xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

A hunter/environmentalist alliance?

When I first went to Nairobi two decades ago, I made a point of staying at the venerable Norfolk Hotel, a colonial-era establishment that hosted Teddy Roosevelt and entourage on his 1909 post-presidential visit before they set off on safari.

Though they might not have shot any lions named Cecil, in the weeks after their Norfolk Hotel stay, Roosevelt and crew killed 17 lions — along with 11 elephants, three leopards, seven cheetahs, 11 hyenas, and 11 black rhinoceros, plus nine of the white variety.

Advertisement

Yet Teddy Roosevelt is considered one of the godfathers of the American conservation movement.

You can say that times and animal populations have changed, but for decades environmentalists and hunters and fishermen were allies, indeed almost the same species. It made sense. Who wanted to make sure that there were plenty of animals around more than those who wanted to hunt them?

Advertisement

There are many reasons for the split in these groups, and one is certainly increasing urbanization and with that a decline in the agricultural view of animals through a utilitarian lens replaced by a more romantic and anthropomorphic characterization, especially of large fauna.

Though I grew up around guns and hunting, neither ever had much appeal to me. Big game hunting struck me as especially odd. I've enjoyed eating quail and venison, but what is the point of having a trophy hanging on the wall? During my years living in Africa, I visited game parks as often as I could. I might understand taking out an impala or even a kudu, but nowhere did I find any desire for going after an elephant or lion.

That said, I think a rejoining of the alliance of hunters and the environmentalists who now condemn them could be the best thing for the survival of African wildlife.

In the United States, we mainly hear about one school of thought on this issue — the so-called conservation model, so eloquently espoused by Richard Leakey in Kenya. The enemies are those who would kill the animals and profit from that. Hunting is banned. Poachers are shot. Ivory is burned. And money is raised for conservation groups from people living wild-animal free on other continents.

But in Africa, especially southern Africa, there is another model, called sustainable utilization. Recognizing the power of the market, it contends that any animal that is valuable will be preserved. That value can derive from many uses. Photo tourism is one of them, but so is breeding and selling surplus stock, as well as hunting, both for meat and for trophies.

Consider the fact that the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil paid tens of thousands of dollars to hunt a lion. Leaving aside any illegal acts of luring a trophy from a protected park — which certainly should be prosecuted — if you knew an animal would bring in that kind of money, wouldn't you make sure you had some of them around?

It is not a dentist with a bow and arrow who endangers African wildlife, it is loss of habitat, mainly to subsistence farmers who see more value in planting crops on the land than in letting animals roam across it. This is exactly what happened in most of the countries that produced the critics of the Minnesota hunter — they got rid of their big animals so they could farm.

We do protect animals that have value. To Native Americans, the bison had value, so there were tens of millions of them. But they did not have value to Europeans settlers, so they were removed and replaced by animals that did: cattle.

I once visited game wardens in Zimbabwe, where Cecil was killed, who showed me the devastation in their parks from an overpopulation of elephants, their voracious appetites turning landscapes into the equivalent of World War I no-man's land. Ivory from these surplus elephants — as well as from a huge storehouse in Harare — could have funded well-maintained parks, well protected from poachers. But the conservationists had successfully banned such culling and sales.

These wardens had an even more inventive solution to satisfy the market for the horns of rhinoceros — farm them. White rhinos are particularly docile and happy to graze on native plants. Their horns, which grow back, could be harvested. Calculations showed this would be more lucrative and eco-friendly than cattle farming.

That would preserve the animals, but it would not preserve what is really behind much of the movement to "save" African wildlife — an attempt to preserve Eden, a place where nature is free of man's influence. Face it: game parks are not such places. They are managed. By people.

The fact is, Africa has done a lot better job of protecting its wildlife than America and Europe. But their voices are rarely heard. Maybe we should let Africans decide the fate of their animals, not dictate unsustainable practices from afar, in environments long cleansed of their elephants and lions.

Advertisement

Michael Hill was Africa bureau chief for The Sun in the 1990s. He has been back to the continent several times since. His email is hillforg@aol.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement