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An Overview on Hunting
Don Heath
~It is now eighty years since commercial safari hunting took off in Africa, starting in British East Africa and then spreading slowly to the other British and then Portuguese Colonies. Game was plentiful, licences plentiful and the pace of life leisurely.~

Until the 1950’s, a short safari would have been a month with two or three months being more usual. In almost all areas, at least one example of each of the big five would have been on licence, as well as the whole spectrum of antelope. For the local residents, big game licences were readily available, although the numbers of elephant available on licence each year was restricted even as early as 1910. By 1920, ideas on game conservation were beginning to gel and by the end of the decade the first proper game reserves and controlled hunting areas were being established across the continent. The 20’s and 30’s were the days of the classic English Safari where the current ideas of what constitutes a ‘proper’ safari were established. Most of the ‘sportsmen’ were well-heeled European gentry and nobility with very few self made men in the American tradition coming out. The Second World War changed who came on Safari. The European gentry continued to come of course, but ever increasing numbers of self-made businessmen also began visiting Africa. Being working men, they were on a limited vacation, and often on a tighter budget. This meant that safaris became a frantic rush to fit in as much as possible in the time allowed.

The 1960’s brought independence, war or both to much of Africa, and for the most part the game departments crumbled under the inept management of men whose primary qualification for the job was their blood relationship to a political figure. The game was slaughtered in its thousands by commercial poachers with the revenues from the exports of rhino horn and ivory funding the various factions in the civil wars, or enabling the new administrators to become rich at a speed that would impress any business entrepeneur.

The 1970’s were the black years for both wildlife and the hunters. Hunting was banned in several countries in a misguided attempt to halt the decline in the game populations, whilst civil war closed many other countries to all but the hardiest or most determined sportsmen.

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The 1980’s saw the beginning of a great revival in the safari industry. The collapse of the majority of the economies across the continent has, for the most part, forced the appointment of more competent wildlife managers, and a very real interest in any industry that earns hard currency. The great American dollar has become the primary quest for one economically beleaguered government after another (across Sub Saharan Africa only Botswana seems to have escaped). Safari hunting has proved to be a vital underutilised resource that is worth far more in real terms than any cattle industry, whilst conservation programmes are one of the few areas that the West will still support with (copious quantities of) Aid. This is good news for hunters, and as the value of the industry has increased, so has the conservation effort. Nowhere has it been better proved that objects (or animals) of priceless beauty/interest are worthless to a hungry population. Only things of tangible value are worth the expenditure of money and energy to protect. The rhino is a good example. For nearly 30 years it has been “protected”. Protected from hunting, protected from trade, but nothing could protect an animal that was valueless in its own country. It wasn’t external poachers that killed the rhino. It was apathy from the local tribesmen to protect a costly resource with no hope of seeing any benefit. Poachers require a base: they live and move amongst the tribesmen in the game rich areas or those bordering protected wildlife zones. By killing rhino they were protecting the crops and even lives of rural peasants whose lives are hard enough without the added burden from wildlife.

The 90’s has seen this realisation that peasant communities who occupy the areas still rich in wildlife or bordering protected areas, need a meaningful incentive to conserve wildlife. In a continent where obtaining food is the primary concern of the vast majority of the population, the provision of free meat or the money to buy food is a very powerful motivating factor. Hunting provides far more disposable income and less impact to the environment than does eco-tourism, and in addition meat is supplied and problem or dangerous animals controlled. This concept that wildlife should be encouraged in the traditional tribal lands originated in Zimbabwe and has spread to the rest of the subregion. A few countries cling to the outmoded idea that wildlife should be confined to national parks and fenced off from the surrounding farm land. This certainly solves the conflict problem, but leaves genetically isolated populations surrounded by a hostile environment, and with still no incentive for tribesmen to report the poachers sheltering in their midst. These islands of wildlife also lead to huge problems, with some species exceeding carrying capacity, which brings about the unpalatable need to cull or sacrifice the eco-system in the name of single species protection (as is currently happening with elephant in several countries).

The 90’s have also brought the realisation that properly managed hunting, is in fact more ecologically friendly (ie has fewer negative impacts) than any high density form of eco-tourism. Hunting also offers significantly higher financial returns than either eco-tourism or cattle ranching, and I think that it is safe to say that hunting as a tourism activity is here to stay in Africa.

The biggest threat to both conservation in general and wildlife in particular does not come from poaching, the anti hunting crowd, unethical hunters or operators, but rather from greedy politicians or professionally incompetent and/or corrupt senior parks officials.

In one country, the virtual annhilation of the white rhino population was ensured by an instruction halting all anti poaching operations at a critical point. In another, a large tract of pristine woodland with its attendant wildlife population was destroyed to produce charcoal by a company owned by a senior politician. In yet a third, hundreds of thousands of animals died of thirst after fences were erected across migration routes in the name of cattle protection (politicans’ cattle, earmarked for the lucrative EEC market).

It is every hunters’ job to do his little bit to halt the nepotism and corruption that is the true threat to wildlife. The African Hunter is fully committed to the proven conservation practice of SUSTAINABLE utilisation through ETHICAL sport hunting. We do not intend to become involved in the politics of hunting- there are far better forums for such (very neccessary) discussion, but we will continue to publish articles on how to hunt ethically, how conservation is put into practice, particularly through hunter's efforts, as well as general interest articles on hunting and related topics. Our Around the Campfire feature though, will continue to provide a forum for discussion of relevant topics, be they controversial, technical or simply informative, and we invite readers to contribute to, and participate in these discussions for the betterment of hunting.

It must also be noted, at this point that the African Hunter is the premier periodical on hunting in the ‘Dark Continent’. It is published by hunters for hunters, but a vital component is reader participation. Many of the articles are submitted by readers, while reader response helps us define the general thrust of the magazine.

African Hunter Vol.5 No.1 February 1999
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