2 NOVEMBER 2006
I respond to Eugene Lapointe’s article in BBC News weekly Green Room where the former head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes the case for hunting and why it can be a part of wildlife management policies, posing the question: “Are bans on hunting and trade the best way to conserve species?”
In so far as trade bans are concerned, Lapointe makes a general point, which requires further elucidation. In general prohibitions don’t work, either because the prohibitors are embarked on some crusade without moral or practical merit, or because those being so prohibited from having access to something or other are convinced of their right to the prohibited entity, or are without moral scruple – or both. In the case of the ivory trade, those without scruple are the traders of the Far Eastern nations who require ivory for an ever growing market and who go to any lengths to obtain it. Therefore, if you allow the trade in ivory they will access what is available – and more by illegal means in order to satisfy demand, and if not available they will simply get hold of it by any means. There will therefore always exist a drive to satisfy demand, which means obtaining more than what is legally available; and if that legal harvest is 100 tons or no tons, the effect will be the same. Hunting of elephant, provided it is sustainable, and provided it does not damage your photo-tourism industry, is an excellent way to conserve the species, but by allowing the trade in ivory, this laudable goal is made impossible.
Poor African countries have many pressing demands on public money - with conservation standing in the queue. But the needs of the African ‘budget’ goes way beyond that, concentrating as it does on the ‘eternal scramble for Africa’ harvesting of donors so as to cover the shortfall for conservation, for education, for other development needs, but also for prestige projects having little to do with achieving the Millenium Development Goals.
It would be ideal were African conservation self-supporting, but then the conservation department, like the traffic department, the ministry of immigration, and all the rest, becomes yet another cash cow growing an ever over-centralized bureaucracy of non civil servants fattening on their slumbers and establishing yet another taxation tier set to drive investors dilly.
Eugene says that southern Africa countries have followed the philosophy of sustainable use with elephant hunting, and that they do not shoot breeding animals; this is simply not true of them all. In Zambia, despite the advisory note to the contrary from the cross-sectoral Natural Resources Consultative Forum (of which the safari hunting fraternity is a member) which cited the total lack of supporting scientific evidence as the reason for not allowing hunting, the Zambia Government, through its statutory body, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), issued 20 bull elephant to safari operators – supposedly crop raiders - or so they told CITES. The animals - shot by those operators with little regard for conservation, were certainly breeding animals, but they were also the icons supporting the tourism industry, supposedly the panacea, along with agriculture, for rescuing us from our poverty.
Sport hunting produces the only income in many areas it is true, so you could call it significant, but it is not enough to offer the necessary incentive to local people to stop supplying meat for the bushmeat trade and denuding their own lands of something which actually should belong to them but which has been expropriated by central government. Over the last five years, ZAWA’s income has been sourced as follows: hunting 23%; donor grants 44%; National Parks 26%; and other, unspecified income 7%. However, very little of this is invested in conservation activities with between 7 – 18% only going on field operations. What investment there is comes from the private sector and the donors. In our hunting area, our hunting quota allows for maximum gross earnings of $50 per km2 – given what we spend on land use plans, training, anti-poaching support and food security studies. ZAWA earn $10 km2 from hunting, expending $3 km2 on scouts and retaining $7 km2 for their HQ costs. The Community Resource Board, which represents the community and has the unenviable unpaid task of paying village scouts, receive $5 km2 from ZAWA as their share of hunting but have costs of $6.26 km2 for their scouts alone, though they are supposed to spend income on community projects and the like; and over the last four years – including the purchase of the hunting company, we have invested $200 km2 – an amount we actually require annually if the biodiversity and the people are to prosper. But where is it to come from?
Eugene argues that because Kenya has banned hunting and the sale of ivory, that poaching is encouraged. Zambia’s experience does not bear this out. As we speak elephant and hippo continue to be poached and our good Zambian poachers are doing the same in Zimbabwe, and doubtless in Angola where CITES is unknown and ivory sold without hindrance. While safari hunting was on the go in Zambia, between 1994 and 2002, 123.5 tons of illegal ivory went out from here via Lilongwe in Malawi to the Far East (confirmed by the Malawian Anti-Corruption Commission) – most of it probably coming from our Luangwa Valley.
It is true that elephant do wreak havoc in some areas on people, and we do need to provide income and supports to offset this, but having elephant hunted has little effect on this. We have always had animal depredations, and it will continue, hunting or no, for we have failed to deal with the problem of land tenure and wildlife ownership, and Government refuses to compensate villagers, even though under English common law – on which our law is based, and under customary law, it is allowed. And we suffer very little from elephant damage to natural vegetation where as a keystone species elephant can have an extremely beneficial effect on the ecology, something we are trying to expand upon with the development of transfrontier conservation areas.
We do need to foster sustainable use but much of its failure to take hold is not due to the protectionists abroad but due to African governments themselves being unwilling to devolve power to their rural people, to decentralize – in this being supported by the donors, paradoxically following the system they inherited at independence. And Kenya, protectionist it may be, today stands out for its vigorous programme of game conservancies, something here we are trying to do but receiving no encouragement from Government, even though statutory and customary law is in place to support it.