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"Schindler's List for Saving Wildlife"

Sunday 3rd November 2013


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In a thoughtful article, Chris Mercer of the Campaign against Canned Hunting challenged philanthropists to step in and establish competition for land use now utilized for trophy hunting. He called his article “Schindler’s List for Saving Wildlife”, referring to the story of Nazi industrialist Oskar Schindler who was able to save the lives of hundreds of Polish Jews from the Auschwitz extermination camp. Schindler drew up a “list” of people he was able to convince the Nazis were essential to the war effort and then paid massive bribes to keep them alive until they were finally liberated by Soviet troops at the end of the war. 

Chris Mercer is analogously calling for people to step up and pay for the lives of animals before they perish by buying up land for conservation.

It is a stark and emotive comparison, and not necessarily an effective one under current concession allocation schemes. 

Let’s establish a few basics. 

1.African wildlife has a high value both within Africa and outside Africa. The resource value can be captured legally by ecotourism, trophy hunting, ranching, live exports, by-product sales like skins, claws, teeth -  and illegally by the bushmeat trade, illegal poaching for ivory and rhino horn, trophy hunting in excess of quotas, smuggling of lion and cheetah cubs, etc.

2.African wildlife also has an existence value, but largely outside Africa. The existence value is not based on finance and is therefore opposite to the “if it pays it stays” approach currently widely applied across Africa. Existence value is based on the concept that wildlife has a right to existence not merely for the pleasure and commerce of humans. 

3.African wildlife is not valued by the vast majority of Africans except for its immediate resource value.

4.African wildlife has a very high extinction value – the more endangered a species becomes, the more it is worth to those who place a resource value on it, not only trophy hunters but those who engage in the illegal bushmeat trade (meat from a chimpanzee is worth more than meat from a duiker) and the illegal trade in increasingly scarce products like rhino horns, elephant ivory, lion bones, pangolin scales and meat, etc.

5.Maintenance of African wildlife and the land on which wildlife exists is not a priority for African communities under present economic realities where only a few benefit from wildlife existence. Those not nearly receiving their fair share include communities involved with hunting and photographic concessions, and those living as pastoralists and/or practicing subsistence agriculture in the proximity of unfenced national parks.

6.African wildlife also has a conservation value. Conservation benefits accumulate over the future, whereas resource benefits accumulate in the present. This is why wildlife utilization programmes that benefit from state-owned wildlife resources (like trophy hunting) can so easily abuse the system by “mining” wildlife resources for short-term profit and then moving elsewhere to do the same. 

7.Corruption undermines any conservation value for wildlife.

Chris Mercer is right in wanting to engage those with disposable funds to provide an alternative by buying land to conserve instead of destructively utilizing wildlife. But the problem with it is that it assumes that hunting operators are actually working as a business in competition with other models. 

I would suggest that is far from the case. Hunting operators gain their concessions by corrupt practices. This should not be a revelation or news. Tanzania and Zambia, for example, have sacked many members of their wildlife departments on such charges. Hunting operators are well known to use bribes as a business practice, and again this should not be revelation or news. Such bribes and influence peddling have assured that income is basically guaranteed at the expense of wildlife resources. 

Transparency International ranks countries in Africa that allow trophy hunting among the most corrupt in the world. For example, Zimbabwe ranks 163rd of 179 countries analysed (meaning only 16 countries were more corrupt), Cameroon and Central African Republic are both ranked 144th, Mozambique is ranked 123rd, and Tanzania 102nd. 

The communities who are supposed to sign up for land deals with the hunting operators are not only short-changed in terms of the income they should get, but are additionally threatened by bought government officials and even community elites to sign up to schemes that will see their land taken away. Trophy hunting operators have also been able to convince a number of major wildlife NGO’s and International Development organizations like USAID to actively assist their strategies under the guise of “rural poverty alleviation”. All this is well known and documented.

Oskar Schindler bribed Nazi officials to save lives, but I doubt whether any philanthropist will equally bribe African officials to save animal lives. If concessions come up for tender and are awarded to philanthropists, it would occur at a negative financial benefit for all those gaining income by awarding concessions by accepting the largest bribes, and then also being able to collect future bribes by turning a blind eye to illegal activities.

It is only when corruption and influence peddling can be greatly diminished in Africa that any semblance of true wildlife conservation can take place. And only then that those meant to share equitably – the rural communities – will be interested in participating in conservation efforts.  

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Posted by Chris Macsween at 20:30

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