BY EMMANUEL KORO
In her May 11, 2021 speech that included a proposed Bill to ban international hunting trophy imports, Queen Elizabeth II gave the strongest hint so far that the British government and animal rights groups are worlds apart; with the international hunting needs of wildlife-rich African countries such as Zimbabwe.
African countries and communities co-existing with wildlife don’t ever want hunting to be banned because it generates revenue for not only wildlife conservation but also habitat conservation.
Sadly, the British government as indicated by the Queen’s speech this week seems not to acknowledge such benefits. Some of the benefits from hunting income include its use for the socioeconomic well being of African rural communities co-existing with wildlife. Therefore, the British are planning to go ahead with plans that will not only destroy African wildlife but also its habitat and the hopes of socioeconomic development in African communities coexisting with wildlife.
The Queen’s Speech pointed out that, “Imports of hunting trophies will be banned and the government will implement the Ivory Act, banning the dealing in ivory.”
What they didn’t disclose is that such bans would harm African trophy hunting exports as the United Kingdom is one of the lucrative markets for Africa’s trophy hunting exports.
The closure of the United Kingdom trophy hunting exports market would be a double-blow for wildlife-rich African countries. They have and continue to pin their hopes to raise wildlife and habitat conservation revenue from international hunting, including international trade in ivory.
Meanwhile, wildlife producer and hunting communities from southern Africa say that the British Government’s proposal to introduce an international hunting trophy imports ban “might cause more harm to African wildlife and people than did its colonial control and looting of the African continent.”
They argue that British government’s attempt to ban trophy hunting imports ignores the wildlife and habitat as well as socioeconomic benefits that international hunting is bringing to Africa.
From Zimbabwe, one of the most economically challenged countries in the world at the moment, comes a successful hunting benefits story that might make the British decide not to ban hunting if they really love to conserve African wildlife and its habitat. Additionally, if they really care for vulnerable African wildlife producer communities’ wellbeing.
This week, Zimbabwean conservationist Ishmael Chahukura who is outspoken on the need to defend hunting in Africa said that he was disappointed to learn from Queen Elizabeth II’s speech that the British government was going ahead with its plans to ban hunting trophy imports.
If ever there was a quiz: “What makes an African hunting community representative feel the need to engage in a debate with the British government and Queen Elizabeth II?” The answer would be: ”To stop them from banning trophy hunting imports.”
In a touching interview that made Chahukura feel compelled to appeal to the British government to rethink their damaging plan to ban all international trophy hunting imports, he said, “Those who insist on banning hunting don’t care about wildlife and habitat conservation in Africa, including Zimbabwe.”
He blamed the Western animal rights groups for continuing to mislead the British Government to pursue an international trophy hunting imports ban Bill that will cause a wildlife and habitat conservation disaster on the African continent.
The UN agency wild trade regulating agency Cites permits trade in all endangered species, for non-commercial purposes, including trophy hunting exports, as long as the off-take that normally ranges from 0,5-1%; is not harmful to the local population. Therefore, many people are wondering why the British government, a member of Cites, is trying to stop trophy hunting imports that are well-regulated and permitted by Cites.
“The animal rights groups must know that the Africans are genuinely concerned about wildlife as well as habitat conservation,” said Chahukura. “If they ban trophy hunting imports then they are banning conservation in Africa. Communities are conserving wildlife because they know they benefit from it. If they don’t benefit from it, then there is no reason to live with wildlife in Africa, including Zimbabwe. That will be the end of wildlife conservation in Africa.”
For Chahukura, perhaps the most effective way to make the British government appreciate the hunting benefits is to outline some of the most impressive benefits that Zimbabwe’s wildlife-rich hunting communities have and continue to receive from international hunting.
“Some of the most impressive socio-economic developments that were made possible with funding from hunting in our country Zimbabwe, include the schools and roads that linked to the rest of the world; most hunting communities that previously had no roads,” he said. “Before the hunting-revenue-funded schools were built, only a few young boys had access to primary and secondary education. The girls were disadvantaged because they could not travel long distances to the nearest school and clinic.”
Many people worldwide might not know that hunting revenue can also remove social ills in wildlife producer communities as revealed by Chahukura of Zimbabwe.
“Before we started earning hunting revenue, we couldn’t build schools and also girls could not attend distant schools,” he said. “This created major social ills for the girl-child, including early marriages and unwanted pregnancies. The level of illiteracy among girls was extremely high. Fortunately, hunting removed all these social ills in 1988 when primary schools were built using revenue from international hunting, giving boys and girls equal access to education. Secondary schools were later built in wildlife producer communities, using hunting income. The more years girls spent studying, the less the early marriages and there was a drastic reduction in unwanted pregnancies.”
“Come visit some Zimbabwe hunting communities, today and you shall discover that the hunting-revenue-built schools have collectively produced university graduates, including medical doctors, engineers, accountants, teachers and nurses,” said Chahukura.
He said that the most stunning hunting benefits story that the world should know today was that revenue from a hunted lion, elephant, leopard, kudu or buffalo “can produce university graduates who can be traced to other Zimbabwean wildlife producer and hunting communities.”
Notably, some of these professionals have been “poached” to work in Western countries that are ironically opposing international hunting.
The Chairman of Zimbabwe Painted Hunting Dog Conservation and former Deputy Board Chairman of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Jerry Gotora said: “There are many of them (professionals educated in Zimbabwe’s hunting communities). I met one of them in Hong Kong, about 10 years ago. He is a top Hong Kong banker, from Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe. His name is Jasom Watson. He is highly educated. He has also worked in Australia.”
In these Zimbabwean hunting communities, it is such untold socioeconomic benefits from hunting that show the interdependence of humankind and nature; that have made most people value the need to protect wildlife against poachers. The benefits have also made them appreciate the need to protect wildlife habitat by stopping timber poaching and all forms of environmental degradation.
“We use 60% of the international hunting revenue for wildlife and habitat conservation programmes,” said Chahukura. “This is used to pay for local game scouts, purchasing anti-poaching equipment and paying their wages.”
Unfortunately, by introducing a trophy hunting imports ban the British government is unknowingly going to remove the impressive wildlife and habitat conservation efforts that hunting revenue continues to support in Africa, including wildlife-rich Zimbabwe.
The downside of banning hunting would be a wildlife and habitat conservation disaster. Why? Hunting communities throughout Africa are increasingly saying their last land-use option if hunting is banned would be to convert national parks as well as game reserves into crop fields.
South Africa’s Makuya Hunting Community representative, Wilson Nemadzhilili does not want animal rights groups to stop his community from international hunting or to close their international hunting markets, including the United Kingdom. He together with people in his community argue that it’s wrong to talk about animal rights without also talking about human rights.
“If animal rights groups want to stop us from hunting, then they must know that they are not welcome to the Southern African Development Community,” he said.
Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.