A lot of people love animals. A lot of people hate trophy hunting.
I get it. I really do. For many people, the idea of paying thousands of dollars to kill a magnificent African animal, then pose beside it, is grotesque, immoral — sick even. It’s a completely understandable emotional response. It’s also wrong.
Hunting is vital to the survival of African wildlife. Hunting creates value in the wildlife and its habitat — and only attaching a dollar value to it can make conservation of habitat and wildlife a viable option for the economies of Africa. Legal hunting is, for several reasons, the best antidote to poaching. It puts men in the field who can keep an eye on what’s going on in the bush, and the money it brings in gives locals an economic incentive not to tolerate poachers. It also funds anti-poaching ranger units.
The primacy of the almighty dollar may be an unpleasant reality, but that doesn’t change things on the ground.
CNN is taking on this tricky paradox — the need to kill some wildlife in order for a species to survive and thrive — in a documentary entitled Trophy, airing January 14. The doco is built around a controversial hunt in which a Dallas hunter paid $350,000 for a permit to hunt a black rhino in Namibia. The gigantic fee will go toward habitat preservation and anti-poaching efforts — work that will give the rhinos a shot at survival in the third millennium.
The hunter, Corey Knowlton, of course, received vile death threats (because anti-hunters believe in the sanctity of life, dontcha know…). I wonder how many of those anti-hunting “conservationists” have ever put $350,000 where their mouth is?
Knowlton has faced scathing criticism and death threats as the world reacted to the controversial hunt of one of the world’s most endangered species. Knowlton has spent the last year and a half preparing and planning the hunt that is being highly scrutinized by animal welfare groups around the world.
He agreed to let our CNN crew document the hunt.
“At this point, the whole world knows about this hunt and I think it’s extremely important that people know it’s going down the right way, in the most scientific way that it can possibly happen,” Knowlton said after arriving in Africa….
“I think people have a problem just with the fact that I like to hunt,” Knowlton said. “I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be. I believe in the survival of the species.”
I urge anyone interested in this subject — anyone willing to dig in past Facebook memes — to read the works of Ron Thomson. A trained ecologist and game ranger, a hunter of unsurpassed experience, he understands and beautifully articulates the argument for conservation hunting. The man speaks from deep education, a profound understanding and love for his native Africa — and a level of field experience that it would be impossible to equal in the post-colonial era. His publisher notes that:
He once calculated that he has spent more than 25 000 hours in pursuit of Africa’s elephants, buffaloes and black rhinos; the reckoning being determined ONLY from the time he and his tracker picked up the spoor of the animal he was hunting, to the time he pulled the trigger and killed it (or captured it). That equates to 5.7 years of tracking and shooting big game animals, from dawn to dusk, every day. This does not include the time he has spent hunting predators: stock-killing lions, leopards and hyenas. And it does not include the time he spent getting to the spoor in the morning, and returning to his vehicle after the kill.
Over a seven year period the author captured 140 black rhinos, also using conventional hunting methods – but with only a dart gun in his hands. Furthermore, the weapon was loaded with a single dart filled with drugs that took 30 minutes to bring the rhino to its knees. Even when properly darted, therefore, the rhino had a lot of time to take revenge on the hunter before it became comatose. And there was never a second game ranger with a heavy calibre rifle to back him up. His average darting range in the Zambezi Valley thickets was between 6 and 13 yards. He always went in alone! The author’s accounts of these hunts represent some of the greatest big game hunting stories ever told.
Thomson knows whereof he speaks — and he speaks well, if one is willing to listen. Obviously, he’s a passionate hunter and believes in the value and efficacy of his trade — but I challenge anyone to refute his arguments.
It is difficult — perhaps impossible — for some people to understand that a hunter can love the hunt and the creatures hunted. It’s one of those “if I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand” things. It’s an aspect of the Frontiersman’s Paradox. Whether or not you choose to engage in trophy hunting is a personal choice. I’m ambivalent about it myself. Almost all of my hunting has been of upland birds. I’ve said before, I don’t know that I could shoot an elephant, though the same conservation principles apply to them. If somebody drops a $25,000-$75,000 safari in my lap, I guess I’ll find out.
Not everybody is a hunter and not every hunter is a trophy hunter — and that’s all as it should be. But “that’s not for me” is worlds away from “I don’t like it so it shouldn’t exist!” If you choose to support wildlife conservation by other means, I salute you. But don’t succumb to those who, lacking in understanding, want to ban trophy hunting — they’re hurting Africa, Africans and wildlife.