapped KNP, but is it justifiable according to the statutes of a National Park? We shall have to see how this develops.


Now let’s consider Zimbabwe. As in South Africa, hunting concessions border directly on National Parks, and no pretence is made about luring animals like lions out of the protected areas with baits. No pretence is either made about shooting within protected areas, although this is “officially” illegal. Zimbabwe condones “ration hunting” in protected areas – the rations being provided to Park staff and perhaps some surrounding communities. Zimbabwe can barely pay their game scouts, but has opted to feed them with the animals they are supposed to protect. Such ration hunts are sold to clients by operators as “non-trophy hunts”, but at least one operator advertises a 5-day buffalo hunt where trophies are listed as non-exportable…but for a 60% additional fee a deal can be made. The company also mentions that the trophies make great photo opportunities.

In addition, and this is particularly worrisome, the wildlife authorities now apparently see the National Parks as a “source area” for the neighbouring hunting concessions. The purposes for which national parks are constituted under the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Act is to “preserve and protect the natural landscape and scenery therein, and to preserve and protect wildlife and plants and the natural ecological stability of wildlife and plant communities therein, for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of the public”. Nothing in there about providing hunting opportunities? But this is what is now happening. Why? One could confidently assume that the hunting concessions have been shot out in the past, so that now they are dependent on an influx of animals (lured, attracted, enticed) from the protected areas to satisfy the hunting clients. Andrew Loveridge of Oxford University wrote about the great impact lion trophy hunting on borders had on populations within Hwange National Park, but this now seems to be condoned despite his observations of highly negative impacts.

Short-term and misguided profit taking is not conducive to long-term conservation programmes. But this is what seems to be happening in South African and Zimbabwean National Parks. We cannot have much influence on national policies in African nations about what is clearly a mining attitude towards their wildlife. But we can do something to prevent trophy imports to our nations, and seek more enlightened alternatives to the present reliance on income from trophy hunting. Gerhard Damm is not wrong to invoke economic factors in conservation. But that does not necessarily have to come from destructive utilization of wildlife resources, especially in their last mainstay of the protected areas.    

Picture credit: Rembrandt van Rijn

Posted by Pieter Kat at 14:29

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