One of the most controversial aspects in the conservation field, particularly in recent times, has been the role of hunting as a vehicle to achieve a sustainable conservation system. Personally, I struggle daily to understand, and especially accept, the social aspect of this approach.
Activism groups protecting animal rights are as we know, dynamic and passionate about the causes they champion. The campaigns we see and follow on social media, are dramatic and sometimes even sensationalist. It turns out that sometimes you really need to go to these extremes to bring popular attention to these kinds of issues.
While Green Peace activists put their lives at risk on the high seas to prevent oil exploration by big corporate monsters, organizations like PETA, Tusk, Save the Elephants or Save the Rhino, promote public awareness campaigns, often accompanied by cruel images of suffering animals, most often caused by poor management by humans.
As a result of these activism campaigns, today we condemn, criticize and publicly shame poachers. Both those who are part of organized criminal networks trafficking ivory, rhino horn among others, and those who hunt the occasional impala to feed their family. Both practices are punishable by law. However, sport hunting is gaining momentum, especially in an era when profits from this elite business benefit communities living in poverty in these hunting concessions.
Sport hunting caters to a very specific audience. These elite American, Russian and Spanish hunters, among others, are willing to pay large sums of money for an unforgettable experience on the African savannah and a photo album of their trophies, which they can take home with them whenever the law allows. This ‘sport’ is perhaps one of the most expensive in the world; between licenses, visas, travel and lodging, it easily runs to around USD 200,000 depending on the species and the scarcity of each government’s quota.
So if much of this investment actually goes back to the state through visas and permits, to the private sector through travel and lodging, and finally to local communities through the donation of trophy meat, school construction, and other projects, it is hard to ignore the impact of this model. As we know, the management of protected areas in Mozambique is largely funded by the international community, as it is not possible for the time being to sustainably maintain a protected area solely on the basis of tourism revenues, as the costs of security and surveillance operations against poaching and other illegal activities alone are quite high.
But there is a huge gap by the failure to observe the social impact of this exception to the rule. While the authorities and society condone sport hunting because it is an acceptable model of conservation and because it brings tangible monetary benefits, the members of the local communities, parents, merely receive with gratitude the meat donated by foreign hunters. Thus, in the popular view, those who have money can hunt animals, and those who don’t, live at risk of not being able to feed their family, because if they do it illegally, they will be punished with a prison sentence for the crime of poaching.
Until we can create alternatives to improve the lives of these people, we are not implementing fair community-based natural resource management.