Scientists warn trophy hunting ban would be ‘catastrophic’

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On the hunt in Africa: Ed Sargeant is a Brit and new to hunting in Africa. Guided by trainee professional hunters from the Northern Cape Professional Hunting School in South Africa, he is out for his first stalk. Ed says: “We saw a small group of springboks. We followed them, but they just kept on moving and we didn’t have a shot on the on the run we’re after. It gets the heart pumping.”

Ed Sargeant and his springboker

Hunting tourists such as Ed are essential for communities that rely on the income. But antis would ban these kinds of trips.

In the UK, Professor Adam Hart is one of the few academics brave enough to speak up for hunting tourism. He is exploring the issues in depth in a book he is writing with Dr Nikolaj Bichel. He says there’s so much misunderstood about trophy hunting and so much misinformation, disinformation, counter information. He says: “What we wanted to do was really provide at least an underpinning of what trophy hunting actually is, how it’s developed historically, what the ethical and philosophical implications of it are, how different hunting trophy sort of measurements are taken and so on.”

He says the book goes from history, right the way through to modern-day analysis of what trophy hunting actually means.

Before his stalk, Ed takes a shot on the range to show the PHs he is competent with a rifle

Ed soon finds out that the reality of hunting in Africa is hard work and it doesn’t always go to plan. 

He says: “We got about a two-and-a-half-hour stalk and we were kind of in a bit of a loop. Unfortunately, we lost the wind. Then we tried to pepperpot into bushes and stay out of the animal’s wind.”

Ed says it’s exciting and gets his heart racing.

Adam is hoping his book will help share the truth of how vital hunting tourism is. He points to nations looking at trophy import bans. He says: “We see a lot of talk about import bans and we see a lot of talk about trophy hunting as an activity. But what we don’t often see is a lot of understanding about what that activity is or a lot of understanding about how it fits in to a broader picture, both geographically and historically.”

Adam says it’s a really useful time to be looking at trophy hunting in more depth and bringing together some of these threads. he wants to provide more “synthesis” about what trophy hunting is. 

He says: “It’s trying to provide a bit of light – I suppose as far as the heat that we see out there in the media about it.”

The income that Ed provides from his hunting adventure pays for wildlife habitat. If he could not provide it, the ground would go to cattle ranching and the wild animals would all have to go. Thanks to the one animal he shoots, thousands of wild animals can thrive.

Adam says nations use trophy hunting as part of their conservation toolkit. It’s an important component of that for a number of reasons. He says: “It basically makes land more valuable. By giving value to  wildlife, it can mean that you don’t get so much agricultural encroachment, for example. It can also provide livelihoods for local communities.”

He says that  hunting tourism can be one of the tools that  safeguards conservation, communities, habitats, and species.

Ed and his trainee guides
Ed lines up on his springbok

Adam blieves that antis are opposed to trophy hunting because they don’t appreciate its role. He says: “You see a dead animal and it feels like there’s a pointlessness to it. And once you magnify that with a perception of suffering, you end up with a situation that many people are very emotionally invested in. The problem is you do need to look beyond that. “

He says: “If you’re in an area where a particular animal might be considered to be an agricultural pest then they will be controlled just as they are in the UK.”

Ed after the hunt

Ed finally bags his animal, a springbok. He says: “[My guide] Richard got me into a pretty good position earlier, but I think that the adrenalin got the better of me and I missed. So, we skated round and then after a short stalk and a bit less hesitation I took the shot.“

Adam hopes his book can also hit the target by sharing the facts about trophy hunting. He admits it may also attract criticism from antis for Adam and his co-writer. He says debates on trophy hunting are toxic.

He says: “It’s become an extremely polarised and divisive debate. In some areas trophy hunting provides a conservation benefit – that’s an absolutely irrefutable point.  Simply saying that labels me as pro trophy hunting and I’m not pro trophy hunting, so you can ban it tomorrow for all I care.”

Adam is pro evidence-based conservation and pro approaches which are sympathetic and supportive of local communities, and which have conservation outcomes that are positive at the end of them.

The Northern Cape Professional Hunting School's ground

For Ed the day has been worth all the effort. He says: “I made my shot, and the springbok came down and we got what we wanted. So, a good result.”

If trips that include trophy hunting like Ed’s were banned, Adam believes the consequences would be devastating. He says the overriding message from members of the scientific community about the consequences of banning trophy hunting are: “How are you going to replace valuable revenue and the value of wildlife land? I’ve asked a number of people who are vocal about banning trophy hunting, what their solution is, and they either don’t have one or they say that the solution won’t happen unless it’s banned.”

Trophy photo of the springbok

Adam says it is too big a risk to ban trophy hunting without a strategy to replace it. 

He says: “It’s  actually a risk that’s taken by people that have never actually experienced the environments that they’re talking about and possibly have no real idea about some of the bigger ecological issues they’re talking about. If you really care about those areas, I don’t believe that you’d be willing to take that risk based on the evidence we have right now.”

Adam’s book Trophy Hunting will be out later this spring.

Thanks to Keila Van Vuuren of the Northern Cape Professional Hunting School for filming the Africa sequences

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