Dear XXXX: I want to thank you for being so forthright in your feelings about hunting elephants. As you probably well know, most of us who are serious about hunting, are also very serious about conservation. I have often asked non-hunters or anti-hunters this question: “Why would hunters ever want to exterminate a specie? That is the end of the sport we love.”
So to the contrary, we try to help species multiply. We do by paying for licenses and by making donations and by paying excise taxes on our sporting purchases. I am sure you — as well as most hunters –already know all of this. And most of us take great pride in the comeback of the deer, the elk, the turkeys etc. We know that our hunting money has really helped, and continues to help wildlife-big time.
I have hunted Africa a number of times. I have hunted Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique etc. And I read a lot- and by a lot I mean that for the last 50 years of my life I have read an average of 20 magazines a month, every month, running to tens of thousands of pages, plus many books on hunting. I have been hired to give expert testimony on hunting issues in federal and State Courts. I have dealt for 16 years with African hunts and African citizens and African safaris. So I think I have some expertise on the value of hunting as it relates to conservation in that country.
Realize please that Africa is just like the US — in that hunters money funds conservation over there too. But it is often a very direct link in Africa. In the US the money usually gets funneled thru government organizations and NGO’s, whereas in Africa it often goes directly to the local villages and communities. It also goes to the safari companies, who typically may employ 15 to 30 locals per camp. And their wages are far above the norm for the area. A local benefit.
Elephants have two problems, and neither one is related to legal hunting of them. Problem #1 is poaching. People are poor, and some are greedy. I read the article deploring the wanton killing and loss of elephants(thank you for that by the way). I believe it supports my views on what the problems really are. Here is a key quote:
In northern Botswana, the Linyanti river’s proximity to Namibia’s Caprivi Strip — a thin finger-like stretch of the country just 30 kilometers (18 miles) wide in parts — makes it an ideal target for gangs of poachers. “Poachers can act with impunity here, because there is nothing blocking their movements,” explains Chase. “These borders are open to wildlife, and within a matter of minutes [they] can be in three different countries.”
I noted that most of the article discussed poaching, which in many areas is out of control. Now, having hunted many of the countries discussed in that piece, here is what I know and have seen. Take Mozambique. A good safari operation there pays for, equips, finances and directs anti-poaching patrols. They spend many tens of thousands of dollar to do so- and it works. I have seen the result first hand. Now- realize if that if hunting were banned ( as happened in Botswana to elephant hunting)- all of those valuable poaching patrols are gone. Poachers now have full run of the forest, with no controls. The decline in Botswana ellephants was predicted by a number of conservation and safari organizations who understood that patrolling the concessions hunted – would disappear on the day the season was closed.
Also realize that in many areas, the funds gained from a safari done on communal lands, means money gets paid for the rights to hunt- much like when we lease land to deer hunt. The community covets that money, so now if a few crop raiding ellies hit them, they likely leave them alone as those animals (where there is legal hunting)– are money in their pocket, which is often more useful then some lost crops. Money they desperately need.
And the meat is ALWAYS donated to the villages, who often are desperate for fresh meat. I have seen them hacking a rotten elephant apart to capture all the meat- and we could smell it from a half mile away! So where there is legal safari hunting nothing goes to waste; the elephants then have a real monetary value to the locals, plus the poaching patrols protect the herds, and the locals have no reason to want to eliminate them. If run properly, the Safari system works to protect and enhance conservation efforts.
So it is clear that poaching is one of the biggest problems, but the really big problem in Africa is birth control. Many of the women will have 4 to 8 children, children they depend on in their old ages to feed, clothe and look after them as they age. They need those big families. The rate of human expansion in Africa is off the chart. Elephant habitat is disappearing fast- and it multiplies upon itself. Here is a quote from the Dec 12, 2015 Economist (www.economist.com
“Alarmingly, population growth in Africa is not slowing as quickly as demographers had expected. In 2004 the UN predicted that the continent’s population would grow from a little over 900 million at the time, to about 2.3 billion in 2100. At the same time it put the world’s total population in 2100 at 9.1 billion, up from 7.3 billion today. But the UN’s latest estimates, published earlier this year, have global population in 2100 at 11.2 billion—and Africa is where almost all the newly added people will be. The UN now thinks that by 2100 the continent will be home to 4.4 billion people, an increase of more than 2 billion compared with its previous estimate. If the new projections are right, geopolitics will be turned upside-down. By the end of this century, Africa will be home to 39% of the world’s population, almost as much as Asia, and four times the share of North America and Europe put together.”
I did a quick bit of on-line research to see birth rates by country and here are a few:
US: 13 births per thousand people
UK: 12 births
Tanzania: 37 births
Mozambique 39 births
Zambia 42 births.
These birth rates may ultimately cost Africa much of its wildlife by loss of habitat, and that includes elephants who require vast open lands to roam and feed in. Sport hunting cannot help with that massive population problem- and no solution exists at this time except to try and educate the local inhabitants. But as long as they need those big families to support them in their elder years- the growth will continue, and all the game will ultimately lose out.
But for the time being, the Safari company anti-poaching patrols and payments to the local communes do help; however we desperately need to figure out how to stop the huge population explosion and resultant loss of habitat.
Meantime, we know that the safari system benefits elephants by furnishing protection from poaching. And of course, local populations are monitored closely and concessions can be closed if elephant populations decline drastically. Safari companies know that and it spurs on the anti-poaching patrols.
Also know that certain areas in Africa have far too many elephants for their limited habitat. Elephants knock over and kill trees to feed, often meaning the literally eat away their protection. So they are forced to move into native areas and conflicts ensue, and elephants will ultimately lose. It requires intensive management to balance herd reduction with human encroachment.
Not a happy situation, but for the time being the safari companies are the elephants best friend. Stopping the legal hunting of elephants means stopping the anti-poaching patrols- and elephants and other game loses.
I hope this attempt to explain the situation is helpful. Best wishes.