As Lord Zac Goldsmith tries to push through a ban on trophy imports to the UK, which would effectively be a ban on hunting tourism in countries across the world, people from those countries are speaking up against him.
One of the more important voices is the Zimbabwean ambassador to the United States, Tadeus T Chifamba. He recognises the role that hunting plays in sustainable conservation. He also recognises Zimbabwe’s special responsibility for looking after iconic species such as the ‘big five’: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo.
“The populations of these species are actually growing, not shrinking, so it shows that we are doing certain things very correctly,” he says.
The proposed trophy import ban to England worries Chifamba, as it worries leaders across Africa. “To me, what is extremely worrying is the wilful ignorance that informs decisions of this nature,” he says.
“Wildlife, especially iconic species in southern Africa, are not faced with extinction, so the basis – the very foundation of this argument – to say that importation of trophies from southern Africa should be banned – I think is wrong. It’s based on wrong information, if not misinformation. So, I think the best thing is for us to be able to speak facts, and also to talk about the science behind sustainable conservation. This is very important for us in Zimbabwe.”
The ambassador wants to see the economic benefits that hunting brings to countries reach local people, both those working for the national parks authorities and also local communities, who live next to the animals and who, he says, “are deriving a lot of economic benefit from sustainable conservation”.
Zimbabwe was the first to establish the community-based Campfire wildlife management programme, which parcels out hunting money to communities, and engages with local people. ”We actually involve our communities in the management, not only as trackers but also to fight poaching,” he says, “and they also get benefits, especially when hunters come.”
He is happy to report that hunters have been “pouring back into communities, assisting with the construction of schools, of infrastructure, and even sharing meat. “If they hunt big game, there’s a protein value or benefit which accrues to communities,” says Chifamba. “So there is a lot of employment creation, either as trackers, and also down the value chain.
“There is a lot of investment which goes into research, into professionalism, into ethics. And there is, within the industry, serious efforts which are going towards self-regulation – coming up with a code of ethics that are mandatory.”
With everything that Zimbabwe is doing to ensure the future of its wildlife heritage, Chifamba says that the actions of animal rights extremists in the Westminster parliament fill him with “disgust and anger”. He says: “We are a sovereign people. There are people whose livelihoods and lives depend on sustainable conservation.”
He is not happy that the animal rights zealots in the UK are using Zimbabwe as a pawn in order to attack hunting tourists. “I guess it is the hunters who are being targeted,” he says. “as wealthy white people who are coming to shoot animals in Africa. I think it is misdirected, the kind of anger by these animal rights groups. When we ae talking about the human face behind sustainable conservation, let’s not just focus on the hunter. To me, focus first on the communities who are coexisting with wildlife.
“The hunters come in as partners in wildlife management, and they play a critical role. And then we also have professional guides. We have so many other people who interested in looking at the scientific issues, which have led to the health of the animals. They put in a lot of money into research, to try and understand and optimise on biodiversity and conservation.”
He believes one mistake that Boris Johnson’s animal rights allies are making is to concentrate on looking after individual animals instead of habitats. He offers the example of African elephants. Zimbabwe has more than 100,000 elephants and room for only 45,000. “Let’s not just look at the animal. Let’s also look at the habitat,” he says. “The elephant is a ferocious eater. If you don’t manage the habitats, the elephant will go extinct, because it will devour everything. It might end up coming into the fields of people, and actually intensifying human-wildlife conflict.
“That needs scientific management, and hunters are an essential partner.”