Within Botswana’s ecotourism industry, word is in the air that the trophy hunting sector is about to undergo a major review. No changes have been officially proclaimed yet, but indications that they are in the offing have come from the Botswana government in a number of telling statements made at public and private meetings. How far will the changes go? Talk varies from a total ban on trophy hunting, which at this stage is unlikely, to the industry being marginalised into buffer zones or private ranching facilities, and quotas being cut.
Protest as it might at possible changes, the industry will have only itself to blame if major changes are made. More than 40 years of hegemony have brought few benefits other than large profits to the operators. They, meanwhile, have shown a total disregard for self-regulation and policing their own, and have instead always rallied around the rotten. True, there are some ethical and sound professionals within the community, but they now stand condemned with the rest.
Whatever form the changes may take, the government should be applauded for pursuing more sustainable and beneficial land-use options within the country’s prime wilderness regions.
Across the border in South Africa, an incident recently occurred that, while seemingly insignificant, may be seen as a small marker in the broader trophy hunting debate. Earlier this year, one of the country’s largest corporate institutions cancelled an organised hunting trip for its clients because of complaints received from other clients and anti-hunting groups.
As reported in a local newspaper, the corporate had invited ‘a select group of five clients’ on a ‘client relationship-building trip’ to hunt animals. Not that long ago there would have been little or no opposition to such an excursion, and this same institution would most certainly have thumbed its nose at any outside interference in company activities.
While these events in South Africa and Botswana by no means signify the imminent demise of trophy hunting globally, they certainly point to a shift in attitude.
General awareness of the realities of trophy hunting is growing, and the hunting community can no longer assume that the age-old justifications for what it does remain cast in stone. The pro-hunting lobby, once so dominant and influential and at the same time so disparagingly dismissive of any contrary opinion, has lost its monopoly on the debate. It is going to have to realise that it is both logical and legitimate – a fair chase if you like – to challenge the conventional wisdom of the industry on various fronts.
Firstly, the consumptive utilisation model, especially the version practised on the ground, has major shortcomings. And the premise of financial gain does not necessarily justify economic activity: think whaling, slavery, drugs, pornography and the tobacco industry. Is there no other way to conserve and protect our wildlife than by allowing the gene pool to be auctioned off to the highest bidder? Is this the only language we know, the only solution we have?
Certainly, the principles of consumptive utilisation still sit firmly entrenched in the constitutions of most global conservation bodies and their guardian, the IUCN, but that does not absolve them from scrutiny.
Secondly, trophy hunting nowadays has little to do with fair chase. How can it, when the human participants enter the field armed with sophisticated highpowered weaponry, including telescopic sights, and with GPS and other satellitepositioning gadgets, often in robust 4×4 vehicles or using microlights or helicopters?
The trophy hunting of today, which includes canned and put-and-take hunting, bears little resemblance to the hunting of a hundred years ago. The colonial notion of trophy hunting as a brave profession and a noble sport is long gone.
And thirdly, there are the purely philosophical, sociological and ideological sides to the debate: the topics that the hunting fraternity is most ill at ease with. Given our substantially increased knowledge of genetics, biology and the inter-relatedness of species, these questions are extremely relevant and the answers we give ever more telling. Why should we not be entitled to ask the question: how appropriate is it that we kill large numbers of wild animals for fun?