Hunting is not about Heads on a Wall

Dr Chris Brown is a well know and outspoken Namibian environmentalist whose years of experience have given him a broader view than most in his particular field.

Courageously outspoken, always broadminded, he has now taken on the thorny issue of hunting as Namibia comes under increasing pressure to ban trophy hunting by bodies such as CITES and IUCN.

Dr Brown, writing under the auspices of the Namibian Chamber of Environment, has compiled a comprehensive article explaining how hunting is an integral part of of Namibia’s wildlife management plan. The whole article has been included as a downloadable .pdf as it is well worth reading. It’s broad perspective illustrates how badly activist-driven decisions can go badly wrong.

While animal rights activists do sterling work on the individual level, their agendas cannot be passed off as conservation agendas which operate at an entirely different level altogether. What is good for the individual is not necessarily good for populations, species and ecosystems. It is here is where the error lies.

What has happened in Botswana is a good example of how these activist-driven agendas can adversely affect a whole ecosystem. Botswana, pressured into a decision to stop all hunting, has seen a dramatic impact of the status of their wildlife with the huge increase in poaching and bush-meat trade. It is only when wildlife has value that it can survive burgeoning human populations and encroachment into wilderness areas.

Namibia has one of the most successful conservation track records of any country in the world. This is quite extraordinary considering the devastating decline in wildlife numbers during its colonial history when traders and explorers decimated millions of wildlife. It was not until a new approach to wildlife management was introduced in the 60’s and 70’s that the attitude of landowners and custodians changed. Suddenly wildlife had value – and was far easier to farm than domestic stock in arid areas. Multi-faceted business models now included trophy and sport hunting in tandem with tourism and even the sale of surplus animals. Having value, the number of animals increased by over three million animals by the turn of the century. Namibia now has more wildlife than it has had in 150 years.

It is estimated that, had Namibia adopted an animal-rights based, protectionist, anti-sustainable use approach to wildlife management, we would probably today have fewer than 250 000 head of wildlife – a mere 8% of our present wildlife ecosystem. That is something to think about.

Hunting is an important contributor to making land under wildlife productive as, once habitats are transformed for agricultural purposes, it loses its biodiversity and ability to support wildlife. Activists need to understand what drives conservation and what is really meant by sustainable wildlife management. Wildlife management has an important role to play in the tourism industry, especially in addressing rural poverty. This is a point often overlooked and, taken away, results in a huge increase in poaching and bush-meat trade.

We cannot fall into the same Eurocentric protectionist conservation approach Kenya has been subject to where wildlife today is the lowest it has been in its entire history.

Is this the solution - burning stockpiles of Elephant tusks, or would allowing the ivory onto the open market help the cause of Elephant conservation?

In conclusion Dr Brown looks at issues such as habitat fragmentation, the impact of climate change as well as suggesting Namibia submit a join application to CITES to allow the trade in Rhino horn primarily in the interests of Rhino conservation. Currently an unquenchable market is destroying Africa’s remaining Rhino but by releasing Rhino horn under controlled circumstances onto the market this might benefit Rhino conservation.

Another issue Dr Brown raises is habitat fragmentation which is happily being addressed in parts of Namibia, particularly in the south of the country. We are privileged to be able to ride on Wolwedans is part of a large privately owned nature reserved (Namibrand – meaning ‘edge of the Namib’) which is co-managed land where internal boundary fences have been removed. This opens enormous tracts of land to the benefit of both wildlife and tourists. It is these open unfenced natural landscapes with free-ranging game which leave the greatest impact in the minds of visitors. They are worth cultivating

Namibia’s record of environmental success speaks for itself – its wildlife conservation is unmatched anywhere in the world. But wildlife must continue to have value to custodians if it is to survive. Let us hope Dr Brown’s voice is heard.

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