Big game hunting and the nature of the beast

Big game hunting, in this case trophy hunting, is big business in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Africa. In South Africa it has turned into a touristic enterprise where people pay large amounts of money for a safari holiday. The vacation price includes lodging, transport and food – there being additional costs for hunting. People in there thousands flock to South Africa annually for the sport.

Turkey Hunting at The Hayhook Ranch

The actions of celebrities have recently brought the practice under scrutiny. Last month American TV presenter Melissa Bachman tweeted a picture of herself holding a gun and smiling next to a dead male lion. Her tweet says: ‘An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60-yards on this beautiful male lion…What a hunt!’ Bachman added the photo to her ‘Africa 2013’ album on Facebook. This has caused a massive outcry among wildlife groups and the public. A petition to stop her from returning to South Africa has now been signed by nearly 30,000 people. Her official website displays pictures of her posing beside many dead animals such as alligators, moose and bears. Big game hunting is hardly a new sport; it seems though that the cruelties of celebrity figures, like Bachman, are the means by which the practice is brought to the public’s chief attention.

Two big game American hunters, Mindy Arthurs and Olivia Nalos Opre, have come to the defence of Buchman. ‘People think you’re just killing stuff, but if you don’t manage a herd then the whole of the herd will die’ said Mindy Arthurs. Contrary to this overused defence for the archaic pastime, hunting has little to do with conservation and especially population control.

Trophy hunting with free roaming animals is detrimental to conservation. Hunters want to kill the biggest and strongest animal, usually so to have the best photo, largest head to over their fireplace, and best skin to cover their floor. By killing off the strongest it goes against the natural culling process, and also weakens the gene pool. Elephant poaching is believed to have increased the number of tusk-less animals in Africa. Nature magazine reports ‘the effect on…[animals’]…genetics is probably deeper’ and more substantial than that of which we are already aware. Also, quick kills are rare, with many animals subjected to long and painful deaths when hunters severely injure and fail to kill. Hunting also causes disruption to migration and hibernation, feeding and breeding patterns, while also destroying family structures. Equally, the gun fire causes immense stress to the herd.

Another type of trophy hunting is called canned hunting. Here animals are specially bred and raised to satisfy the demand of trophy hunters. Lions are particularly subjected to this practice. At the average age of 24 months the lions, in this case, are released into enclosures around 100 acres, a very small area compared to their natural territory area of 10,000-50,000 acres. They are then quickly shot down by hunters. To ensure the lions are semi-tame, they are often removed from their mothers a few days after birth. This also induces another oestrus cycle in the lioness, making her more likely to quickly reproduce. Female cubs are often culled as they are not worth as much as the males. It is estimated that 1,000 lions are killed on canned hunts each year in South Africa, many of them by American tourists. South Africa is the centre of the canned hunting industry, where every kill costs about £37,000, the price including the skinning, treating of the hide, and exporting licence.

"South Africa is the centre of the canned hunting industry, where every kill costs about £37,000, the price including the skinning, treating of the hide, and exporting licence"

“South Africa is the centre of the canned hunting industry, where every kill costs about £37,000, the price including the skinning, treating of the hide, and exporting licence”

It would seem that the best thing to do would be to banish the sport all-together. But sadly this would have a devastating effect. Botswanana has decided to ban hunting wild game for sport from January 2014, but this decision could be disastrous. Hunting was banned in Kenya in the late 1970s, and since then the State has lost 85% of its wildlife. Kenya continues to have a huge game poaching problem, to the extent that some of their species face total extinction. Also, there is corruption in the reservation and national park industries, where officials allow poachers access to supplement their income.

Financially big game hunting is inefficient when taking into account the land used and its contribution to the GDP. In 1960 there were only 3 game farms in South Africa with 500,000 animals. Now, with the law which permits private ownership of game and commercialisation there are: 10,000 game farms with around 20 million animals. A new IUCN report reveals that in the 11 main big game hunting countries, the hunting parks cover 14.9% of national territory, but only contribute 0.06% to the GDP.

The dynamics of the industry are complex. Hunting does provide £385 million to the South African economy according to Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa. In light of this, if changes are made, they need to be made gradually.

Sylvia Masebo

Sylvia Masebo

Tourists though do come to Africa to see living animals. Zambia outlawed all hunting of lions and leopards from January 2013. The country’s Tourism and Arts Minister, Sylvia Masebo, commenting: ‘Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion, and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry’.Our actions define us, and George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘when a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when a tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity’. Tourism is a necessity for the survival of these animals; however, the nature of the industry and its efficiency can be changed.

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