Hunting for Conservation

Eugene Lapointe, former head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), now president of the International Wildlife Management Consortium (IWMC), attacks the CITES approach in an article on BBC on the case for hunting in conservation,

Are bans on hunting and trade the best way to conserve species?

It is natural for people to jump to the conclusion that they are. After all, if no one is allowed to kill an animal, the thinking goes, surely its population will grow…

To understand why hunting and trade bans are not as effective as they are supposed to be, it is worth considering elephant conservation programmes in Africa, where countries have adopted two diverse strategies.

Elephant tusks (ivory) are used in artefacts around the world and, whether we like it or not, they command a market value similar to many precious metals. As a result, there is a constant international demand for ivory.

Unfortunately, most African economies are poor and wildlife conservation has to compete with many pressing demands for public money, such as the provision of public housing, sanitation projects, health care (particularly related to Aids) and education.

African elephant and her calf (Image: AP)

So conservation projects are going to be most successful if they can be self-supporting; in other words, if they can generate income and provide local jobs.

In southern Africa, countries have followed the philosophy of sustainable use. They have issued permits to sport hunters to kill a limited number of elephants that are pre-selected according to factors like age and sex. They cannot shoot breeding animals, for example.

Sport hunting produces significant income through hunting fees, safari costs (guides, accommodation, trophy fees, etc.) and this is reinvested into conservation programmes. Local people support it because it provides secure employment.

The result is that in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, elephant populations are well-stocked and healthy, while incidences of poaching have been kept to low levels.

By contrast, Kenya takes a protectionist approach. Killing elephants is prohibited and the country steadfastly argues against international trade in ivory.

An unintended consequence is that poaching is encouraged because local people receive little added value from the elephants and, instead, see a local resource going to waste.

In some areas people suffer when elephants destroy crops and homes. Habitat damage from dense populations also negatively impacts many other species.

Conservation in Kenya has become largely a law enforcement operation and, inevitably, this is a drain on limited local resources.

While elephant populations have recovered, poaching remains a problem and, in stark contrast to southern Africa, people have to be paid to shoot problem animals.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for nations to practice sustainable use at home while prescribing protectionism abroad.

This is true for African elephants, seals, sturgeon, whales, tigers, rhinos and many of the so-called “charismatic” species.

In the future, the fate of many animals may well depend on the extent to which the public around the world starts to accept the idea of utilising wildlife in a sustainable way.

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10 thoughts on “Hunting for Conservation

  1. Master of the Universe, Lord of all I survey. All subject to my view of what I shall cull or kill. Member of the so-called “much more intelligent than thou” species. Not long before you apply the same thinking to the less charismatic and “useless” members of our own species. Can’t remember the last time a whale caused any damage to our sensitive and sophisticated society.

  2. sean,

    Whales are a part of the ecosystem.

    Furthermore, whales reproduce, producing offspring. Various whale stocks today are increasing in number, thanks to the protections that they were given back in the 1960’s and 1970’s as the IWC’s politicians finally started to accept that they were not an infinite resource. Sustainable whaling today is possible. The benefit of whaling programmes is that there are clear incentives to monitor whale stocks, which are a gauge of the environment. With no incentive to monitor whale stocks there is little reason to think that anybody would bother with such expensive research. We need information on all elements of our ecosystems in order to conserve them properly.

    Great piece from Lapointe there. I blogged it myself.

  3. Governance and enforcement are critical distinctions between East Africa and Southern African elephant conservation strategies. South Africa, Botswana and Namiba are notable for the relative lack of systemic government corruption and for progressive, local empowerment policies (Namibia especially).

  4. There is hunting in Tanzania. The problem in Kenya is perhaps that all the animals rights and conservation NGOs have their regional headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

  5. David, It really is not necessary to kill whales. All animals produce offspring. Even if killing a certain number of these marine mammals will not make them extinct I do not find it convincing that a plentiful supply of whale meat will create a demand for whale meat as food. You know and I know that “scientific” slaughter is a euphemism and unbecoming of great nations such as Japan and Norway.

  6. Sean, it is not necessary to kill various sorts of animals that are killed around the world, as the vegetarians have shown us. The fact is that people want to eat meat, and whales are just one source of this, available in certain environments. There isn’t a huge demand for whale meat – this is true – this is also why there is little need to be concerned about overhunting returning. We need to remember that the demand for whales in the past that led to their over-exploitation was that for oil – not meat. Of course, this isn’t to say that whaling should not be regulated – it’s only to say that the incentive for over-exploitation isn’t that great when the product you produce has many other substitutes like beef, chicken, pork, fish, and so on.

    With regards to scientific whaling, Norway currently conducts none – it’s already hunting on a commercial basis and has been for years now. WRT Japan, their ultimate goal is to make for resumption of commercial whaling in the world’s most productive of oceans, the Antarctic. They can only optimise the utilisation of that resource by understanding the structure and biology of those resources now and as they change over time in the dynamic ecosystem within which they live. Today the IWC’s management procedure only requires catch histories and recent abundance estimates in order to produce catch limits. Both these inputs have uncertainties, and as a result the catch limits produced are extremely conservative, and as scientists who developed the procedure have noted, probably will see much of a potential harvest let slip by. For Japan, this is not acceptable, as they wish to utilise these resources in an optimal manner. Thus the need for research to better understand biological parameters such as natural mortality, natural rates of reproduction, and so forth. The IWC Scientific Committee has reviewed the Japanese programme in the Antarctic in the past, and concluded that indeed the results had the potential to improve the IWC’s catch limit setting procedures (you can read this on the IWC’s homepage, under the Scientific Permits section where a summary of the review is outlined). A further review is scheduled for December, the results of which will be available to the public at the time of the IWC meeting next May.

  7. David, A plausible, well argued response. Whales are not a product you produce. Beef, chicken, pork and fish are certainly farmed. Sadly one of the reasons we farm fish is because we are destroying natural stocks by relentless commercial overfishing. “Optimising the utilisation of that resource….” is a beautiful euphemism for a return to wholesale slaughter of a sentient and sensitive mammal that most of us would prefer to see left in peace. References to the IWC when certain nations are economically undermining the veracity of the organisation to achieve their goal of unecessary killing do not really impress me. The public will see who wants to kill whales commercially and the public will decide whether a return to destroying these animals for little gain, other than some sort of misplaced nationalism and short term economic gain, is acceptable.

  8. sean,

    The gain from supporting commercial whaling is the gain from supporting the principle that is at stake here. We either seek to allow people to use resources in a sustainable fashion, or we prevent them from doing so (for what good reason?)

    Not really wanting to waste time discussing the political side of the issue, but “most of us” refers to who? At this year’s IWC meeting we saw the world’s most populous nation China, as well as Russia, Korea, Japan, Norway, Iceland all lining up in favour of commercial whaling regulated by the IWC as the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling clearly intends. Beyond that various smaller nations such as St. Lucia in the Caribbean (where pilot whales are killed and eaten), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the only nation currently hunting the humpback whale species), Marshall Islands (where turtles are consumed as food), Solomon Islands (where dolphins are utilized), as well as various other nations that generally support the principles of science based management and the principle of sustainable use. You may like to note that St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Solomon Islands, and so on have all been accused of taking bribes by western anti-whaling NGO groups, yet the fact that these nations themselves consume cetaceans should make you sit back and ask whether those groups are being balanced in their accusations.

    Indeed, the only whaling nation that does vote against whaling (yes you read that correctly), is the USA. All other whaling / cetacean utilizing nations support their sustainable use, be that for commercial or other purposes.

  9. YES. “Conservationists” are destroying elephant populations in Kenya! The same post-colonial guilt is manifesting itself as “conservation” in North Africa with nearly identical results….extinction. SO UNFORTUNATE!

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