THE BIRD IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH
Between February the 5th and the 8th, The Safari Club International held their Annual Hunters’ Convention in Reno, Nevada.
This meeting followed hot on the heels of Zambia’s Minister for Tourism and Arts, Sylvia Masebo, declaring a ban on lion and leopard hunting on the 9th January this year.
As you can imagine, this news from Zambia caused somewhat of a stir in the hearts of big cat hunters everywhere. The Zambian operators were seeing their lucrative hunting businesses facing the prospect of ruin, and their USA client suppliers were also appalled. In fact, the USA hunters were united in their condemnation of this ban and speculated on their forums whether it could be corrected by a matter of “a bigger bribe to reverse the decision” and that “there has to be money/graft behind the Minister's decision”.
So, in time honoured tradition, the hunters gathered up their substantial resources and did two things of note:
Firstly, they invited Minister Masebo to Reno to address their Board of Directors at the SCI Convention. Over the two days she was there, she was no doubt entertained royally and was told that the assembled hunters were indeed “the most dedicated of conservationists” and would help to fund “the most accurate population surveys for the country's big game species”.
Secondly, they promised to commit “hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct the necessary scientific research that is needed for Zambia's big game species”, and dedicated “a special segment of the Saturday evening events [to] the African lion and lion hunting”.
And sure enough we hear that $1.2million was pledged at the event “all earmarked for Lion studies, Lion Conservation and to protect Lion hunting”.
They were suitably rewarded for their largesse with a speech from the Hon. Minister that invited SCI to play a major role in the future of Zambia hunting.
Minister Masebo invited SCI “to do a scientific survey on the viability of these [wildlife] species, in particular the lion and the leopard” and to “come up with sustainable legislation that will bring about sustainable wildlife and hunting”.
So now it seems that the hunters themselves will be responsible for “counting” the remaining lions and leopards and no doubt they will again find that lion populations are thriving despite hunting pressure.
Should an important lion population count be done by a vested interest party? Of course not.
Should a vested interest party be consulted about future legislation about Zambia’s wildlife? Of course not.
At the time of announcing the ban in January, the Minister said that:
"We do not have enough cats for hunting purposes, especially if we have to save our national resource. The cats are gone, and no amount of convincing from any sector or group will convince me otherwise.”
Apparently SCI did just that.
"Why should we lose our animals for $3 million a year? The benefits we get from tourist visits are much higher". But Minister Masebo seems to be leaning towards hunting again. She perhaps has yet to realize the true potential of ecotourism in her country, and to consider that her decisions affect the wildlife heritage of the Zambian people.
Nevertheless, African wildlife states like Zambia are crucially dependent on external funding. Many know trophy hunting brings immediate returns, conveniently ignoring that this is at the expense of long-term conservation. Ecotourism has lagged behind in convincing nations that this formula is actually a better option as there are no equivalents of SCI Conventions to wine and dine Ministers. And if the hunters are ready and willing to immediately step in with their promises of future funding they do seem the only source of revenue on offer. With $1.2million pledged in one night they are the bird in the hand.
If we are to convince African decision makers of alternatives to trophy hunting we have to do a lot better. The trophy hunting machine is well oiled and well supported with many dollars to support short term vested interests. But a long-term conservation formula depends on donor Governments and agencies to speak up more loudly. Their silence perhaps convinced Minister Masebo to again court the hunters that contributed to the enduring problems of her country’s wildlife conservation.
They should not be invited back and Zambia must be presented with better alternatives.
Picture credit : http://bit.ly/XHzYNn
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