Recently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service decided to allow the importing of trophies from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Naturally, this was followed by a virtue-signalling chorus from left-wing news and media outlets. Buzzfeed made a dramatic video with violins playing minor chords, The Guardian tried to put some spin on the story to make it look like Trump’s sons were at fault and Ellen Degeneres started a fund for elephant conservation and in doing so, ironically demonstrated the power of the free market and private charity.
It seems, though, that little has been said in rebuttal to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s statement regarding the rescinding of the ban, which was the following:
“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”
I’m encouraged by this statement because it’s what game farmers in South Africa have been saying all along.
The enormous disapproval of hunting we see on social media is a unfortunate result of a misinformed public. Looking after our wildlife seems to be one thing which people across the political spectrum can agree on, but many people simply do not understand that a legal trade and market for hunting (including trophies) brings fantastic benefits to our conservation industry.
The first thing to understand is that for a game farmer, having a healthy population of animals (whatever the species) is to the farmer’s benefit. The profit motive has allowed farmers to make a living off creating the best possible habitat in which wildlife can thrive. When hunting occurs, it is in the interest of the farmer that it is done in a proper manner. This means that a huge number of variables are taken into account, such as population, animal husbandry, sustainability of the farm’s vegetation, diseases etc.
The notion that hunting is some sort of sadistic and irresponsible act of shooting anything that moves could not be further from the truth. If any farmer allowed that sort of hunting, it would completely unsustainable in the long term, due to deterioration of the environment, psychological impact on the animals and a wide variety of other factors. As with any other industry, the better you serve your fellow man, the more profits you reap. When your business is to conserve endangered species, this can very important.
With this in mind, trophy hunting brings an enormous source of revenue to conservationists. This revenue can then be put back into the farm itself thereby growing the conservation industry. There are always a huge a number of expenses one has to account for on a game farm; but extra income could be used for something like expanding the farm or planting more vegetation. Things like these come with great benefits to animals as they make the environment better for them to thrive in.
In addition to this, consider the alternative: Right now, elephants are being poached for their ivory. As with many things, making something illegal does not stop criminals from doing it, and in this case, the scarcity of ivory can drive prices up making poaching even more worthwhile a pursuit for poachers.
To use and example, Kenya has been hit by a wave of poaching which has wiped out vast swathes of its elephant population. What if, instead of being poached for their ivory, those elephants could have been legally hunted in a sustainable manner? At bottom, it’s very unlikely that we can actually get rid of the demand for ivory. We must simply choose which route we are going to take: Illegal and unsustainable, or legal, sustainable and helpful to conservation efforts?
There is a saying in the game farming community that goes something like: “If it has a fence around it, it isn’t really wild.” Seeing as human beings have reached a point where now we have embraced agrarianism and property rights (and thank goodness for that), we can never truly return the area we inhabit back to its “wild”, pre-human civilisation state, but we can get pretty close to that and allow the animals native to the region to live there. Enormous game reserves have since come about such as the Kruger National Park which is about the size of Israel and Yellowstone National Park in the United States which takes up a big chunk of the US state of Wyoming.
Game reserves like these have only been possible because people have an interest in conserving species and farmers have managed to make enough money from that interest in order to actually do so.
Like many things, the conservation of indigenous fauna requires a small amount of thinking outside of the box. While the kneejerk reaction is to make hunting and trophies illegal, the laws of economics actually show that hunting can be and has been an integral part of conservation. If we want to save a species, we need to act reasonably and thoughtfully, and not jump on the outrage bandwagon.