Conservation Imperative

SCIENTISTS FUNDED BY TROPHY HUNTERS?

What follows below is a rebuttal by Dr. Chris Brown, from the Namibian Chamber of Environment to an article in the U.K. Times which accuses scientists of being secretly funded by trophy hunters.

I am one of the scientists who signed the letter published in Science about a ban on import of hunting trophies putting threatened animals more at risk. I stand by everything in that letter, which provides a fair and honest explanation of the positive role of trophy hunting in conservation in my own country, Namibia.

What followed from parts of the established media, e.g. the Times on Friday 25 October 2019 (Funding secret of scientists against hunt trophy ban) was anything but fair and honest.

This report and others try to discredit the validity of the arguments by making false claims that the scientists and conservationists involved are being influenced through funding from the hunting fraternity.

This attempt at distraction from the real issue, and the anti-hunting ideological stance taken by some mainstream purportedly balanced and impartial media houses, both require a robust response.

At the outset I should disclose that I am not a hunter or ever have been, I am a conservation scientist with some 40 years’ experience in Southern Africa, I am a vegetarian and I (and my organisation) receive no funding, nor have we ever, from the hunting fraternity.

Distraction by attempts at discrediting:

The Times (and other) reports imply that the lead authors of the letter were hiding financial links with the trophy hunting industry. These allegations are completely false. The authors have always been completely open and transparent about their interests and affiliations, including with Science.

Their financial links with trophy hunting organizations are tiny to non-existent, and are certainly no stronger than their equivalent links with, say, photo-tourism organizations. The letter was signed by more than 100 independent scientists like myself, who are well aware of the track record and integrity of the lead authors.

The implied allegations against them would equally imply that either we are all also under the influence of the hunting fraternity – signatories for sale – or that we sign any letter doing the rounds without knowing the people involved or the subject matter.

This is not the case.

We have great respect for the track records and professionalism of all the lead authors and they have our full support.

Furthermore, any suggestion that the conclusions of our letter are invalid because of perceived conflicts of interests is fundamentally incorrect.

Researchers work with – and often receive grants from – a wide diversity of funders with very different beliefs on a range of topic. However, this should not even come into the debate, as we do not accept funding with strings attached and our conclusions are always based on evidence.

The case of trophy hunting contributing to conservation:

Those of us working in Southern Africa are well aware of the important role that hunting in all its forms, including trophy hunting, plays in wildlife conservation in our region.

We also recognize that this is something that people living in western urban societies find difficult to understand as, from some perspectives, it seems counter-intuitive – I will explain why it is not in fact counter-intuitive, but how it is spun by anti-hunting groups to appear so.

Yet it is this lack of understanding amongst the western urban population that anti-hunting activist find easy to exploit with simplistic emotional messages and images.

Those countries in Africa that pursue a rights-based, sustainable use approach to wildlife management that includes hunting have a higher density of wildlife than those that have adopted a protectionist approach.

This is a simple fact.

The sustainable-use countries tend to have stable to increasing wildlife populations, including iconic species such as elephants and rhinos, while the protectionist anti-hunting countries, with no exceptions I am aware of, have declining populations.

Two clear examples – Namibia has seen a 6-fold increase in wildlife across the country over the past 50 years, Kenya has seen a more than 50% decline.

Second, anti-hunting countries in Africa have their wildlife confined largely to national parks. These become isolated “islands” of wildlife with declining biodiversity.

Sustainable-use countries have a large part, even a majority, of their wildlife outside of national parks, on private and communal lands, thereby creating wildlife landscapes, providing buffer zones around national parks, creating corridors and protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services.

In the case of Namibia, some 90% of wildlife is outside national parks because the land owners and land custodians want it on their land and look after it – because it is a source of income.

Third, wildlife is a highly competitive form of land use. In arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of Africa where national wildlife policy devolves rights and responsibilities over wildlife to local land owners and custodians, wildlife-based economies outperform domestic livestock (and keep in mind that this area is too dry for cropping).

Market forces are working in favor of wildlife. This is good for wildlife numbers, biodiversity conservation, and landscape-linked ecosystem services. It is also important for climate adaptation and mitigation – wildlife is better adapted to low rainfall, heat and drought than domestic animals.

But for wildlife to be competitive across large areas, land owners and custodians need to access all parts of the wildlife economy – tourism (where this is possible), meat production, live sale of surplus high value wildlife and trophy hunting.

Tourism cannot substitute for hunting.

Take hunting out of the equation, and large areas under wildlife will revert to domestic stock. Farmers will then get rid of the wildlife as it competes for grazing with their cattle.

Many people see hunting as being very similar to poaching – the animal dies in both cases.

This is clearly a very simplistic and faulty perception. Poaching is wildlife theft with no consideration or vested interest in sustainable population management.

As a result, it often decimates wildlife populations. By contrast, hunting is a legitimate form of harvesting of surplus animals with incentives for responsible and sustainable population management.

The result of good wildlife management is stable or growing wildlife populations. It is comparable to cattle rustling (which is cattle theft) and cattle farming which is the legitimate, responsible and sustainable production of cattle for market.

It is comparable to shoplifting and shopping. The first in each case is unlawful as it undermines productive, orderly and sustainable businesses and the very fabric of society.

The unlawful activity, in every case, puts in no investment, no management and takes no responsibility. By contrast, the legal businesses require significant investment, management skills, marketing, responsibility and rely on a long-term sustainable business model.

When urban society thinks about domestic livestock production (where cattle go to market, to the abattoir and where they are slaughtered and turned into neat packaged cuts on the supermarket shelf) they recognise that, under a rights-based approach, the farmer will breed up his/her herd and send the surplus animals to market.

In countries that have a large demand for beef, there will be many cows, large areas under cattle farming, and many cows being slaughtered for meat.

The slaughter of cows for meat in a well-regulated country with policies to support producers and reasonable law-and-order does not threaten the status of cows – it actually encourages farmers to expand their herds, manage for greater production, etc.

More demand = more animals.

Yet as soon as the subject moves from cattle to wildlife, these accepted market principles are thrown out the window and anti-hunting groups juxtapose hunting and poaching.

They never juxtapose livestock production and stock theft in an effort to close down cattle farming; they never juxtapose shopping and shoplifting in an effort to close down shopping malls and stop us all shopping.

They know the situation.

They are fully aware that wildlife in Africa is threatened by poaching and land transformation – the very causes that responsible, market incentivised wildlife management counters so effectively.

They are very aware that trophy hunting in properly regulated settings has a feedback loop to enhanced wildlife populations – and this applies also to the high profile species such as elephants and rhinos.

But they are not interested in true conservation outcomes.

Anti-hunting is their business model – it attracts much funding from well-meaning but uninformed people in urban western society and it gives the animal rights activists a very good living – and be dammed about the conservation consequences.

And this is the bandwagon that some politicians and some of the media are now joining.

In conclusion, these false allegations are intended to discredit reputable scientists and to distract from the logic and evidence of the real situation on the ground.

This is not how conservation debates should happen – we should be able to discuss different views respectfully, and should not tolerate or perpetuate any attacks on scientists for stating their views.

This media campaign could well be interpreted as an attempt to silence the voices of many well-respected conservationists, scientists and community representatives, who highlight the valid point that banning trophy hunting without better alternatives in place is likely to make things worse for conservation, animal welfare and local livelihoods.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Chris Brown.

Namibia Chamber of Environment.

Link to the original article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/…/funding-secret-of-scientists-a….