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The greatest threat Part 1

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Many countries in Africa are being held to ransom in terms of wildlife management issues by the international world in general and animal rights groups in particular. This issue is of such current relevance that it cannot be glossed over in one article so this will be part 1 of a three part series.

I am intrigued by animal behaviour. Take the old story of ostriches burying their heads in the sand when danger threatens (not true by the way) believing that if you cannot see what is threatening you, it is not there. Do we not often behave in a similar fashion when we hope that by ignoring something it will just go away, disappear, vanish?

There is a powerful force on the move to ban hunting in all its forms and if we choose to ignore this threat by burying our head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, the threat will not, of its own accord, dissipate into thin air – of that we can be absolutely sure. What I therefore feel compelled to do is to defend hunting as a pragmatic and rational form of wildlife management and wise sustainable utilization of a renewable resource.

What must be done is to expose the motives of animal rights groups and the hidden agendas behind what is becoming a form of neo-colonialism and also to lay bare their complete lack of or misunderstanding of the natural order and the realities of Africa.

One salient fact emerges when things are looked at in a rational way – the animal rights movement is BY FAR the biggest threat to wildlife in Africa and beyond (Thomson, 2006). Lets examine this issue carefully and pragmatically.

If habitat provides the basic requirements of enough food, water and cover, animal populations will increase until the population reaches a point where it begins to impact negatively on the environment. Before the days of fences when wild animals had the option to roam freely they would migrate to new areas and so allow grazed and browsed areas time to recover.

Most nature, national and provincial reserves and private game ranches are fenced, so confining the resident wildlife species to a given area. Sound, logical and intelligent wildlife management dictates that, before resident game populations begin damaging habitat they must be reduced to below maximum carrying capacity. The wildlife manager has four options available to reduce the excess animals. They can be captured and translocated to some other suitable area, they can be culled or harvested (yes there is a difference) and the products (meat, hides etc.) utilized, or the surplus animals can be made available to sport or recreational (biltong) hunters. It must be understood that where this is used as a wildlife management tool and done in the interests of protecting habitat it is absolutely justifiable morally, ecologically, and pragmatically.

What the animal rights movement fails to grasp (or refuses to) is that the greatest threat to wildlife (other than themselves on which I will elaborate further) is loss and fragmentation of habitat. What these people just don’t appear to be able to grasp is that most forms of land use including eco-tourism , forestry and agriculture (growing vegetables for all the vegetarians) uses up wildland habitat without which wild animal populations cannot exist!!!

The reticence of animal rights activists to accept these salient facts must make their motives suspect to say the least – I might even go so far as to say, without being melodramatic, sinister.

The hard questions

We are now compelled to ask ourselves a few questions in the African context:

  • What justification is there for setting aside undeveloped wildland with the long term intention of keeping it wild and undeveloped?

  • Can we justify “locking resources away” – i.e. not to be utilized – from people?

  • What are the consequences of non-utilization?

  • If wildlife (animal and plant) resources do not have utilitarian value is it possible that alternative land use will be justifiably opted for over conservation and preservation of wildlife habitat?

  • What characterizes and motivates animal right activists?

  • Are there hidden agendas behind the animal rights movements?

Let’s define four concepts that we must understand before going any further.

Utilitarian value – means to use some resource for its value in contributing towards survival, comfort or improvement of life quality. We grow vegetables and farm with livestock to provide us with food. We use wood to build a house or grass to thatch a roof. We cultivate cotton or shear sheep to use their wool to make clothes. This begs a question. How will people live if they do not use natural resources?

Consumptive use – means to consume something. To eat the meat of a sheep or an impala. To dig up potatoes and carrots and make a stew. The meat and vegetables are consumed – used up.

Non-consumptive use – is to enjoy the benefits of a resource without actually consuming it. In other words once you have enjoyed some aspect of the resource, it (in an individual sense) still remains – in the short term and is not consumed (it eventually however dies at some point in time). An example would be to observe and take photographs of wildlife or to canoe down a river. The wildlife and the river are not consumed – they are utilized non-consumptively.

Sustainable utilization – is the wise use of natural resources in such a way that they are used consumptively without using them all up. Resources are used but their use is managed in such a way that the resource remains and is available indefinitely.

Animal rights activists want to ban all hunting, fishing, capture and translocation of wild animals, the farming for consumptive use of both wild and domestic animals and even the owning of domestic pets. As we examine these issues we must see things from three separate but, at the same time, integral perspectives. The ecological perspective, the economic perspective and the social perspective – and these must be seen in the African context – not the American, Scandinavian or European context. History has shown – very clearly – that when it comes to wildlife management and the management of natural resources, American and Eurocentric methods have not and will not work in Africa. Africa is very different and African solutions must be developed.

Let’s tackle question1: What justification is there for setting aside undeveloped wildland with the long term intention of keeping it wild and undeveloped?

There are two main reasons:

The one reason is that all living creatures have intrinsic value and man has a responsibility to protect natural systems and the living organisms (plants and animals) that live in them.

Natural resources are useful to man and if we care for wildland we can derive benefits (directly and indirectly) from doing so.

Both reasons are valid. It is absolutely vital to understand this. Accepting the one to the exclusion of the other is both naive and a refusal to face reality (remember the ostrich).

Those who believe that natural resources are only there to be used by man and who refuse to accept that living creatures and undeveloped wildland have intrinsic value will over exploit and eventually destroy life.

Those who believe that natural resources have only intrinsic value but should not be used consumptively will also be responsible for the ultimate demise of wildlife.

The kind of value easiest to appreciate, for many people, is “what good is it” or “in what way can I use it for my own benefit?” This utilitarian value, although incomplete in and of itself as a justification for saving biodiversity, is real and morally defensible. Using resources in an unsustainable way is however not.

There are those who see no intrinsic value in living creatures and will readily exploit natural resources to depletion in the (self) interests of “development”. The visionary Aldo Leopold stated the following in 1953:”The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: What good is it? If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota …has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Then there are the animal rights activists that say that animals may not be used in any way. If they extend this argument to its logical conclusion then they should not use any plants (vegetable / fruit) for food either. They have no problems with being vegetarians. What they refuse to face up to however is that agriculture also removes natural habitat and deprives wild animals of a place to live.

If the world consisted of only those who believe that there is no intrinsic value in wildlife and undeveloped wildland, nature would have no future.

If the world consisted of only those who believe that natural resources (animals and / or plants) may not be utilized consumptively then nature will suffer the same inevitable fate.

We have a problem because both groups exist and are radical extremists on opposite ends of the spectrum. What is required to restore some semblance of sanity is a blending of these two schools of thought into one which recognizes that natural resources must be utilized but in a sustainable way.

So to answer our question we must recognize that the survival of Africa’s wildlife is inextricably linked to both its intrinsic and utilitarian value. For Africa’s wildlife to survive in the long term will need a merger of idealism and pragmatism.

Consider for one moment the following:

Why is it that more than twice as many wild animals are today found on private land in South Africa than the total number of wild animals found in all state protected reserves together?

Why is it currently, again in South Africa, that there is two and a half times as much land under wildlife regimes in private hands than there is in all the national parks, provincial game reserves and nature reserves combined?

Why is it that there are significantly more wild animals on private land in South Africa now than there was more than a century ago?

The answer to this is that landowners recognized the utilitarian value of wildlife and chose to ranch with wildlife in preference to other land uses. It was a financially viable and lucrative way of “farming”. The ranches paid and income was generated through both “non-consumptive” (eco –tourism) and consumptive (live game sales, venison production and hunting) utilization.

Eco-tourism is in fact not “non-consumptive” but more on this in another article. It is a fact (not conjecture) that, by far the greatest income was generated from hunting.

Now logic tells us that for long as it is financially rewarding for landowners to ranch with wildlife there is incentive for them to continue doing so. Taking away this incentive would lead to the collapse of the wildlife industry and wildlife habitat would be sacrificed to development or some alternative form of land use which will lead to loss of biodiversity (i.e. loss of wildlife). It does not take a rocket scientist to understand this and the irony of the situation is that the animal right’s groups will be the cause of it. That is why they are such a threat to Africa’s wildlife.

This brings us to question 2: Can we justify “locking resources away” – i.e. not to be utilized – from people?

What would be the natural and expected response of Africa’s masses, to natural resources being “locked away” from them and use or access denied? The reality of Africa is that the masses languish in abject poverty. The majority are jobless; many millions are on the brink of or are already starving. They do not have access to what many of us consider “normal” – a decent house to live in, clean drinking water (from taps) and basic sanitation. They eke out a subsistence living by scratching in infertile overgrazed and trampled dirt.

Now along comes the animal rights activist and says they may not make use of their own wildlife and other natural resources. Just how hypocritical can one get?

The very basic need of any living creature, including man, is to obtain food (a resource of either animal or vegetable origin), water and shelter. These are the things on which his very existence depends. And here comes the animal right’s extremist and says: “No, no you may not – you may not in any way utilize animals or their products consumptively!” Just what kind of future does this unenlightened and extremely naïve individual think wildlife will have in the greater Africa? Is this not one of the reasons why Africa is faced with a pandemic poaching problem? Is it not reasonable to assume that a human being will do just about anything to provide for both himself and his family with the food and water they need for survival? I believe it is. And if it means that he will have to kill wildlife “illegally” to survive is he not justified in doing so? I cannot see why not. Both you and I and the animal right’s activist would do exactly the same and the animal right’s activist (usually from an affluent or privileged European, Scandinavian or American background) is, again I say, a hypocrite because he, or she, has (1) never known true hunger and (2) utilizes natural resources every day of their lives. Because they are vegetarians makes them no less “guilty”, insofar as they make using animal products a “crime”. Vegetables need place to grow – which at one time used to be wildlife habitat before it became a vegetable (or fruit) farm.

The level of poaching in Africa has not decreased by banning or limiting the legal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn or other animal products. It has continued and expanded and continue to expand into what has been dubbed the “bush meat” trade. People are killing wildlife at an unprecedented rate to survive. This is a real problem in rural communities bordering national parks throughout Africa. The masses of rural people still see the national parks lands as “theirs”.

During the colonial era they were evicted from these areas and the resources available to them in the past were now locked away. They have no love for conservation areas, national parks or conservation authorities and the level of poaching for any wild animals will not decrease until their basic needs are met. Unless they derive direct benefit from wildlife and conservation the poaching will continue and increase as the rural populations of Africa escalate. To lock wild animals away behind national park and reserve boundaries and say wild animals may not be ranched, sustainably harvested, bought or sold, or legally hunted is to usher in a wildlife massacre of continental proportions.

Although the wildlife industry in South Africa is at this point in time very healthy due mainly to the fact that wildlife is used consumptively and rural people benefit both directly and indirectly from income accrued through hunting, live game sales and ecotourism, if attempts were made to exclude them from deriving benefits from the wildlife industry, anarchy would insue and poaching would become almost uncontrollable as it has become in many parts of Africa. It should not be forgotten that although South Africa’s wildlife management practices and wildlife industry are more sophisticated than those in other African countries South Africa supports only one percent of Africa’s wildlife. Even in South Africa we have had neighbouring communities break down boundary fences of a provincial game reserves demanding access to its resources.

We are teetering on the edge of catastrophe and unless the general public and conservation authorities undergo a drastic and rapid paradigm shift in their thinking we will find ourselves on the slippery slope of no going back.

The answer to question 3 is that a strategy of non-utilization will lead first to anarchy and ultimately to the destruction of Africa’s wildlife resources. Controlled, legal hunting, must not only be defended in its current form but should be extended into national parks that have a surplus of animals which need to be reduced anyway.

\I remember suggesting this some 15 years ago when I was still employed by National Parks and being treated like a heretic that had turned from the “faith”. I am now more convinced than ever that it is ecologically, ethically, and morally justifiable. I still hear the argument ringing in my ears “the National Parks Act says that there shall be no hunting in a National Park”. My answer to that is that it can be changed! Just as so many laws in our country are being changed the National Parks Act can be amended! The irony of the situation is that hunting is being carried out in a place like the Kruger National Park - only it is illegal! Just how many rhino have been poached in Kruger in the past year alone (apart from other species)?

Cleve Cheney is a wilderness trail leader, rated field guide instructor and the author of many leading articles on the subjects of tracking, guiding, bowhunting and survival. Cleve has unrivalled experience in wildlife management, game capture and hunting, both with bow and rifle.
Click here to visit his site

The unequivocal answer to question 4 is that if wildlife loses its utilitarian value – no hunting, no trade in live game sales, no harvesting for meat and other products – wildland will be put to some alternative use – especially in the private wildlife industry – and wildlife – not only the bigger species that are obvious – but hundreds of the less conspicuous bird, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species that occupy wildlife habitat will be lost.

To be continued

Read Part 2 >

Thomson, R. 2006. Managing our Wildlife Heritage. Magron Publishers.

• Finding Jimmy •
• Bardot and Elephant Culling •
• Rhino in the bathroom •
• The greatest threat Part 1 •
• The greatest threat Part 2 •
• Rhino Wars •
• You cannot eat money •
• Giant Sable •
• Why are cows not endangered? •
• Wildlife in Zambabwe •
• Hunt elephant in the Kruger •
• Where is the Ethos? •
• The Palanca First Trimester •
• Unwelcome strangers •
• Palanca Report 1st Trimester 2014 •

•  •

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