Following the decision to ban trophy hunting, also referred to as sport hunting by neighbouring Botswana – a country with the largest population of elephants on the continent, debate has been going on by animal protectionist groups and conservationists in the country on whether it was prudent or not for the tourism industry in the region.
Opinion by Wisdom Mdzungairi
All the big five: elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, leopard – key animal species rarely found on the globe, are found in southern Africa mainly in four countries: Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and to some extent, Mozambique which recently introduced hunting for conservation efforts.
Hence, the debate has been intense to the extent that the formation of a movement to lobby MPs to enact a law banning the sport is almost done, awaiting its launch.
Some may want to accuse the lobbyists of being unpatriotic while they in turn believe the country’s key species populations have drastically reduced due to rampant poaching and uncontrolled hunting on government and private safari areas across the country.
But who will blame them? It’s their right they part of the citizenry of this country.
“Sport” hunting is a violent form of recreation that has left countless animals maimed and orphaned animals vulnerable to starvation, exposure, and predation.
I believe in sustainable utilisation of the natural resource, but this activity itself disrupts natural animal population dynamics and could contributed to the extinction of animal species all over the world, including the African painting dog, cheetah and Tasmanian tiger.
Generally, Zimbabweans are subsistence hunters, but the vast majority of hunters trooping into the country as tourists-cum-hunters do not kill for subsistence.
Trophy hunting is most often criticised when it involves rare or endangered animals, for example, the fast disappearing lions, elephants, rhino, cheetahs, leopards, tigers and others.
Opponents view trophy hunting as an issue of morality or animal cruelty, criticising the killing of living creatures for recreation.
Today’s hunters come from a broad range of economic, social, and cultural backgrounds.
In 2001, over 13 million hunters averaged 18 days hunting, and spent over $20,5 billion on their sport. In the United States proceeds from hunting licensces contribute to State game management programs, including preservation of wildlife habitat.
It is clearly an industry on its own, only when managed in a transparent manner. But it appears safari hunting in some countries is a preserve for the elite few and that in itself does not help matters.
In Britain, game hunting of birds as an industry is said to be extremely important to the rural economy. The Cobham Report of 1997 suggested it to be worth around £700 million, and hunting and shooting lobby groups claimed it to be worth over £1billion less than 10 years later.
Victorian era dramatist WS Gilbert remarked, “Deer-stalking would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns”.
There is also debate about the extent to which trophy hunting benefits the local economy. Hunters argue that fees paid contribute to the local economy and provide value to animals that would otherwise be seen as competition for grazing, livestock, and crops.
This analysis is disputed by opponents of trophy hunting. Some argue that the animals are worth more to the community for ecotourism than hunting.
Could banning safari hunting be the answer to poaching? It remains to be seen whether the Botswana ban will have an impact on poaching at all and whether it will only serve to send legitimate hunters to other parts of the continent, taking their money with them when they go.
Clearly, stainable hunting can actually be an effective tool for conservation when used effectively.
Environment Minister Francis Nhema, through Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, may use his direct control over the number of licences to issue on an annual basis by scaling that number up or down as needed.
All what we need is to take stock of our animal population – something that has not been done for close to 10 years and see whether we can go the Botswana route or not. On the other hand an outright ban may indicate failure to use hunting as a means for conservation.
We could see the lion and elephant, in fact any endangered species in the same light, as a trophy animal, and sell a limited number of licences each year to control the population. Should hanting be allowed to be the bane of the country’s tourism?