A Letter from Professional Hunter Natasha Illum-Berg
July 2014, Volume 12-4

Dear fellow hunters of Africa,

am I the only one who finds it rather arresting that we, as a hunting group, are letting go of this once in a lifetime opportunity to show the outside world that we are conservationists who happen to be hunters (thereby propelling ourselves into the future), as opposed to staying in the role the hunter who only very occasionally does active conservation (thereby asking for a prospect as bright as that of the Dodo)?

By active I am not talking of a bit of anti-poaching, but efforts based on both own experience and willing dialogue with relevant scientists, in the aim of TRULY  looking for balance through hunting and the future of a species, beyond our own comfort levels.

Do you, like I, see where “the hunter” is, from the historical aspect, living in 2014?  Do you hear the clock ticking in this environment full of stubborn hunters who refuse to open up to the world and step in to the light, in the fear of waking up sleeping dogs outside our continent. Don’t you already see the eyes pointing in our direction?

We feel misunderstood. We are misunderstood! We say that we are conservationists. We explain, again and again, that if it had not been for us, nature would suffer huge consequences, certainly on a continent like Africa.  And of course we are right to say this!! But how on earth, pray tell, are we going to make anyone believe this, when, in this, we watch most of the western world fight for the survival of the African elephant, while hunters operating in countries worst hit by this crisis are just fighting to keep elephant hunting open?

I often hear this argument: “but if elephant hunting is closed, the business will suffer somewhat. Some hunting companies will close down and then those areas will be poached to bits.”  I say, if we do not see where we are in history right now and use this amazing opportunity to raise money for anti-poaching and to clean up our name and stand out as conservationists, we will ALL see the end of our hunting lives on this continent, quite soon and ALL those areas will suffer and we will be out of a job. To me it is not really about whether or not we hunt a handful of elephants. Our off-take, as long as the sizes we hunt are sustainable, will not do much to the population. But it is to do where our focus is right now. It is to do with what we are doing to our image right now.

Are we using this world focus to make ourselves understood better? Or are we doing something that will make us even more misunderstood? What are our efforts right now to show that we are the conservationists that we say we are? More importantly, what are we truly doing for conservation? Sitting on huge tracts of the wilds of Africa and saying that its better we are there than not, might be true, but it is not enough anymore. I am not disrespecting the funds hunters have so far put in to anti-poaching, but in the light of the present, we must clearly look for other and stronger ways forward. I do not for one moment believe it is elephant hunting that is going to keep these areas open for hunting and thereby protected, quite the contrary.  What, I think, will give us a few more years to hunt and protect these areas, is if we start standing out as conservationists.

Do you not see who is knocking on the door? Do you not see the money and influence watching? I can tell you the big money and influence does not come from rich hunters overseas.

What is also bad, if we go down like this, we will go down as the dirty people that the outside world always tried to make of us. Let me tell you – I am not going down on a dirty ship like that. Even if I have to take on this entire fight on my own! I am a hunter not only because I love hunting more than anything, but because I truly know that hunting is an amazing conservation tool, when done properly. Let us do it properly then!!!

The crux for company owners in a country like Tanzania, where I operate, is often (and understandably) a fear of putting too much private money in to an area, as it is not known for how long those efforts will be relevant, if the area is suddenly taken over by someone else.  I have therefore, a while ago, suggested to the board that TPHA [note: Tanzanian Professional Hunters’ Association] could create an independent big anti-poaching team, to satellite all the hunting areas of Tanzania. Since TPHA is an independent association it no longer matters who sits in the individual areas. And what about APHA [African Professional Hunters’ Association]? What are they doing on the matter? What are hunters actually doing right now? On the big scale of things, private landowners exempted?

The whole world is watching the hunting areas of Africa right now as the elephant population has gone down rapidly. Why are we not asking for help?  Countries are different. The laws are different. The political environment is different.

But take a country like Tanzania: TPHA could be engaging in fundraising, collective anti-poaching and major information sharing with the scientific community. Instead we are spending this amazing chance to file lawsuits to keep something going that is clearly against the time.

Hunting areas consist of 68% of the entire “wildlife” estate of Tanzania and Tanzania is one of the most important countries for the African elephant on earth.  We have a major responsibility towards the species in our areas and we have a major opportunity to do something good for elephants, indeed for all the fauna and flora, and for our image and future as hunters.

Under the umbrella of TPHA we could put together a strategy and then go out and raise money, do talks, articles in daily newspapers etc. and spread awareness all over the world and do amazing work in the field with scientists who actually generally understand the sustainable use of wildlife. Thereby protecting the areas, the animals and our own future!

This is not only up to your national hunting organizations, your game department or your government. All your individual names are at risk or at glory here. What do you think? Where do you stand? By saying nothing right now, in this point of our history, you are saying an awful lot!

Afterthought:  I am often told by the board of TPHA to not be so emotional about these things. Well, without passion and emotion nothing in history would ever change.