Biting the bullet


The term ‘Big Five’ resulted from the danger involved in hunting lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo. Whether killing for the pot or paying for a trophy hunt, hunting has always been part of the African landscape. René de Klerk finds out how it benefits conservation…

Hunters often get a bad rap. Photos of them posing with dead animals, whether it’s antelope or something larger, receive lots of attention. It’s a sensitive subject and will remain a controversial topic for years to come.

A hunter on foot. Photo: Michael Nieuwoudt

Is there a place for hunting in conservation? Conservation involves much more than just the protection of a species from extinction. It entails restoring habitat, enhancing ecosystems and protecting overall biological diversity. Conservation is also about preventing the wasteful use of resources.

In South Africa, the majority of wildlife is now kept on private land and not only in fenced reserves. These areas have to be managed to prevent overgrazing and the over-utilisation of resources. According to Fred Camphor, CEO of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA, commonly known as SA Hunters), you have to start managing wildlife the moment you fence an area as there is no longer free migration.

“Animals will breed, unless they are hungry or thirsty,” he says. “You have a restricted surface area that can support a certain quantity of animals in the longer term, so you need balance.” Camphor says animals such as zebra only eat grass while impala browse and graze. Lions could target any animals to keep numbers in check, but some only hunt buffalo, for example. This could easily cause an imbalance in any particular system.

Hunting to restore balance

Henno Cronje, a professional hunting outfitter and former camp manager at the Chawalo Hunting Block in Zumbo, Mozambique’s most western town, said when they initially started in Chawalo plains game numbers were extremely low. This was due to ruthless poaching from the local communities and too many predators for the number of wildlife available. There were only 32 head of buffalo, and they were allowed to hunt five per year. However, low numbers meant they could not be hunted. There was no food for the lions, so these predators would visit villages and kill goats. A decision was made to employ game guards from the local community and they thinned out predator numbers. “Today more than 300 buffalo roam the area,” Cronje explains.

Is the balance in jeopardy?

Much has been said about large elephant populations in Southern Africa, but the culling of elephants remains controversial. Decision makers often prefer managing for ecosystems as opposed to species.
Elephants are destructive and many people are of the opinion that South Africa “is on a downward spiral”. In places like the Kruger, the elephant population reached more than 17 000 four years ago. “If there is
no balance, every animal in the ecosystem will suffer,” says Cronje. He says there are spots in Botswana where bush has turned to desert because of large elephant populations.

However, scientists believe those areas can become woody because of low elephant numbers. Elephant numbers, where managed correctly, could be beneficial as they improve the browse availability for impala and black rhino. Elephants also open thickets, making it easier for predators to hunt, and play a major role in seed dispersal.

What if hunting was banned?

Those against hunting are quick to argue that it should be banned, but how would this affect wildlife communities? “We would see a massive economic impact due to job losses, the loss of wildlife and conservation,” Camphor says. He says hunting for meat attracts approximately 300 000 hunters who hunt at least once a year in South Africa. This results in spending of around R8,6 billion per year. Trophy hunting contributes a further R1,2 billion and trade in live animals brings in R1,82 billion per year.

In Kenya, wildlife hunting was banned in 1977 in an attempt to stop poaching. Landowners were even

An eye on the prize… Photo: Neil Grabe

banned from killing wildlife on their own properties. “Since the ban the country has lost 60–70% of its wildlife, even in protected areas,” Camphor says. Why? Locals kill wildlife, whether legal or not, as animals raid their crops and eat their livestock. Wildlife and livestock also compete for forage.

Botswana banned trophy hunting in 2014. “The owners of concessions are responsible for anti-poaching and most of these areas are surrounded by communities,” he says, adding that if a lion kills a head of livestock, the community members will kill the lion. Human-wildlife conflict can lead to the poisoning of wildlife.

“The destruction of game and natural resources go hand in hand,” Camphor says.

Botswana lifted its trophy hunting ban this year. Onkokame Mokaila, Botswana’s minister of environment, natural resources, conservation and tourism said the hunting ban was harmful to wildlife economies. In less than 12 months, the Botswana community lost US$1,4 million and 305 jobs.

In a local case study, South Africa introduced white rhino trophy hunting in 1968 at a very early stage of the recovery process, when there were only 1 800 animals. According to Richard Thomas, global communication coordinator for TRAFFIC, wildlife trade specialists, this created an economic incentive for land managers and owners to host rhino on their land. This also removed older males, which stimulated breeding.

Land use is important too. Many areas where hunting takes place are arid and rocky, so there are few options for alternative productive land use. Mining and tourism has a bigger impact on the environment. With tourism, guests are taken on game drives several times a day and stay in luxury lodging. Hunters are generally satisfied with camping or basic accommodation and the responsible hunter will walk on foot, tracking and stalking the animal.

Hunting as an income generator

Hunters target a variety of species.

There are three choices when it comes to managing wildlife: selling, culling or hunting. Even if wildlife is sold, the animals can still end up being hunted elsewhere. Camphor, who owns a piece of property with wildlife, says a hunter can pay R900–R1 000 for an impala ewe and up to R1 800 for a ram. If he were to sell the same animal to a game capturer, he would earn R600 as a set price per animal, regardless of sex.

Other alternatives include selling on auction where you may have two options. You either take 60% of the selling price (with all costs carried by the capturer), or 70% of the income if the landowner pays for the cost of the helicopter, while the game capturer carries the rest of the cost. “You therefore receive about one third of the amount that could have been generated by hunting, so hunting as an income source is better,” he explains.


Hunting and communities

South African comedian Trevor Noah recently claimed on The Daily Show that trophy hunting only brings as little as 3% benefits to local communities in Southern Africa and should be banned. His statement sparked considerable outrage, even among conservationists.

“Trophy hunting is important, it creates jobs for our people, infrastructure, clinics, schools,” said Zimbabwe’s national parks and wildlife management authority public relations manager, Tinashe Farawo. In Zimbabwe, the authority is custodian of national parks, but also manages some land outside of protected areas where hunting is allowed.

Cronje supports this statement, saying communities benefit greatly when trophy animals are hunted, because the hunter cannot take the meat too. In one case, a hunter paid US$30 000 to shoot an elephant, and up to 300 community members were able to claim their chunk of meat. The meat of animals hunted as trophies forms an important source of protein for poor rural communities as trophy hunters do not take any of this meat with them.

“We have to understand that communities have lived there for thousands of years and used to live off the land. They are no longer allowed to hunt, but they need to be able to use the harvest of the land,” Cronje says.

A Hercules Safaris hunt in the Middelburg area. Photo: Kobus Janse van Rensburg

Responsible vs irresponsible hunting

Camphor says there is a code of conduct, and all hunters should stick to it. This includes fair chase, and shooting to kill as quickly as possible.

Fair chase entails taking free-ranging, wild, big game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an unfair advantage over the animal. However, with modern technology and scopes, it is possible to shoot animals from much further distances.

Hunters who kill for the sake of killing or who hunt irresponsibly, give hunting a bad name. Cronje says the problem comes in when you breed just to kill. Hunting lodges only allow a certain quota of certain species to be removed, so responsible landowners and managers do not breed to kill.

There are also areas where the lines are blurred, especially when it comes to hunting from the back of a vehicle, and the hunting of predators.

Hunting from a vehicle is not seen as ethical, but in some cases it could be necessary. In places like the Karoo with its open plains, it would be difficult to hunt springbok successfully. There might be other exceptions too. “If I had a hunter who spent five days walking 15km a day searching for a specific antelope unsuccessfully and we drove back and found it on the road, I would allow him to shoot it. Most places however do not allow hunting from vehicles,” Cronje says.

The hunting of wild lion and leopard is controversial and generally can’t be done without setting up bait and waiting in a hide. Placing bait in trees depends on the circumstances and the environment. It may not
be possible to track lions on foot due to hard surfaces, or massive unfenced areas.

Mining and tourism have a bigger impact on the environment than hunting

“We interfere as little as possible with the pride. If you set up bait, you can isolate the lion you want to shoot instead of having to shoot out of self-defence, possibly shooting a female or multiple lions,” says Cronje.
Trail cameras are used to identify the lion or leopard in the area before making a decision. At the same time, the hunter relies on hearing, and the ability to sit silently for hours inside the hide. “If the hunt is quick and efficient, it is ethical,” he says.

Rise in canned hunting

An unethical aspect of hunting is the rise in the canned industry – animals are bred in confined areas purely to be hunted, often in small camps.

This practice started due to the expenses involved in hunting wild lions in Africa, opening the market for a few breeders offering hunts of captive-bred animals. A short documentary titled The horrors of lion farming in South Africa by Lord Ashcroft, businessman and philanthropist, highlights the issue damaging South Africa’s reputation, with South Africa’s Free State province lying at the heart of this industry.

There are no official figures available, but it is believed South Africa holds between 6 000 and
8 000 predators at these facilities, most of which are lions. Some statistics are as high as 12 000 lions. In contrast to this, there are only 2 000 wild lions in South Africa.

Ashcroft speaks to various experts, including Stewart Dorrington, a hunter and president of Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation South Africa. “Most of us feel hunting must support conservation and not be detrimental to a species. It is used by animal rightists to attack all of trophy hunting. It has focused the world’s attention on the negatives of trophy hunting. All the good done through trophy hunting has been undermined by the lion industry,” Dorrington says.

Cronje believes hunting in general has done a lot of good to expand ranges of wildlife. “Today, there is a much more wildlife than ever because of the value of game,”he says.

Every hunting farm, nature reserve and game reserve should be seen as a little piece of natural habitat for wildlife.


Written by René de Klerk

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1 Comment

  1. I like how you explained that hunting lodges do not breed to kill so they re great for hunting. I have always wanted to go hunting but I don’t want to go somewhere where the animals are bred to be killed. That is unfair to them and it’s not natural.

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