by Deborah Hadfield
The role of trophy hunting in conservation and the economic survival of communities in Africa is in the spotlight. A new film produced by South African film producer Phillip Hattingh focuses on Namibia. The inspiration for his documentary The Eco Colonialists – an Exposé came back in 2020 when, in the run up to the election in Germany, the green party campaigned for an end to the wildlife trade in hunting trophies.
The Greens have power in Germany. Along with the Socialists and Liberals, the Greens provided the new Minister of Agriculture and the new Minister of Environment after the Bundestag elections.
Minister Steffie Lemke is an avowed opponent of hunting tourism and close to animal rights organisations such as ProWildlife, Future for Elephants and the Humane Society International.
The aim of Phillip’s original film, title translated from German as ‘Green facts about green ignorance’, was to present the views of hunters and communities in Africa that support trophy hunting.
It was widely distributed in Germany on a variety of pro hunting channels, including the German Hunting Association (DJV), and the German delegation to the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC).
The spirit of the campaign and its pro trophy hunting stance gained suport from scientists and international bodies. In the UK, Professor Amy Dickman and Professor Adam Hart backed it, as did international bodies such as IUCN SULI and representatives of rural communities from southern Africa: The community leaders Network (CLN), which represents millions of rural Africans from a total of nine southern African states.
The aim of the film was to ensure that an import ban on hunting trophies from legal, sustainable hunting abroad does not become law in Germany.
Pressure from antis across Europe, including Belgium and Britain, to introduce trophy hunting import bans inspired the producer to make an English version of the film.
In the UK, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed a trophy hunting import ban agenda, supported by his wife Carrie and now former DEFRA minister Lord Zac Goldsmith.
Johnson’s government dropped the commitment in March 2022, an anti-hunting Tory MP picked it up as a private members bill, and a change of leader means the proposed legislation is unlikely to make it on to the statute book.
Across Europe shooters fear there is a danger of further import restrictions on hunting trophies from regulated and sustainable hunting. This could have a detrimental effect for wildlife habitats and local communities, which benefit from hunting tourism.
Stephan Wunderlich, of CIC, who is German, says: “Our Ministry of Environment is currently becoming the spearhead for further import restrictions at the European level. We need to motivate all European user associations to invest massively in communication around the sustainable use of natural resources.”
Stephan says attacks on trophy hunting are attacks on the sport of hunting itself. He says: “We need to provide a platform for the voices of those countries and people directly affected by the animal rights fantasies of the Global North – if we want to change the prevailing narrative in the long term.”
Stephan says Phil Hattingh’s film had an impact in Germany.
He says: “It worked, the media and politicians heard the voices from the film and understood that trophy hunting has a ‘second medal side’ [it brings extra benefits].”
Phillip’s film included interviews with a wide range of people who live and work in community conservation areas across Namibia.
It explores how sustainable utilisation of wildlife resources benefits them directly. It effectively illustrates the idea that ‘if it pays it stays’ as trophy hunting provides incentives to keep wildlife habitats intact.
The film looks at how hunting can also offer benefits too like boreholes which bring fresh water.
Philip’s film also criticises animal rights organisations such as Born Free which, it claims, goes to extreme lengths to prevent facts about the conservation benefits of trophy hunting from being published
Even antis who don’t agree with trophy hunting admit it has benefits. Academic and writer Keith Somerville says: “Trophy hunting is decried as immoral, and I personally dislike it. However, undermining it without implementing better solutions will increase horrible unregulated killings, undermine local decision making about wildlife use, reduce wildlife revenue, increase habitat and biodiversity loss, and leave the world far poorer for all our children. I deeply believe that is far more immoral.
“For anyone who cares about conservation or animal welfare, truly understanding this issue would reveal it to be an extremely hollow victory.”
A good example of how trophy hunting has helped restore and bring back an animal from the brink of extinction is in Pakistan.
The fees hunters are willing to pay to hunt the markhor, a mountain goat, has helped it thrive as communities value it and protect it. The goat has become the centre of an important trade.
Trophy hunting gets its bad reputation from attacks on it by anti-hunting journalists.
Phillip’s film attempts to present the counter arguments to many of those extreme views.
He describes the conservation industry as ‘eco-colonialists’. He makes no excuses for pinning its colours passionately to the pro trophy hunting camp.