Animal rights activists have turned the killing of a male lion outside of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park into an effective piece of propaganda in their crusade to end all hunting. Naming the lion “Cecil,” the activists have used the incident to focus public attention on trophy hunting in Africa while spreading misinformation on social media and in the press. This kind of information warfare is intended to create a political environment where substantive anti-hunting policy goals can be achieved.
To date, the activists are winning. In the days since the lions of Zimbabwe captured global attention, a group of Democrat Senators, led by Sen. Robert Menendez, who is facing trial on corruption charges, introduced legislation that would prohibit US citizens from importing legally acquired trophies of species merely being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. If it were to become law, this legislation would throw a monkey wrench into longstanding, science based hunting programs across Africa that operate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a treaty to which the US is a party. Under the bill, Congress would empower animal rights activists to implement their agenda on an international scale and in the absence of the science and rigorous debate that generally goes into deciding whether or not to list a species under the ESA. A press release issued by Senator Menendez stated that the goal of the legislation is to “disincentivize” American citizens from hunting in Africa, an objective that if realized, would have potentially disastrous social consequences.
To make matters worse, on August 3 Delta and United Airlines both announced that legally taken African hunting trophies would no longer be welcome on their flights. The companies freight embargoes came in response to a petition initiated by the Brooklyn based, left wing organization SUMOFUS, which claims to work to “hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable and just path for our global economy.” Meanwhile, just a month earlier, the 2 most recent Secretaries General of CITES wrote the United Nations Environment Program to warn that these activist incited embargoes
“…damage international cooperation on wildlife trade and thereby make effective conservation more difficult to accomplish.”
“…the pressure being applied on airline executives is obscuring the reality that, by eliminating
the transportation of legally acquired wildlife specimens, livelihoods in the developing world
will be destroyed and targeted species could be negatively impacted.”
How can expert warnings like these be so readily ignored by politicians, airline executives, the press and the activists themselves? Moreover, with further limits on trophy hunting likely to have devastating economic and social impacts on rural African communities why are these impacts not being highlighted more in the current conversations on social media and in the press? Why is the focus strictly on African wildlife species that are not even in imminent threat of extinction?
The perhaps uncomfortable truth is that elite Westerners, as a group, expect African people to live lives of hardship and then die. Their doing so is part of “the plan” that the Joker so eloquently described to Harvey Dent in his hospital bed. It is evident in the priorities of activist petitions, in the imagery activists use to illustrate Africa and in their near complete antipathy to delivering wildlife conservation through sustainable use and development. In the eyes of animal rights extremists, Africans are either part of the problem or part of the scenery, at best there to provide a “cultural experience” on the next voyeuristic photo safari.
African wildlife on the other hand is supposed to live, unmolested, in order to provide for the activist class’ ongoing moral satisfaction and entertainment, like they do on NatGeo. That they might die at the hands of a hunter is not part of the plan embraced by an elite who cannot see past their own self righteousness. Even if that animal’s death might help fund anti-poaching units, provide jobs and food for local people and give Africans some sense of control over their own natural resources. No, because for the activists, Africans do not matter. Two thousand people can be killed in a single attack by Boko Haram and hardly anyone bats an eye. One lion is killed by a hunter and everyone loses their minds.
But African lives do matter, and that truth must become part of the conversation on trophy hunting. When Western activists, who have all of their basic needs met, call for an end to trophy hunting, it should be heard as a call for a job to be taken away from a rural African. A job as a driver, a skinner, a tracker, a cook, a job that gives his family not just a chance to get by, but also get ahead and maybe stay ahead of the multitude of hardships facing people on the continent. In South Africa, hunting has directly created a minimum of 6,000 jobs in areas of low employment and in the Eastern Cape Province increased the average wage 5.7 times. In Tanzania, hunting has created another 4,300 jobs in rural areas where work is hard to find. This pattern is repeated across the continent and would be undone if the activists have their way.
When a radical organization calls for an end to trophy hunting it should be heard as a call to deprive rural Africans of food. In Zambia, for example, peer reviewed research has shown that trophy hunting operations provide rural residents with 129,771 kg of fresh, organic game meat each year, enough to feed 519,084 people. As reported by the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Newborn and Child Mortality in Africa, these kinds of solutions to malnutrition improve children’s ability to be educated, which in turn improve Africa’s ability to be competitive and innovative in the global economy. If trophy hunting is banned, as the radicals want, African children face a harder future than they do already.
When a call is issued to end trophy hunting it should be heard as a call to convert wildlife habitat to farmland and push healthy populations of African wildlife closer to extinction. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, habitat loss is one of the primary threats to the survival of the African lion. Trophy hunting is not even on the list. In Kenya, where trophy hunting has been banned since 1977, the lion population has decreased by 87% over the past 15 years as lands are converted to crops and pasture which are more economically competitive uses than the wildlife habitat from which people are prohibited from making a living. Should the petitions and the email appeals to ban trophy hunting gain more political currency, this conservation disaster will be repeated across Africa.
Finally, calls to end trophy hunting should be heard as a call to increase poaching of species like elephants and rhinoceros whose tusks and horns have value on an international black market. From Cameroon to Mozambique, trophy hunting outfitters and their clients are financially supporting anti-poaching units who are succeeding in conserving the continent’s wildlife where activists are failing. For example, in Mozambique’s Coutada 11, which is managed primarily for hunting, Zambeze Delta Safaris’ anti-poaching unit has established the area as the only place to see a net increase in elephant numbers during last year’s national elephant census. Meanwhile, in places like Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park, where there is no hunting and little economic incentive to conserve wildlife, poachers continue to decimate elephant herds.
When confronted with these facts animal rights activists inevitably talk about intrinsic worth and misuse ideas like ecological value. It should be recognized that these are the values of people who have a steady income, a quiet neighborhood and a car to put bumper stickers on. It should be recognized that theirs is a value system of the privileged. Like the privileged before them who colonized Africa, today’s animal rights activists are seeking to deny Africans the ability to benefit from their natural resources and the bans on shipping and importation they are inciting have the same impact as stealing those resources outright. Simply stated, ending trophy hunting is not social justice, it is theft.
It is a good thing that wildlife continues to inspire so much emotion in people. That means it still matters and that means there is still a chance to conserve it. Trophy hunting however is ultimately not about “you,” or your feelings. It is about Africans doing the best they can, with what they have, to build a better life for the next generation. Twenty three African nations have decided that trophy hunting is one of the best options they have to create economic opportunity for their people while at the same time conserving wildlife, and they are generally succeeding at doing both. It is not for people in New York, San Francisco or Washington, DC to decide they should do otherwise.
Safeguarding Africa’s wildlife requires meeting the material needs of Africa’s people. At Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants (H.O.P.E.) we integrate sustainable use and economic development into the front end of our anti-poaching work; partly because it is a tactic with a successful track record, but also because we believe it is the right thing to do. To learn more and find out how you can support H.O.P.E.’s efforts please visit www.hopeantipoaching.org
Catherine Semcer is a hunter and Chief Operating Officer of Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants (H.O.P.E.) a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides training, advisory, assistance and procurement services to African anti-poaching units. Utilizing a core team of service providers drawn from veterans of U.S. special operations forces, H.O.P.E. also leverages decades of professional experience in humanitarian efforts, wildlife conservation, international relations and communications to provide a turn key solution to Africa’s poaching crisis.