No animal better portrays the plight of African wildlife than the rhino. There are a lot of charitable organisations and media campaigns around the world that focus on the dwindling numbers of these rare animals that we have left. And yet ever year thousands of these animals are killed mercilessly for their horns – and as everyone knows that has meant the demise recently of the North white rhino as a species.

At the same time though, no animal better highlights the difference and benefits of that HUNTING can do for a species as compared to POACHING.

Unfortunately to the wider world hunting and poaching are viewed as one and the same thing but the truth on the ground is that they are complete polar opposites in terms of what they give and what they take away. I am absolutely certain that the recent extinction of the Northern white rhino can be laid solely and firmly at the door of poachers whereas their Southern cousin’s still abound in fairly healthy numbers – and a lot of those animals have hunters to thank for
their protection.

You see in Africa only a fraction of the remaining wilderness and animals  we have left lie within the protective zones of National Parks but just as much again if not significantly more of this wilderness is paid for and protected by hunters. If pressure groups continue and hunting is abolished then those huge areas of land along with their animals will swiftly be overrun by the continual population pressure threatening these areas. Poachers will move in and kill any and all animals by any means that they have – however painful and cruel. The trees will then be cut down to make way for a sparse crop of mealies for a few years before the poor soil and low rainfall push people onward leaving a zone of emptiness and destruction in their path.

Historically most National Parks were set aside not only for their natural beauty but also most lie in areas of marginal rainfall and high temperatures which made them unideal for human settlement. Traditionally the areas around National Parks that were hot and dry but less photogenic (for example our inland areas of Mana Pools comprised mostly of nasty jesse bush and tsetse flies) which were then set aside as hunting concessions. Those hunting concessions provide very important buffer zones between man and animals and reduce the impact of human wildlife conflict that would otherwise overwhelm our National Parks.

You see, in the Western world there is money available to pay for things like fencing and rangers but in developing countries funds are often diverted to other more demanding sectors. This means that often National Parks employees are  under-equipped and under-staffed to properly patrol and protect their areas. On the other side though mainly rich foreign clients will fly in for a few weeks a year to hunt a handful of select animals on neighbouring hunting concessions. More often than not a lot of those fees go back in to the concession and pay for modern and well equipped rangers and vehicles that patrol on their boundaries to keep animals in and people out.

In many areas of Africa with growing populations there is increased expansion into wild areas and often this means that invariably there will be conflict with wildlife – whether that is just protecting crops from marauding baboons and elephant or sometimes lion predation on cattle and goats or sometimes even people. Generally though it is the wildlife that suffers because people will defend themselves will a variety of inadequate weapons which often injure and maim these animals or even resort to poisoning wildlife to remove the threat. When there are hunting concessions though there are generally well defined and maintained boundaries and fences that greatly reduce the chances of conflict which generally means less harm for humans and much less harm for animals.

Of course there’s no getting away from the fact that hunters kill animals. But then again, so do farmers – and commercial farmers kill millions of times more animals every year than hunters – only we don’t see the pictures of dead animals but rather the trays of meat on our shelves which somehow makes this more ethically palatable to the average consumer.

Realistically most hunting concessions have a strictly controlled and sustainable number of animals allocated to them for hunting every year – probably fewer than the average American household will consume in a year.

Apart from regulation, most hunters are ethically controlled – not just by various sports and shooting bodies but also by a long tradition of hunting etiquette. In general only male animals past their breeding prime will be considered, a corrected calibered well placed shot is elemental as well as other sporting considerations such as not shooting from a vehicle or near a water hole and so on. So basically if you consider a quick and clean kill of a hunter compared to how millions of farmed animals that are culled under stressed conditions of a conveyor belt slaughterhouse – most of which have not lived a full or happy natural life outside of a cage – then ethically killing animals by hunting is far more humane than farming.

Secondly the number of animals hunted every year adds up to just a tiny percentage of the total number of wild animals that are protected and live out their whole natural lives in the relative peace on a hunting concession. And when considered as a number, then hunters account for barely a fraction of 1% of the total number of farmed animals worldwide that go in to feeding a growing
human population.

Yes, not all hunting is purely for game meat and a lot of the time species such as lion and elephant are targeted by trophy hunters but again most of those animals will be carefully selected by the hunting operator or professional hunter so have as little impact on a breeding population or species as a whole. This is because hunters have very long term vested interests in their areas they strongly consider genetics and sustainable harvesting of trophies because if they killed too many or most of their bigger stock they wouldn’t be able to get clients or business the next year so animal populations are allowed
to thrive.

In fact most of the biggest conservation success stories these days actually come from hunting concessions that protect vast areas of wilderness and countless numbers of trees, birds, insects and animals for the sake of a carefully chosen few animals every year to be hunted. Places like Bubye valley and Savé Conservancies support immense numbers of wild animals with growing wildlife populations of all types – often endangered species like rhino that are not hunted but instead allowed to breed and grow in the safe confines of a hunting concession.

I’d even go so far as to say that if the territories of the Northern White Rhino weren’t in so many war torn countries and if hunters had been able to move to those areas then that Northern rhino species most likely would still be alive and doing well today – paid for by the very important hunting fees and foreign currency that hunters bring to Africa every year.

Which brings us to the clear and fundamental difference between hunting and poaching – hunters kill a very few carefully selected animals in as humane a way as possible; poachers will kill any and all animals indiscriminately by any and all means possible – which normally means a slow and painful death by wire noose or snare, a poorly placed or ineffectually calibered bullet or even worse by poisoning. Poachers don’t consider the breeding potential of a population or the sustainability of a species. They have no consideration for the long term maintenance of wildlife or wilderness areas but instead all they are interested in is killing for greed and profit – and normally specifically targeting those rare and endangered species like rhino that would not ordinarily ever
be hunted.

Poaching syndicates today extend far beyond the casual Sunday afternoon meat poacher of old. These syndicates are often run and controlled by the very people charged with protecting these animals – often high ranking Government officials or diplomats who arrange for transport and trafficking of these illegal goods overseas – normally to Eastern markets like China and Korea. A lot of the time the proceeds paid to these Government officials are used to pay for arms and ammunition to maintain armies that keep their cruel regimes in power in places like South Sudan, Chad and the Congo.

Trafficking of illegal wildlife products like rhino horn, elephant tusks and pangolin scales runs into the BILLIONS of US dollars every year and not one dollar of which is spent on protecting or maintaining the animals, species or wilderness areas where they are plundered. In return though most African governments do not have billions of dollars to spare to fight the war on poaching that is devastating our animals.

The results speak for themselves and with the recent extinction of the Northern white rhino from poaching and the relative abundance of Southern white rhino that largely reside in areas protected if not directly by hunters then indirectly  within National Parks that will be surrounded by hunters who keep these poachers out.

We may not all agree with killing animals (although most of us still eat meat) but the troubling issue is that animals in Africa need hunters. Most of these hunting areas are in flat, arid, uninhabitable areas so other sustainable-use industries like photographic safaris are not
viable options.

So if overseas conservationists who care about wild animals and want to see hunting banned as an industry are successful in this, it will actually have the opposite effect on the ground! And instead a hunting ban will condemn the few remaining wilderness areas we have left and the millions of wild animals they support to a certain death by human encroachment as there is no other way to pay to protect these areas.

We live on a planet with a growing population and diminishing land and resources. Hunters ensure that there will still be wilderness areas and wild animals including and especially those that are rare and endangered. If we want our kids to have a chance of seeing wildlife as it should be then we need to understand the good work that hunters do in protecting these animals from the scourge of poaching and educate others to the differences.

Hunters and anti-hunters are in fact on the same side and fighting to ensure the survival of the land and animals that we still have left to conserve. Our common enemy however are the poachers. We need to work together to educate not just our kids and ourselves of the facts on the ground and fantastic conservation results achieved by hunting operators but also to those overseas and especially in the East and dispel the myths and fallacies of animal products like rhino horn that drive the cruel and evil poaching trade today.

Most of us want to see animals and people living side by side in harmony. Most of us want to see endangered specifies continuing to thrive and grow in protected areas so that our kids one day will have a chance of seeing wild animals in wild places. All of this needs to be paid for and the only way to do it humanely and sustainably is by supporting those hard working and brave hunters and rangers on the ground who are actually making a difference and protecting these places.

There are many worthwhile projects, concessions and conservancies you can research and follow online – and as well as Bubye and Savé valley conservancies others such as the Dallas Safari club rehabilitating a previously war torn area of Mozambique are doing a fantastic job fighting the poaching epidemic under Zambeze Delta Conservation. As well as many smaller operators like Charlton McCullen Safaris or Kambako safaris or indeed any of the hundreds of others of operators and safaris throughout Africa who are daily fighting a war that most of us don’t even understand properly let alone who the enemy really is.

If we educate ourselves and educate others as to what really works on the ground then our wild animals might just stand a chance – but only if we all work together.

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