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Trophy hunting

Photographic tourism can deliver 1000 times more profit for wildlife areas…

It has long been proposed by trophy hunters that if hunting is banned, hunting concessions will be invaded by cattle and poachers and all sorts of misery and armageddon will descend on wildlife. There are “scientific” publications detailing the horrible consequences of ending trophy hunting, all forecasting doom and gloom for wildlife. Lose the hunting concessions and you will lose wildlife the authors shout.

This is based on the fact that hunting concessions actually occupy much more land in Africa than the nationally protected areas. And also based on the increasingly dubious assumption that hunting concessions actually do a good job in conserving wildlife of all sorts while engaged in “sustainable” offtake.

More and more information is coming out that such propaganda is just drivel, hokum, hogwash, malarkey and twaddle.

One case in point is Botswana. All trophy hunting on state lands was banned at the end of 2013. Risky business said the trophy hunters – now let’s sit back and wait and our predictions will come true. It will be the end of Botswana’s wildlife and tears will flow – hunting is conservation after all.

So I decided to contact a number of people to get their opinions about how well Botswana’s wildlife is faring after the trophy hunting ban. These included a major tourism executive and Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Rt. Hon. Tshekedi Khama.

The tourism executive, who spoke under condition of anonymity had this to say:

“The countries that prove my point are Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana and if one dug deeper one could find similar examples throughout the rest Africa.
The Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is dominated by hunting safari concessions. Something like about 90% of all the Selous has been set aside for hunting and only tiny portion of the northern Selous has been set aside for photo safaris. The end result of decades of hunting is that the black rhino is now extinct in Selous (or very close to being extinct) and elephant populations have crashed to a mere fraction of their former numbers. All this has happened under decades of relentless, yet legal hunting. Yet many of those hunting concessions could be providing much more value for the Tanzanian economy if they were set aside as photo safari concessions. There would be more jobs created per concession under photo tourism than hunting tourism and that employment would be for a much longer period each year; there would be a presence in these concessions for most of the year and much more money would be generated for the park and for the Tanzanian economy from photo safari tourism than hunting. And more money could have been ploughed back into conservation. My view is that the Tanzanian government would be pleasantly surprised at how many photo companies would be tendering for concessions within the Selous Game Reserve if they abandoned hunting and advertised the concessioning process widely and offered the concessions under fair and reasonable terms.

And if enough quality photo companies set up business in these concessions, how the poaching tide would slowly be turned back.

Some hunters argue that the drop in the Kenyan wildlife numbers was due to the Kenyan hunting ban. Yet both Kenya and Tanzania have declining wildlife populations - one with hunting and the other without hunting. The hunters conveniently never mention the Tanzanian wildlife crisis with hunting when they criticise the Kenyans for not hunting. The reason for the drop in wildlife numbers in both countries is simply because both countries have rapidly escalating rural populations which have dramatically increased the poaching levels around their unfenced national parks and game reserves.

In Botswana, wildlife areas of the Okavango under photographic tourism have delivered considerably more benefits to Botswana than those same areas did under hunting - often by a factor of over one thousand times. We had the financial accounts of the hunting companies, so there was no guesswork there. The Government also had the financial accounts from the annual hunting company returns. Those same areas under photographic tourism today pay a much greater dividend to the macro economy of Botswana in terms of salaries and wages, skill transfers, training, associated businesses like airlines, restaurants, hotels, goods and service suppliers. Also much greater benefit to the Government in terms of park fees, concession fees and land rentals, VAT, PAYE and other taxes. The decision by the Government was a simple one – they were simply not getting the benefits they expected from the vast tracts of prime wildlife land allocated to hunting.

Each and every hunting area in Botswana is now being converted or is in a process of being converted to photographic tourism. Even some of the so-called “marginal areas” where hunting was expected to trump photo safaris are slowly and successfully moving over to photo tourism. There are those in the hunting industry who are stirring trouble, but their stories are most often “baloney”. The few people out of work are generally those older folk who were employed for decades by the hunting industry as skinners etc and never learnt any other skills. Those people sadly are not now employable. To counter those few negatives, somewhere around 45% of people in Botswana are now directly or indirectly benefiting from the tourism industry, and that increases to close on 60% in the Okavango region. That was never the case in those early, almost exclusive, hunting days when there was an exodus of people from rural areas to towns to seek employment. That trend has now been reversed.

In Botswana, former hunting concessions took time to build up their wildlife populations, but now conversions from hunting areas to photographics have resulted successful and profitable photo safari camps, lodges and concessions.”

Minister Khama kindly telephoned me a few days ago. He said that the “transition from hunting concessions to photographic concessions is being assisted by a Government Community Development Fund and is highly successful. Wildlife is being carefully protected and numbers are growing. Alarmist projections are nothing more than hunters’ propaganda and Botswana is on a careful, well thought out, and positive course to conserve wildlife resources.” He also mentioned that all countries in Africa should take their own course in terms of allowing trophy hunting as a “conservation” measure, but that Botswana had now taken a different and well-informed alternative path that after time was now paying significant and better dividends.

Thank you Minister Khama for telling it like it is. Hunting propaganda and scaremongering will not benefit careful wildlife conservation to benefit African wildlife range state citizens and the world community.

In summary, I would say that trophy hunting as a means of wildlife conservation, as a means of supplying communities with durable and significant employment, as a means of better conserving wildlife lands – has been tested and proven false in Botswana and elsewhere. Other African governments should carefully consider following Botswana’s example and note the much greater returns from wildlife land under photographic safaris than the pittance they now receive from hunting concessions.

Picture credit:

Posted by Chris Macsween at 14:34

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