The Dallas Safari Club (DSC), a Texasbased hunting club last year provoked great controversy by auctioning the right to kill a Namibian black rhino, a member of species currently classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN redlist. This year it has just cancelled a similar opportunity for an African elephant. The 12-day trip to Cameroon which would have allowed the buyer to kill a mature bull was apparently withdrawn by the donor. The auction, which took place during a threeday convention at the weekend, still included lots such as a two-week leopard hunt in Mozambique.
Now, as the group’s executive director pointed out, neither elephants nor leopards are classed as endangered. But both are in decline due to habitat loss and hunting, African elephants have declined from over 10 million to 500,000 in the last century. When local people in these African countries are involved in poaching of wildlife, it is often because they live in crushing poverty and they do it to feed their families or to prevent the animals destroying their crops, so it can be understood to some extent. The license to kill the elephant was predicted to go for around $20,000, even though the ‘trophy’ would not be importable into the USA and that for the rhino sold for $350,000. It is obvious that these American hunters aren’t exactly poor. So, the selling of these licenses seems inexcusable, doesn’t it?
Many people believe that commercial hunting can in fact be beneficial for conservation. The DSC says that conservation is part of their mission, “Our conservation and education efforts today ensure that future generations will enjoy watching and hunting wildlife tomorrow”. Their website also says that all the money from the rhino hunting license will go to Namibia for rhino conservation.
So does the money raised from hunting justify the act? In many people’s view, the argument that people can pay to deplete a declining resource as long as the money is used to safeguard what remains of that resource isn’t logical. This hunting club also tries to justify killing such animals because it claims they are overpopulated in areas of Africa. But surely a more effective conservation method would be to relocate individuals to reserves where they aren’t overpopulated? Another potentially more valid reason for hunting being a boon to conservation efforts is that many hunting reserves exist across Africa and elsewhere. These reserves provide habitat for many species that isn’t reliant on public donations, governmental or NGO money like pretty much all other protected areas. They harbour lots of species that aren’t hunted whilst people pay to hunt species that aren’t endangered, like many antelope.
Whilst generally conservationists are not going to run out to start shooting big game, they are often not against the killing of animals as long as it is humane and thinking pragmatically conservation has to find funding from somewhere. If people who enjoy hunting are willing to pay for the privilege and the money goes on to help protected endangered species then commercial hunting can have a role in conservation. But surely critically endangered or rapidly declining species are too precious a resource to convert to cash in this way.