COVID-19, Africa’s conservation and trophy hunting dilemma

By Conservation, Hunting
By , , and , The Conversation | June 28, 2020

Read the original story here.

Wildlife conservation hasn’t escaped the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is largely due to the fact that tourism funding, which supports the conservation of wide swaths of Africa and some 23 million livelihoods, has all but dried up.

Wildlife-based tourism in Africa is worth approximately US$71 billion annually. Much of this funds the management of protected areas. For example, the protection of just one white rhinoceros at Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy costs about US$10,000 each year.

Since the start of the pandemic there’s been a cut to funds for anti-poaching, surveillance and fence line management in most African reserves. Trophy hunting is a key source of this funding. It contributes an estimated $200 million to economies across the continent annually.

Trophy hunting takes place across much of sub-Saharan Africa with South Africa, Namibia and Tanzania holding the lion’s share of the market. The debate over its utility as a source of conservation revenue takes on a new urgency in the light of COVID-19.

The industry is facing increasing pressure because it continues to be perceived by many to be grotesque and morally reprehensible. The viral images and stories of Cecil the lion (killed in 2015) have laid the foundation for a flurry of recent calls by NGOs and animal rights groups to increase bans on the import of hunting trophies. Some have even called for outright bans on hunting.

Trophy hunting generates approximately US$200 million for Africa’s tourism economy. Alex Braczkowski

In places like Zambia and Botswana, these calls have resulted in temporary hunting bans. But proponents of blanket bans often fail to consider the broader socio-economic and land use change consequences.

Our research sought to understand how an outright ban on trophy hunting would affect landowners with hunting businesses in South Africa. We found that the majority (91%) of landowners that we interviewed believed that the economic viability of their private land and the biodiversity on it would be lost following a hunting ban. Landowners would move to either scale up eco-tourism on their land or change their land use from hunting to domestic livestock farming.

A trophy hunting ban could exacerbate biodiversity loss

We interviewed private landowners in South Africa who run trophy hunting operations in the Eastern and Western Cape provinces. We chose these provinces because they are globally important biodiversity hot spots. Some of the operators interviewed also run eco-tourism operations alongside hunting.

One of the questions we asked them was how they would respond to a ban of trophy hunting. We also asked them about eco-tourism as an alternative to trophy hunting.

Eco-tourism is commonly viewed as a viable alternative to trophy hunting. But our study found that only a third of the landowners said they would scale up or adopt eco-tourism in the face of a hunting ban. The remaining two-thirds believed such a transition to be unfeasible given financial constraints related to entering and competing in a saturated tourism market.

Of the landowners that didn’t believe eco-tourism was a viable alternative, half said they would transition back to livestock farming, retrench some staff and remove wildlife from their properties. The other half felt that they would have no viable alternative.

Our results have an important bearing on both conservation and sustainable development. They show that a trophy hunting ban could have a significant impact on the livelihoods of landholders and their employees.

There is also the danger that unintended consequences may cause a decline in wildlife populations. This is because it could result in a lower number of farmers who are running wildlife ranches, who play a large role in species conversation in the country. A recent report showed that South African private conservation land – both formal privately protected areas and wildlife ranches – covers about 14%-17% of the country’s land area. This is over double that of state-owned protected areas.

Dwindling funding from photographic safari tourism will likely impact on the conservation of species like this Shoe-billed stork in Entebbe, Uganda. Alex Braczkowski

Another crucial source of revenue is photographic tourism. But a study done in Zimbabwe 12 years ago showed that trophy hunting was more resilient than photographic tourism because hunters are more willing to travel under riskier circumstances than photographic tourists. These results suggest that hunters may be willing to travel again sooner in the face of the COVID 19 risk than photographic tourists.

In search of a pragmatic outcome

Advocacy groups promoting and pressuring policy makers to end all trophy hunting (as well as use and trade of wildlife) need to consider the potential ramifications of such bans. If an end to trophy hunting is the ultimate goal because of its moral unacceptability, the impact on conservation and community livelihoods that depend on hunting needs to be accounted for.

If conservation is indeed an important goal of those calling for an end to trophy hunting, alternative revenue streams and transition plans need to be developed for landholders and communities where hunting is a key source of income. This will sustain both conservation land use and livelihoods.

One way of achieving a more pragmatic outcome to the trophy hunting debate is to combine scientific evidence of likely outcomes together with different values towards hunting to find acceptable solutions. Finding pragmatic ways forward that incorporate different values towards hunting is critical for rebuilding Africa’s conservation sector after COVID-19.


Exposing the most barbaric industry on earth: The heart-stopping story of how LORD ASHCROFT hired a crack team of soldiers using drones to nail the criminals behind South Africa’s lucrative captive lion trade

By Hunting

Read the original story here.

  • Lord Ashcroft last year revealed details of an undercover mission, Operation Simba, which he funded in South Africa in 2018 and 2019
  • It aimed to shed light on the way the ‘appalling’ captive-bred lion industry is run
  • He compiled a team, including an undercover agent and people with military expertise, to try to infiltrate the lucrative trade

I cannot abide those who are cruel to animals, but the sad fact is that in our digital age, my strong aversion is aroused all too often. I have lost count of the number of people who post on social media platforms such as Twitter so-called ‘kill shots’ of themselves grinning at the camera (or, even worse, kissing their partner) alongside a beautiful animal they have recently slaughtered.

Revelling publicly in the death of a creature in this way is completely alien to me.

People may be brutal through ignorance or by taking shortcuts to save money, but South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry is conscious, intentional cruelty, sometimes carried out with or for pleasure. I cannot think about this without feeling a burning sense of shame. The question is: for how much longer will South Africa allow this industry to prosper?

I have lost count of the number of people who post on social media platforms such as Twitter so-called ‘kill shots’ of themselves grinning at the camera. In 2019, hunters Darren and Carolyn Carter from Canada incurred the wrath of thousands worldwide with this provocative - and disturbing - show of triumph

In a major exposé in this newspaper last year, I revealed details of an undercover mission, Operation Simba, which I had funded in South Africa in 2018 and 2019, which aimed to shed light on the way this appalling trade is run.

I described the hideous phenomenon of ‘canned hunting’, whereby lions bred in captivity are drugged and released into a relatively small area and then shot by a tourist who has paid many thousands of pounds for the privilege. It is not so much a chase as an utter farce. The photos of people standing triumphantly over these wretched beasts once they are dead are sickening.

I also revealed how once the farm-bred lions have served their purpose, their bones and other body parts are exported for the booming Asian medicine market. At every stage of their lives, these animals are abused and monetised. Even as cubs they are forced to play with tourists, although they should be sleeping for 16 to 20 hours a day in order to grow and thrive.

Finally, I reported how an undercover team had managed to save one of the lions, Simba, just as he was about to be shot in a canned hunt. I am now paying for him to live out his days in a secure and peaceful location.

Despite my feelings of euphoria at having saved Simba in the nick of time, it seemed clear that more needed to be done. It was obvious that those who profit by abusing lions are able to operate with great ease in South Africa. I decided to assemble my own evidence through a second covert investigation.

Our findings could then be presented to the South African authorities so pressure could be brought to bear on the perpetrators. And so Operation Chastise was born.

Named after the famous Dambusters mission and involving a crack team of former British Army and security services personnel, it swung into action in April 2019.

Despite my feelings of euphoria at having saved Simba in the nick of time, it seemed clear that more needed to be done
Despite my feelings of euphoria at having saved Simba in the nick of time, it seemed clear that more needed to be done

The risks of this project cannot be overstated.

The captive-bred lion industry is guarded jealously by its practitioners – many with links to global organised crime – while the value of human life in South Africa is far lower than it is in Britain. The bravery and ingenuity displayed by my team was phenomenal.

Through the recruitment of an undercover agent, a South African lion dealer, they managed to infiltrate this highly lucrative business. Our double agent, to whom we gave the codename Lister, was able to provide us with video footage of extreme cruelty to lions.

A new book could be the final nail in the coffin for the trophy hunting industry

By Conservation, Hunting
By Tracy Keeling, The Canary | May 30, 2020

Read the original article here.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 5pm on 1 June to include a response from CITES that provided details about which authorities have responsibility for the licensing of hunting trophies, its regulations regarding the trophy hunting industry and information about how the body defines ‘commercial’ vs ‘non-commercial’ trade. The Canary added further detail alongside this response for context and explanation.

The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting’s (CBTH) founder Eduardo Gonçalves has released a new book. Called Trophy Hunters Exposed: Inside the Big Game Industry, the book aims at the hunting industry and – to adopt the target’s vernacular –  ‘takes’ it.

This is how human hunters describe killing (other) animals: taking. That’s one the many discoveries in Gonçalves’ book. How much effort the industry is putting into encouraging children to take up hunting is another. It details who the major players are, such as Safari Club International (SCI), in terms of industry advocacy. It also documents how these groups get their vast sums of money and what they’re spending it on.

Critically, the book looks at the relationship international wildlife watchdogs like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have with the industry. The relationship is an intimate and consequential affair. Because these watchdogs shape and set the rules on what humans can or can’t do with the other animals on this earth.

Due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and rapidly depleting global biodiversity, many are questioning whether CITES is fit for purpose of late. After all, CITES’ purpose is to regulate the very trade – the wildlife trade – that it’s thought has just brought human societies across the globe to their knees with the coronavirus pandemic. Gonçalves’ book answers that question with a resounding ‘no’.

Exceptional Circumstances?

In the introduction to his book, Gonçalves describes CITES’ founding in 1973. He explains that the UN-backed body drew up “strict rules” to stem the collapse in wildlife populations. Gonçalves writes:

“Threatened species were named in a list of three appendices ordered by their vulnerability. Trade in Appendix I species, it said, “must only be authorized in exceptional circumstances.”

Currently, approximately 25,000 plant species and 5,000 animal species are in these appendices. CITES lists around 600 animals species in Appendix I.

But Gonçalves says these ‘strict rules’ are, in practice, quite weak. Because trade appears to be happening regularly, including trade in highly endangered animals. The CBTH founder writes:

“For instance, in 2017 (the most recent year for which reliable data is currently available) “exceptional circumstances” were granted for more than 75,000 animals and body parts of species which CITES classes as the most endangered in the world.”

Gonçalves also provides some examples of what CITES deemed “exceptional circumstances”:

“cosmetic products extracted from the Irrawaddy dolphin, fur and bones from leopards, tusks from Mediterranean monk seals, and leather products from giant pangolins – the latter were given the green light to enter the US.”

“The law today is failing wildlife”

As well as granting “exceptional circumstances” for trade that doesn’t appear to merit such a label, CITES also provides effective exemptions within its rulebook. This allows certain industries more freedom from its restrictions. Trophy hunting is one such industry. As Gonçalves explains:

“In 2017, as many as 35,000 bodies and parts of animals [from Appendix I, II and III] that are at risk of extinction made their way into the trophy rooms of hunters around the world, all with the implicit blessing of CITES. In fact the multi-million dollar trophy hunting industry is to all intents and purposes largely exempted from CITES’ rules. This is on the extraordinary grounds that trophy hunting holidays – which can sometimes cost $100,000 or more – are considered to be a ‘non-commercial’ activity.”

Because human hunters aren’t supposed to sell on the ‘trophies’ of other animals they kill, CITES deems it a non-commercial and personal trade. This is despite the fact that CITES defines ‘trade’, i.e. what it’s duty bound to regulate, as:

“Any export, re-export, import and introduction from the sea”

Nonetheless, at most all hunters have to do is arrange an export or import permit for their ‘trophies’. Of course, the hunter can do very little without the safari company they pay to arrange their kill, or the travel company they pay to transport their ‘trophies’ from one country to another. That’s not to mention the taxidermist they pay to display the parts of the other animal they ‘took’, or the gun manufacturer that sold them the machinery with which they killed her. There is a varied, vast, and lucrative trophy hunting industry, as Gonçalves details in his book. Yet CITES is failing to adequately police it because of the “extraordinary grounds” on which it exempts that trade. As Ranulph Fiennes wrote in a foreword to the book:

“Far from protecting endangered species, the law today is failing wildlife.  As many as 1.7 million animals have been killed by trophy hunters over the past decade.  Hundreds of thousands of these are from species protected by law because scientists say they are at risk of extinction.  We are frequently told that we face a biodiversity crisis every bit as serious as the climate crisis.  Yet the slaughter, inexplicably, continues unabated”

CITES response

The Canary contacted CITES for comment. While it chose not to comment on the allegations in the book, it did provide answers to some specific questions from The Canary.

It clarified that management authorities within member countries, i.e. the parties, are responsible for ‘receiving, issuing and denying’ trophy hunting import and export licences. It also pointed The Canary to the relevant CITES resolution containing the conditions that it says offer ‘strict regulations’ for the trophy hunting trade. It explained:

“This Resolution by the Conference of the Parties urges Parties, among other things, to only authorize the export of hunting trophies if Management Authorities are satisfied that the specimen was obtained legally and if Scientific Authorities have determined that the export would not be detrimental to the survival of the species.”

The key word in this statement is ‘urge’. Because while parties have ‘agreed‘ that “the export of hunting trophies of species listed in Appendix I or II should be conditional upon issuance of an export permit”, the resolution ‘urges’ and ‘recommends’ the other details. I.e. conditions other than the licence requirement appear to be effectively voluntary.

Further to urging countries to only issue permits for exports that would ‘not be detrimental to the survival of the species’, CITES also recommends that trophy hunting activities:

“relating to species listed in Appendix I should produce conservation benefits for the species concerned”

Again, this is a ‘recommendation’, not a hard and fast rule. On the trade issue, CITES said:

“It is not disputed that an export or import of a hunting trophy does constitute a form of trade transaction. However, Parties have decided the import or export of [sic] leally obtained hunting trophies are not considered to be commercial trade.”

It pointed The Canary towards another resolution, which defines what is understood as a ”primarily commercial purpose”. Under the ‘general principles’ in this resolution, CITES states:

“An activity can generally be described as ‘commercial’ if its purpose is to obtain economic benefit (whether in cash or otherwise), and is directed toward resale, exchange, provision of a service or any other form of economic use or benefit.”

As previously mentioned, because human hunters aren’t killing other animals to bring their body parts home and then sell them to others, the trade isn’t labelled ‘primarily commercial’. But the general principles goes on to clarify:

“The term ‘commercial purposes’ should be defined by the country of import as broadly as possible so that any transaction which is not wholly ‘non-commercial’ will be regarded as ‘commercial’.”

Given the list of transactions involved in the trophy hunting industry, some of which are already detailed here, it’s hard to see how – under a ‘broad definition’ like this – the industry escapes the ‘commercial’ label.

A complex issue

Despite appearances, the debate over trophy hunting is not a simple one. It has split the conservation community, with some standing in support of it as a so-called ‘conservation tool’. Others robustly challenge this notion, arguing that’s it deeply damaging to wildlife. The fact that hunting advocacy groups have managed to embed themselves in global wildlife watchdogs – as Gonçalves highlights in his book – by brandishing the supposed conservation credentials of killing for fun, muddies matters further. Because that means they have the ear of the decision-makers within these bodies. Add in the fact that pro-hunting proponents argue hunting provides income for communities in areas where hunting happens, yet anti-hunting proponents argue that income is a lot less than communities could have if they implemented alternatives to hunting, and it’s nothing short of a minefield.

This has largely led to a state of inertia or paralysis in policy change on trophy hunting on a national and international level, with some small exceptions. Such inertia is a hunter’s dream. Because, as Fiennes says, it allows the killing to continue unabated. Meanwhile, trophy hunting advocacy groups are less than inert themselves, securing the downlisting of species on CITES’ Appendixes – or fighting the uplisting of them – in a way that ensures hunting of them can continue, while in their positions of influence.

‘Shattering the stillness’

With his book, Gonçalves is dragging authorities out of that inertia. CBTH’s work, and Gonçalves’ book, has inspired a number of mainstream media outlets to back a ban on trophy hunting imports into the UK. The UK government is currently considering bringing in such a ban. Given the spotlight CBTH is shining on the inner, troubling workings of the industry, and the support the ban has among politicians, it may very well pass.

In his book, Gonçalves shares hunters’ accounts of their killings. One of them is from CJ McElroy, the founder of SCI. He describes killing a jaguar:

“I moved the rifle, found the cat’s chest across my open sights, and triggered an explosion that shattered the stillness. The jaguar reeled back, the same way any animal will recoil when hit in the chest at close range. But he didn’t go down. He staggered, then recovered and started running across the small clearing, heading for thick jungle to my right.”

Essentially, Gonçalves’ book is ‘shattering the stillness’ too. But rather than smashing the societies and lives of other animals to smithereens, the CBTH founder is blasting through the inaction on trophy hunting.

McElroy eventually ‘took’ his kill. After McElroy shot the jaguar four times, “he collapsed in a spotted heap”. In the UK at least, it’s possible the hunting industry is about to suffer the same fate.