‘It’s taking food out of people’s mouths’: the true cost of Western bans on hunting in Africa

Africa is no stranger to Western bullying, with green policies that deny development or pressure from animal rights groups to stop big game hunting. 

Namibia is one of the countries in the crosshairs of celebrities and corporations that are ignorant of the importance of hunting tourism – or conservation tourism as the government there calls it – to the country’s people.

“It’s absolutely devastating to have international restrictions like hunting bans or even just the ban of trophies into countries even simple as an airline that refuses to fly firearms,” says Danene van der Westhuyzen, president of the Namibia Professional Hunting Association. “It’s devastating to our GDP ultimately. It’s literally taking food and water out of people’s mouths because in Namibia we are completely dependent on it.

“It’s an extremely harsh country if you take in the regard the uninhabitableness, the droughts,” says Danene. “We don’t have water to do agriculture like all the other African countries. So there’s a real value in our wildlife. People are not only proud to showcase it, but we’re the only country where the sustainable use of our natural resources is written into our constitution. We’re the only country where government has given wildlife full ownership to the people, so our government doesn’t take a cent from any sustainable use practices, either hunting, harvesting, all of that.”

Unfortunately, many Western wildlife groups and organisations don’t understand the reality of communities living with sparse resources and threats from wildlife. Namibian delegations presented the same facts over and over again, but anto-hunting groups choose instead to follow their emotions.

“It’s very unfortunate there are decisions being made, even though Namibia has proven its conservation success,” Danene explains. “Our numbers have increased tremendously. If you look at… reproduction rate of plains game, you’re talking about 15%-25% reproduction each year, depending on droughts and various factors, but at least 15%. Your off-take is less than 1% on dangerous game and it’s less than 5% on plains game, so there’s no way in the world that conservation hunting for example can have any effect on wildlife populations. It’s much rather illegal hunting, it’s much rather bans that are put in place because then people start to eradicate wildlife left, right and centre.

“The last scientists COP meeting that was held in Geneva… it was laughable. Namibia and other south African countries really put forward all the facts, the numbers, the conservation success stories and the parties still decided against [their] proposals. 

“Even if you put all the facts on the table, there’s emotional decisions being made. I always try to look at it from both ways and it’s great that people have this affection for wildlife [but] you’ve got these bans because of emotional decisions, people loving a certain animal or wanting it to survive and what they don’t realise is that our government and our people want the same thing. We are so dependent on it.” 

Elephants in Namibia. Photo by Alex Rogl

Namibia is one of the only African countries that offers all of the big five animals for hunting. They include black rhino, which has a CITES quota of five per year. Danene says hunters are most attracted by Namibia’s vast areas of nothing. 

“It’s one of the last countries that still has these massive wide-open spaces,” she says. “We’re the second-least populated country in the world, so covid-related, it’s extremely safe to travel in Namibia at this stage – or any stage for that matter.

Namibia’s pro-hunting policies addresses one of the big problems for locals across Africa: human-wildlife conflict. “It’s really sad to see communities shoot out total packs of lion because of the human wildlife factor – I’ve got total regard for it,” says Danene. “You can imagine if you own only ten cows and one lion comes in and they kill all of it in one instance, people are devastated. So they will poison them around the waters, they will shoot them out if there’s no incentive for them. 

Zebras in Namibia. Photo by Johann Veldsman

“If someone comes and they pay US$200,000 for one lion, they actually start to protect the rest of the pack because they know value lies in it. There are lots of solutions but the human wildlife conflict is massive in Namibia because of our range expansion, because of animals really getting to a point where there’s too many and it’s in direct competition with survival.

“Our wildlife numbers haven’t been this high since the 1700s, purely because of that change in legislation that gave ownership to its people of the wildlife. It will cause a turnaround of 100 years of conservation purely because of international bans and not understanding. 

“It’s so sad that people don’t understand that we all want the same thing. We all want better wildlife, we all want better habitat and the survival of the species, they just don’t want to come to the table, look at the facts, look at the numbers.”

Click here for Danene’s organisation. Thanks to SCI LHAS for supporting this article.

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