Trophy hunting has always been a hotly debated issue in conservation circles, but a series of highly publicized canned hunts has brought the conversation to a larger audience. Discussions about the ethical ramifications of big game hunting are happening in every medium available, which is why it was no surprise when the New York Times joined the conversation. Norimitsu Onishi’s article, ‘A Hunting Ban Saps a Village’s Livelihood’ (Sept 12, 2015) is a thoughtful, well-written piece urging its predominantly western audience to consider more than just animal welfare when discussing the practice of trophy hunting. Onishi argues that the end of trophy hunts has negatively impacted communities like Sankuyo, the Botswana village mentioned in the article’s title. Sankuyo’s inhabitants, he writes, have lost interest in conservation because they no longer see economic benefits to it. The end of trophy hunts, Onishi says, does damage to both the people and wildlife of biologically-rich southern Africa. Here at Kedge, we’re inclined to disagree.
As a village in a vacuum, perhaps we could take the story of Sankuyo at face value, but as a representative of a larger picture, it presents a disturbing false dichotomy, namely that trophy hunts are the only way to improve the lives of rural Africans and to get local communities invested in conservation. Villages like Sankuyo, which benefit economically from trophy hunts, are the exception rather than the rule. Hunting tourism is known to be historically corrupt, with very few communities actually receiving the benefits that supporters champion. Furthermore, any benefits such villages do receive come at irregular intervals, and as such are less likely to lead to long-term, positive changes. A comparison between villages like Sankuyo and a comparable village in a country like Kenya, where hunting has been illegal since 1977, is unlikely to show any real difference in critical standard of living areas such as education, life expectancy, or disease burden. The biggest concern, though, is that these communities are hurting themselves by relying entirely on the largess of strangers.
Furthermore, it is a fallacy to believe that a hunting-based economy is better for wildlife. Onishi sites several sources, including a few Sankuyo residents, saying that since the end of trophy hunting, animals are viewed as pests rather than resources to be valued. The implication here is very clear: lions and their ilk are better off being hunted by rich tourists. While there’s a provocative appeal in believing this to be the case, unfortunately the math just doesn’t support the assertion that to save wildlife, we must kill it. Unchecked hunting brought thousands of species to the brink of extinction, the ones that have rebounded were only able to do so because of aggressive conservation efforts, chief among these was outlawing hunting. Lions, for example, have been fortunate enough to move off of the endangered species list entirely, but scientists warn that without significant effort the lion population could fall by as much as 50% in the next two decades. Some species, like the rhinoceros, have not been so fortunate and hover on the verge of extinction.
Kedge was founded because we agree that the most tangible way to highlight the value of wildlife is to frame it in economic success. However, unlike the champions of trophy hunting, who prop up an economic system of dependency and charity, Kedge believes in promoting capacity. By giving our students a basic business education, we are giving them the ability to break into the eco-tourism market and by teaching them about the importance of conservation we ensure they appreciate the economic value of protecting the ecosystem in which they live. Conservation does not have to be a zero sum game, pitting local communities against wildlife. Instead, we believe that the rural residents of south and eastern Africa, where we work, would be better served ensuring their country will not be stripped of natural resources as a result of ill-managed hunting programs.
It is important to acknowledge that this issue is a complex one, and that there is no simple, catch-all answer, which makes the search for alternative solutions to human/wildlife conflicts even more important. We believe emphatically that our model is the one that will do the most amount of good for the people and ecosystems in which we work and we encourage you learn more about what we do. Please take a look around our site, explore in greater depth what we do and where we work, and reach out to us with any questions you might have. If you are interested in helping us please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we have already begun our preparations for Kedge’s 2016 trip to Uganda and we would love to include our supporters in our plans.