Hunting for Sport Isn't As Good As It is Made to Be
Originally published on December 12, 2006 in The East African Standard (Nairobi) as an OP-ED.
By James Isiche
|A zebra skin is hung for sale at an open-air market in Cape Town, South Africa.|
Few weeks ago, columnist Dr Imre Loefler called for the exclusion of NGOs from the ongoing wildlife policy review talks.
This was a baffling and shocking turn-around. Last year, while still at the helm of an NGO, the East African Wildlife Society, Loefler set up a think tank comprising "experts", Government representatives, landowners and non-governmental organisations.
In the same year, Loefler, who was the think tank's self-appointed chair, announced in the Society's magazine, Swara, which he used to propagate his ideologies, that its recommendations had been forwarded to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife for evaluation and preparation of a sessional paper. This, he said, would "form the basis of discussion in amending Kenya's Wildlife Act in the next few months".
That was then. Today, hardly a year later, the surgeon in a classic case of acute selected amnesia wants NGOs removed from the policy review process. The think tank's recommendations were strong on wise use of wildlife - a euphemism for the resumption of sport hunting which has been Loefler's rallying call for decades. Thankfully, the Government chose to ignore the recommendations.
While launching the policy review months later, Tourism and Wildlife Minister Mr Morris Dzoro made it clear that policy formulation was the preserve of Government - not "partisan" groups - although NGOs had been invited to give their views like other players.
This, indeed, is the reason that the so-called "foreign-based animal rightist and welfarist organisations" declined invitations to join the Loefler think tank. But two key questions arise from his latest call:
One, do international wildlife groups have a role to play in the wildlife review process?
While some are international, there is nothing really foreign about them as Loefler often asserts. On the contrary, their staff comprises mostly indigenous Kenyans, most wildlife experts with practical experience in Government and the Kenya Wildlife Service.
NGOs have substantial information and research data on wildlife that could rival any Government department or institution of higher learning.
They, therefore, bring to the policy review process crucial knowledge, skills and expertise seasoned with a global outlook. It would be vain and self-defeating to ignore them.
NGOs have earned the right to participate. They help to fill institutional gaps, especially where these hurt poor and marginalised groups. NGOs are part of society. In Laikipia, for instance, 3,713 incidences of human-wildlife conflict were recorded between 2002 and last year, with 19 people killed and 21 injured. When the International Fund for Animal Welfare supports the construction of a community electric fence to keep elephants at bay, it cannot be "ignoring the plight of the people, neglecting their interests or hurting people and wildlife".
On the contrary, this is an investment to boost the welfare of the common man and wildlife, not to seek influence and propagate foreign ideology as the doctor would want people to believe. If he doubts it, he should go to Laikipia and speak to the communities.
The second question arising from his article regards the suitability of sport hunting and game farming. Are these modes of wildlife management as good as they sound? It is ironical that Loefler, who rails at NGOs for propagating foreign ideologies, should call for sport hunting when it is as foreign as they come.
I recall of no indigenous community that has ever hunted for sport! As a point of clarification, the fading traditional practice of Maasai morans spearing lions is different - there was neither the exchange of money nor did they do it for fun. No one denies that hunting is worth millions of dollars.
The questions are: Who will earn the millions and is it ecologically sustainable?
If landowners are given user rights over wildlife and the proponents of sport hunting and game farming get their way, who stands to gain? In South Africa, which Loefler and his ilk believe is a role model, the Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism commissioned a panel of experts to evaluate hunting.
Last year, the panel presented its draft report, Panel of Experts on Professional and Recreational Hunting in South Africa. It says: "Current benefits are minor and indirect, including meat from trophy hunts, employment as hospitality staff, hunting guides and trackers, skinners and other forms of menial labour." Is this a worthy aspiration for local communities?
But the critical question is whether sport hunting will provide gains for biodiversity. Pro-hunting lobbyists point to South Africa as the example Kenya should follow. Yet the panel of experts says: "Because of the economic opportunities presented by potential trophy animals, there is a tendency for the economic objectives to override conservation management objectives."
Hunting has spawned gross malpractices such as canned hunting, where lions, leopards, cheetahs and rare wild dogs are bred to be shot in cages. They are not even given a chance to escape - most are often drugged, sedated or conditioned to trust human beings before getting shot like sitting ducks - much to the disdain of professional hunters themselves! Are these Kenya's aspirations on the future of wildlife conservation?
As Loefler pointed out, Kenya has lost a substantial percentage of its wildlife since independence. Due to research gaps and limited data, we cannot, with the exception of certain areas, state with certainty where the animals are and what their populations are.
If wildlife is being "exterminated, chased, shot, trapped, speared, snared and poisoned in increasing numbers, to send more executioners after them in the name of sport hunting is akin to drilling the final nail in the coffin.
The writer is the regional director of International Fund for Animal Welfare East Africa.