The threats conservation is facing in South Africa was highlighted in a thought provoking talk titled“Threats to Wildlife Conservation in South Africa” by leading conservationist Stewart Dorrington of Meloranji Safaris, at the monthly Probus meeting in Port Alfred last week.

Dorrington has many years of experience in this area with deep insight into the many difficulties facing the industry.

The main thrust of Dorrington’s talk was his passionate concern over the amount of damage being done to the preservation of African wildlife by misinformed groups in the West and individuals who are dead against any form of hunting. In his opinion, the main protagonists are anti-hunting lobbies and misinformed, biased journalism.

In 2015, Nic Chevallier and Bruce Young produced an 85-minute film which followed Ian Michler, a South African conservationist, and Rick Swazey, an American hunter, on their journey to the heart of the predator breeding and canned lion hunting industry. Their story apparently blew the lid off claims made by those involved in the industry and their attempts to justify the disgusting trade they are involved in. As expected, the film caused a huge wave of anti-hunting sentiment.

Dorrington told the audience that he, together with seven others, two years ago started a website that voiced their outrage over the practice of captive breeding of lions by trophy hunters, condemning this vile practice and calling on the authorities to update legislation to prevent the continuation of the slaughter of captive bred lions.

According to Stewart Dorrington, they have managed to harness the support of the general public and together with most ethical hunters have succeeded in their endeavour to persuade the government to legislate against the trade of canned lion hunting; the good news is that the government is drawing up new legislation which is currently being promulgated to end the unethical practices exposed in the Blood Lions documentary. Furthermore, most provinces in South Africa have now banned the practice of shooting captive bred lions.  The fact is that most hunters and outfitters in Africa deplore the practice of canned lion hunting and condemn it as being both unethical and a risk to trophy hunting in Africa. Dorrington went on to add that he shares the sentiment – along with many other South African professional hunters – that “lion hunting gives all hunting a bad name.”

However, Dorrington contends that sustainable hunting creates thousands of jobs in Africa and contributes to the incomes of countless thousands. Sustainable hunting practices are   endorsed by international conservation groups such as CITES and the IUCN.

Little is said in the press about the flourishing and hugely damaging bushmeat trade, which is wiping out wildlife at a tremendous rate.  More and more of Africa’s wildlife is being concentrated in ever decreasing smaller pockets of land, due to the increasing demand for land for development. “Where is the anger regarding that,” asked Dorrington? “Emotions have run away from logic and sanity, and the animal rights groups are milking as much as they can out of the uninformed and ignorant public… These same animal rights groups are financially benefitting from this tragedy; wildlife is certainly not!”

He touched on the recent global scandal surrounding the shooting of the aged lion, Cecil, saying that he would have died of natural causes long ago, had he still been living in the wild.  He feels that although the incident was deplorable, it was blown way out of proportion by animal rights groups and emotional individuals when compared with the scale of human suffering in Africa.

There are some who believe that a total ban on animal hunting trade would kill off demand.  Elephant poaching is soaring and it is unlikely that the one-off sale of elephant tusks seven years ago is the cause, as is claimed by the anti-trade group. Nor is the burning of ivory having any impact on poaching. Perhaps it should be researched as to whether it is better to have farmed wild animals or no wild animals at all. Conservationists have a long uphill battle to save wildlife. Dorrington added that he personally abhorred the concept of farming wild animals commercially, but it could sadly be the last resort.

Anthropomorphism is one of the biggest problems for conservation today, with the likes of Disney and Animal Planet, for example, giving human names and characteristics to animals. The global outrage over Cecil has sounded alarm bells in many conservation NGOs in that a single lion could make world headlines for so long.  This does not help the cause of wildlife conservation, as it advocates sentimental rather than scientific attitudes about conservation.