Plans by the UK Government and Parliament to ban the import of hunting trophies as part of a conservation initiative to protect endangered animals have been met with great enthusiasm by many organizations and individuals around the world – and with strong criticism from others.
Supporters and opponents of the ban are very vocal, emotional, certain that they and they alone are right, and accuse others of being driven by hidden agendas.
While supporters of the proposed ban praise its contribution to global conservation as well as animal welfare, opponents say it undermines the rights of rural communities to use their local resources and benefit from hunting.
This assertion is particularly relevant in the context of community conservatories or similar institutional structures, where revenues from the legal trophy hunting trade form part of the income of local communities in several countries, primarily in southern Africa. Nevertheless, opponents of the bill go so far as to generalize that it “endangers wildlife”.
Proposed balanced approach
Proposed here is an integrated and balanced approach to supporting the promotion of a ban on hunting and trophy trade everywhere, while protecting the rights and meeting the needs of local communities who live with wildlife in Africa and elsewhere.
The identification of these needs should be based on extensive dialogue and community consultations in the range States of the species concerned, both in the context of established reserves and among communities in countries where it there is no retention system.
Particular attention should be given to support to strengthen community engagement in conservation, to develop sustainable livelihood opportunities and enable access to education at all levels, and to mitigate the devastating effects of conflict. between man and wildlife.
Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade
The legal hunting of wild animals is linked to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in several ways. While opponents of the ban claim that reducing income from legal trophy hunting for some communities would increase the motivation of those community members to engage in poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, proponents point to the impact of legal trade on facilitating, activating and increasing the volume of poaching. and illegal wildlife trade.
Of particular concern is the negative impact on iconic species threatened by the illegal trade in their trophies and derivatives, such as rhino horn, ivory and lion bones.
The legal trade in wildlife hunting trophies and other derived products provides a comfortable platform for laundering the illegal trade. Considering that the supply for the legal trade of endangered species and their derivatives is very limited in nature, due to biological factors such as limited species abundance, life cycle and reproductive limitations, and that the demand for these products is not stable and normally exceeds the legal level of supply, the laundering of illegally obtained wildlife products as legal should prevail wherever there is legal trade.
A ban can significantly reduce these illegal activities by reducing demand for these products and facilitating law enforcement and judicial efforts.
In an ideal world, with sufficient legislation and regulation, strict control, strict and effective enforcement and no corruption in all source and consumer countries of the species traded, the laundering of proceeds of illegal trade as legal would not constitute a major threat and consideration. However, the reality is different.
The legal hunting, trade and farming of wildlife is certainly not immune to corruption, illegal activities and the infiltration of criminal elements.
The high financial value of some hunting by-products makes these species particularly vulnerable to the involvement of sophisticated and corruption-prone criminal elements and syndicates. The impact of a few ‘bad apples’ among legal hunting and trade operators can be devastating for endangered species that are subject to intensive illegal trade.
The vulnerability of these threatened species is higher in source countries where legislation, control, enforcement and judicial capacities are weak. The existence of legal trade imposes additional challenges and limitations on enforcement and judicial systems in countries of origin and destination, and even more so in countries with weaker legislation and enforcement and judicial capacities. .
Therefore, the legislation of importing and consuming countries cannot be based solely on the situation of several countries of origin with more stringent conservation measures, including community conservation structures with capacities, but must rather take into consideration the threat that the wildlife trade poses to these endangered species in most cases. vulnerable countries and sites of their distribution, where conservation and enforcement capacities are weak.
Who benefits from the legal trade in hunting trophies?
The main beneficiaries of legal trophy hunting are professional hunting operators, companies and service providers, as well as related international travel service providers. Much of the legal trophy hunting is done inside game ranches, where most of the revenue belongs to the ranch owners. Governments benefit from licenses.
Local communities are among the beneficiaries in a few countries and in several cases of well institutionalized benefit sharing with community reserves where trophy hunting is legally permitted in this context. To some extent, local residents can also benefit from related employment opportunities. These jobs are rarely well paid, compared to the incomes and salaries of hunting operators and their skilled employees, who are not local.
Moreover, these jobs are usually gender biased and therefore may increase gender inequality in these communities.
It must be honestly said that most members of local communities in most countries of origin of legally and illegally hunted and traded species do not benefit from legal trophy hunting. Additionally, due to the very limited hunting of iconic species that can be legally permitted as part of sustainability considerations, and with the decline of many large mammal populations in Africa due to a number of causes, it There is simply no option that the legal trade in trophy hunting would become a sustainable and substantial source of income for the majority of community members in all range states of these species.
The legal trade in hunting trophies is not and cannot be a major remedy for the poverty and unemployment of most rural communities in Africa, including most communities that coexist with endangered and iconic species, and who bear the costs of conservation and the burden of humanity. wildlife conflict.
At best, it may be part of the livelihoods of some rural communities in a few countries where community reserves are well established and where specific wildlife populations of these iconic species are and will remain large enough to allow limited sustainable hunting.
Other solutions for sharing the burden of conservation must therefore be favoured.
What values and vision do trophy hunting and trade represent?
Hunting for food has been part of local livelihoods and tradition in many parts of Africa for many generations. Many rural communities in Africa still practice bushmeat hunting for subsistence and commercial purposes.
Poverty and limited access to basic social services, education, employment opportunities and other sustainable livelihoods are often mentioned as the main drivers of this practice nowadays.
When asked, many rural residents in various parts of Africa, especially women and young people, clearly express their desire to expand the educational and employment opportunities open to them, as well as to their children, far beyond the limited livelihoods they can currently access, or linked to hunting and gathering.
Trophy hunting and trade, on the other hand, represents a predominantly colonial practice that was introduced to Africa. Nowadays, most trophy hunts are carried out by foreign tourists and led by professional hunt operators. When governments and legislators in consumer countries ban imports of hunting trophies, they represent a current shift in the values of the citizens of their countries. This is why they were elected.
Call for dialogue
However, when, as in this case, the legislation of one country may affect another country financially or otherwise, a multilateral dialogue is called for.
Since the expected impact of imports of hunting trophies on several countries of origin with well-established community conservation systems is radically different from the expected impact on other countries of origin of the same species, such dialogue should include locally agreed representation of local communities, ideally from all source countries of the key threatened species that are the subject of the bill.
Joint overall responsibility
If there is one thing the world should take away from the last two years of Covid-19 and environmental disasters, it is the great need for coordinated collaboration through a common global responsibility.
With this in mind, the UK and other countries may well ban the import and trade resulting from trophy hunting to support global conservation, but at the same time they are called upon to share the burden conservation with poor rural communities currently bearing the costs alone. to act as guardians of endangered species that we all need to survive.
It is therefore proposed here that a global liability mutual fund for wildlife and communities is established.
Such a fund can be launched, for example, as part of a budget package of the proposed UK bill, while other countries would be encouraged to join both the ban and the fund. The proposed fund would support guardian communities that cohabit with endangered wildlife to facilitate their engagement and benefits in conservation, the development of long-term educational opportunities and capacities and sustainable livelihoods, to be identified in accordance with their own vision and objectives, and to sustainably mitigate human-wildlife conflict.
In the same spirit of joint responsibility, it is also essential that several Southern African countries that have developed strong wildlife conservation legislation and skilled enforcement and judicial systems – including well-established community conservation systems – collaborate with and support other Range States. the same threatened species in their efforts to achieve the same level of capacity for conservation, protection and community engagement. DM