Austin Farley (Facebook)
Dear Michael Gove,
My name is Austin Farley and I am a wildlife management student in the United States. It is unlikely that you will read this letter; but for the sake of wildlife conservation everywhere, I at least have to make the effort. I have to inform you that your views on trophy hunting and wildlife conservation in general are extremely dangerous to several species.
Like yourself, hunters also care deeply for wildlife. This respect, compassion, and love for wildlife is the reason that hunters protect more habitat worldwide than the national parks system, 25% more habitat on the African continent alone! Hunters also personally fund several anti-poaching units to prevent the cruelty and abuse that poachers cause to wild animals through their gin traps, snares, spike traps, poison darts, and dogs.
Hunters also provide more revenue per capita for conservation projects than any other group. A study done in the Timbavati Game Reserve in 2016, for example, showed that 46 hunters provided 3x more revenue for the protected area than 24,000 tourists. This means that in order to boot out all of the hunters like you desire to do, you would need 72,000 tourists in a single year or you need to put more strain on tourists by charging them much more to tour. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that 72,000 people leave a far larger carbon and environmental footprint than 46 people do.
Another extremely dangerous thing to do is treat what you call “iconic” species as a priority over others. Elephants are a good example. In Southern Africa, elephants are considered overpopulated in many countries and are causing the declines of several species of baobab trees, acacia trees, songbirds, etc. Due to the destruction of sensitive forests with no opportunity of regrowth due to constant pressure from the pachyderms. Why isn’t the elephant problem being managed? Because elephants are more “iconic” and “charismatic” to people in the U.S and U.K than some dull trees and nameless birds. Prioritizing a species that you think is appealing to the eye over the entire ecosystem will not only lead to a loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation, but it will cause a collapse in the populations of the iconic species in the long-term. The great elephant die-off of Tsavo is a perfect example of this kind of tragedy.
You mention your ban on ivory in passing, and as well-intentioned as you may be, the ban won’t help solve the ivory poaching problem that we have and only exacerbates it. We have already gone through this line of logic, ban this object and it will go away. It has happened with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, rhino horn, and now it is happening with ivory. How did these bans work out? A degree in history isn’t required to know that they ended in the opposite way than desired. They created black market king pins like Al Capone, El Chapo, Pablo Escobar, the Ivory Queen, and the various Chinese and Vietnamese sponsored poaching syndicates across the world. Violent crime increased, poaching increased, and use in the products increased. The only way to reduce elephant poaching is a regulated and legal ivory trade coupled with demand reduction campaigns. Continuing with failed bans hoping that they work is nothing short of insanity.
You mention ethical concerns that you have with the practice, and I feel that it is much to common that we mistake our personal discomforts and distaste for things with actual normative ethics theories. I argue that trophy hunting is ethical through the normative ethics theories known as Deontological ethics and Consequentialism ethics. Deontological ethics are otherwise referred to as duty-based ethics. As the apex species of this Earth, it is our duty to manage wildlife populations in a way that benefits both of us. Consequentialism ethics are a basis that if all or most of the consequences are beneficial to all parties involved, it is ethical. Properly regulated trophy hunting causes the increase of wildlife populations, protects habitat, provides jobs, funds conservation projects, provides recreation opportunities, benefits communities, and feeds families. The wildlife, communities, outfitters, government, and hunter all benefit from the exchange. Therefore, according to Consequentialism ethics, trophy hunting is an ethical activity.
You make a claim that trophy hunters “don’t kill for food or to control populations but only for entertainment” yet none of the meat is wasted and populations are kept in check or stimulated to increase depending on the management plan. So according to Consequentialism, how does the motive matter at all other than personally offend you? You have every right to find the motive of someone distasteful, but you must understand that it isn’t your duty to dictate that others live their lives how you want them to. Does the determination for sustenance really justify the hunt? Does the source of all morality originate from our stomachs? When I am told that “hunting for food is ok but trophy hunting isn’t”, I wonder if they are aware that the Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, Pinta Island Tortoise, Great Auk, Irish Stag, Steller’s Sea Cow, Labrador Duck, Moa, Elephant Bird, and Caribbean Monk Seal were all hunted to extinction for the sole purpose of sustaining a desire to eat. But were these extinctions ok because “they were hunted for food”. According to actual ethics, this would not be the case.
I strongly urge you to please listen to organizations that have a scientific credibility such as the IUCN and other organizations that have warned you against banning trophy imports instead of listening to opportunist animal rights groups who have their own agenda as the priority and not conservation. The IUCN has produced many peer reviewed research papers that outline specifically the benefits and drawbacks of hunting. “Informing decisions on trophy hunting” is a paper that I encourage you to read and understand.
Another thing that you choose to attack is Game Ranching, which has been the key factor in the conservation of many species including but not limited to: Addax antelope, Aoudad, Arabian Oryx, Barasingha Deer, Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Bontebok, Mountain Bongo, Dama Gazelle, Formosan Sika Deer, Thai Eld’s Deer, Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, Indian Hog Deer, Nubian Ibex, Nile Lechwe, Red Lechwe, Pere David’s Deer, Scimitar Horned Oryx, Nubian Wild Ass, and the Grevy’s Zebra.
If you were to ban hunting on game ranches, you would greatly impact the conservation of the above species for the worst and reduce many of their populations from anywhere between 30% to 99%.
You also pose the question of whether countries would do better with only tourism and a ban on hunting. The good news is that you already have the examples of Kenya, India, and Brazil. The bad news is, all of them are utter failures to wildlife conservation. Kenya has lost between 60% to 80% of its large wildlife populations since the 1977. India has lost 50% of its wildlife and 80% of its suitable habitat since 1973. And Brazil continues to lose wildlife and be deforested. Every single country to have banned hunting is losing wildlife at an alarming rate. The reason for this is simple, the animals do not have a tangible value to those that live with them.
I understand that you may find trophy hunting distasteful and that you will never participate in the activity. But please don’t let your personal emotions compromise the delicate balance that we have to maintain in the uphill battle that we call wildlife conservation.