Without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage.
AHG Vol23 # 3 Editorial
Please stay with me on this extended editorial. Though I have discussed this topic ad nauseum while running this magazine for many years, it is now central to the current debacle in the professional hunting industry of South Africa today.
Let’s start with FAIR, and how this actually relates to FAIR CHASE – which is what we all hear bandied about. According to Boone and Crockett, it is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.
Breaking it down:
Ethical, by definition is a personal framework of what is acceptable or not. What a Christian man in Alabama and a Muslim man in Dubai feels is ethical – is simply not the same. So how do we think we can use the term in describing so definitively what to do for ALL hunters? Both Alabama and Dubai residents love their hunting – but their ethical canvas has different colors on it – period.
Sportsmanlike, could pertain to the caliber of artillery used, be it a bow, a hand gun or a rifle, with a plethora of calibers and variations therein. All shooters profess to be sportsmanlike. This year we even had an international hunter in Mozambique charge up to and throw a spear into a buffalo! To him, that was sportsmanlike. We assume here that all hunters are fit and able bodied. Those with a limb missing, or struggling with any number of physical impediments, or are simply getting on in life and can’t physically cope – how do we have a cut-off time for them? Does one carry them on one’s shoulder as Cliff Walker did so incredibly with his wounded warrior some years back, or allow them to shoot off a vehicle because they are simply unable to walk, thus giving them a conscience-clear reason to ‘hunt?’ Others think if you are not able, you should not be hunt.
Lawful pursuit – that is clear, with no need for interpretation..
Free ranging –I am not certain about North America, but I gather there are numerous operations where North American big game is taken on properties that are not free ranging in the true sense of the word. As South African PH, Jason Stone recently said on Facebook – it is either free roaming, (ranging) which in Africa means it is Government land, or it is fenced (ranched), and that can be either by the government or privately. One could argue that some species have a home range that could fit many times in a large fenced area, and therefore they are free ranging, or free roaming. I’d agree, but strictly speaking if there is a fence – it is not free, and has to be managed. Even the mighty Kruger National Park, with 2 million hectares has to manage the diversity of species. Because they have let this slip with too many elephant, there are consequential impacts on other species. (Ron Thompson from the True Green Alliance is far better qualified to talk on this subject.) In Africa there are government-controlled free roaming areas, (wilderness areas, concessions and community lands), government-controlled fenced areas (parks, national parks) and then private areas (ranches). Only the last two apply to South Africa.
So every animal, strictly speaking would fall foul of the esteemed B&C criteria. And that goes for the majority of the game in Namibia, too. I can hear the uproar. If a farm is 20 000 hectares (50 000 acres), the sable are definitely free to roam, and that is more than enough space for buffalo to breed, move around, etc. But folks, it is still fenced. And when there is a drought – well we can (and many do) feed their game, especially the high-value ones, give them supplements, or spray them with disinfectant…all of which does not happen in the free-roaming wilderness.
Now the South African hunting fraternity has had at the centre of their squabble, the lion. Whether it is hunted, killed, captive bred, farmed, ranched, drugged, canned, whatever – this king of the African beasts has taken front and centre stage for the professional hunting industry. Ironically, not because of its conservation status, or wellbeing as a species, but because of money, the law and the right to hunt on one side, and public shame and what is ethically right or not, on the other.
For many years, and even now, South African game has had man’s helping hand. Be it the outfitter, or the PHs or the ranch owner, man’s hand was there to help feed, breed, tag the ear, or buy at auctions or nearby farms to stock up levels run low from over shooting on a property that could not sustain a natural population. And this was quite fine and acceptable. And the species could have been kudu, buffalo, sable – you name it. It certainly included the controversial pachyderm – white rhinoceros. Everyone at PHASA was happy with this. The South African taxidermists made their share of the fortune mounting and shipping these beasts, regardless how they were hunted.
The lion, however, with its mythical status has stirred up something quite different. Whether it was the video footage the world has come to see of how a lion acts when it is shot, or the giant PR campaign of Cecil, the fact remains this is one species that, despite the law of South Africa saying it is OK to farm, relocate, and shoot, there is now a faction of Professional Hunters that have said ENOUGH. They quit PHASA en masse.
Not only did they do this, they went publicly via social media to proclaim their stance. They do not want to be part of an association that allows, condones – whatever the word is – that goes along with the laws of South Africa where Panthera leo can be hunted like this. And this is no fringe community. These are some of the Who’s Who of hunting in South Africa, and while standing for your belief is an admirable quality, as many have told me and have admitted publicly, they have a past that has included the shooting of lions that are what we have come to know as CBL – captive-bred lions. They have now formed a new association. Originally Dallas Safari Club was at the forefront of saying they will only accept PHASA members at their show. Now they are going to have to choose one association or the other, or if they allow both, or any hunting association, it means – hey, Dallas is happy with this arrangement. SCI has never been as rigid on this stance – so one can assume nothing will change.
Digressing to the rhino. We all know that the only solution for the rhino’s survival is the farming, harvesting, and trading of their horns. Demand is there (in the East) and will not go away. Naïve, gullible city dwellers think there is another solution, but there is not. Protecting them costs money, and the practice of put and take, farming, hunting on small areas has saved the species. It is one of South Africa’s greatest conservation achievements.
The lion, however, is more complicated. What can be done about this? If there is no hunting of them, and consequently no ranching, or farming of them – the numbers will decline. Fact. Poaching will continue (because of the demand), the cost of keeping them at photo safari camps means we will have a limited number, and then what? Having a ranch rearing this species ensures that the seemingly unquenchable demand is met.
I have on good authority that the demand included this practice being done at the very highest level of Association Presidents who espouse the principles of the Fair Chase that I speak of above. Most importantly, then the species will not be under threat.
But it leaves two areas of contention.
The hunters’ views of each other, and the anti-hunting public’s view of hunters.
Let’s start with the public. While we continue to proudly sit next to a felled elephant, buffalo, kudu, leopard or lion – the feelings from the public will by and large all be the same. So we must not think we will win any favours from the public this way. A lion is a lion – whether ranch-reared in South Africa or hunted over 21 days in the Zambezi Valley, the anti-hunter feels the same. And whether it is a lion or an elephant – and this industry should heed this warning – because after the lion, it could just as well be the giraffe. We have already experienced their venom.
So that leaves the hunters’ views of each other. Why we have to continue the infighting is beyond me. To be running each other’s values, standards or ethics down, when we have such a strong common foe, is madness. If someone has a squeaky-clean past, has never done this type of hunting, or doesn’t engage in ranch-reared hunting – then that is one thing. But if you have a past – and you wish to move on in a new direction – do that, but don’t have a slanging match.
I think what we need to be looking at, is what are acceptable norms and boundaries for ranch-reared animals, in general, including the lion?
What are acceptable forms of breeding, rearing, releasing into an enclosure and then hunting each species? And then start explaining that ear-tagged buffalo, to photos of the prize sable, to hectare-penned in nyala, is all outside the concept of free roaming.
In conclusion – B&C continues on point 5 – Behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted, or the environment.
Animals have been bred to be hunted, whether ranch-reared lions, nyala or buffalo. This leaves one with the age-old personal dilemma: is there dishonour to the hunter?
On day 18, in the Zambezi valley, over bait, you have hunted a male in his prime and head of his pride. Or, on day three, walking the Limpopo bushveld on 500 acres you hunt a beast that was bred to be hunted. Which is less – or more honourable for either the hunted or the hunter?
I am not sure – you have to be the judge.