If you want to see the difference between hunting areas and non-hunting areas in Tanzania, biologist Karen Seginak took these photos from her aeroplane as she flew into a hunting block.
In every picture, the biodiverse wood and scrub is the hunting area. The slashed and burned fields are the almost wildlife-free farms.
Karen was in Tanzania to investigate how regulated hunting of big game animals helps or hinders wildlife conservation. Her host was Mike Angelides from McCallum Safaris. She wrote this report on what she found.
“We have a game reserve,” says Mike. “We are next to an open area that used to be a hunting block. It was returned in 2014.”
The local people have used that land to go from being subsistence farmers to being commercial, because they produce more food than they need. “On our side, the wooded side, is total wilderness,” says Mike. “There is no human habitation there at all.”
Mike manages an enormous area for hunting: 3,000 square miles. If you were to drop it on the South of England, it would cover the whole of Berkshire and Wiltshire. And of course he manages it as a haven for wildlife. So what is the main problem he faces?
“The 21st-century gold is honey,” he says.
In order to produce honey, the local method is to ring a tree for bark and use that bark to make a hive. But you can’t do that in game reserves. Instead, some local people go for a smash-and-grab approach. They find wild bee colonies which typically live in hollow trees, they cut down the tree and take the honey, usually no more than 1kg.
The problem here is the importance of hollow trees to biodiversity. “Hollow trees are vital for bird life,” says Mike. “A lot of birds have their nests in hollow trees. If we don’t stop them, the honey thieves will cut down all the trees.”
What are the economics of ta reserve like Mike’s? This is one area that anti-hunters like to gloss over, saying that wildlife will just continue to live without anyone paying for habitat protection.
“As it’s a hunting area, it produces income for the government,” says Mike. “They protect it as well as us, and they do a great job, though there isn’t as much money as there used to be.
“The ban on lion and elephant hunting meant that people gave back ‘hunting blocks’, which reduced income to the government. Now the government doesn’t concentrate on anything that’s not a hunting area.”
Do anti-hunting organisations fund local wildlife conservation? There’s a suspicion in Europe and Africa that most anti-hunting organisations fund anti-hunting propaganda, and don’t get involved with real wildlife.
The US-based Wildlife Conservation Society is active in Mike’s area. It has bought vehicles for the local game scouts. Mike buys vehicles, funds anti-poaching staff and maintains 1,000 miles of roads.
So what effect would a ban on importing trophies to the UK from Tanzania have on Mike? Will a slowdown in the number of hunters coming from the UK hurt Mike’s wildlife?
“There are not many coming from the UK,” he says, “but what the UK does is to influence the rest of the world.”
He says that a ban on trophy imports will be devastating to his business for that reason. It could lead to him handing back his 3,000 sq miles of pristine habitat to the government. “The government will lose interest in protecting these areas” – and the problem is that there is nobody else prepared to move in and do the hard conservation work. Only professional hunters like Mike.
The areas will lose funding. “The study I am doing now is showing the difference between a vacant hunting area and an occupied hunting area. It all comes down to land use, and it comes down to money.
“It’s what I do with the money that makes the difference”
Mike says that a distaste for hunters and hunting from television actors and comedians is going to harm African wildlife. “They need to look beyond an animal being killed,” says Mike. “We’re regulated. We’re not killing more than is sustainable.
“We monitor game. We pride ourselves on taking older trophies. There’s a lot of talk about diminishing the gene pool, which is rubbish. An older animal is one that’s already bred.”
Mike says he is careful with his own media and what photograhs he puts out.
“The media tends towards showing the kill, the dead animal, the happy hunter. The actual hunt is a very personal thing between the hunter, the animal and even the professional hunter who is guiding him.
“What they need to show is that the hunter took one lion out of 1,000 sq miles. For me to be able to protect the other animals there, with the money from that one lion, is massive.
“Out of my 3,000 square miles, I take 100 animals total for the whole year. That’s less than a leopard would kill in a single year. But I bring in more than US$500,000 in a year. Plus I bring in tourists to the local hotels, we employ 60 people in Arusha, and we are zero environmental impact. There is only one tourist going around our area at any time.
“For every one photo of the hunt we show, we should show three photos of how the village benefitted, the meat they got, and of the anti-poaching we are able to provide.”
It’s not just Mike saying all this. Study after study says the same thing.
Karen’s study is yet another in a long line which shows that well-managed, regulated hunting conserves habitat that would otherwise be lost.