October 2015, Volume 13-5

A recent on-line debate of conservationists and sustainable use experts made me pen down this editorial – and I drew heavily on the contributions of the discussants.

The paradigm of the animal rights movement consists of a heady mix in which the belief that stripping wildlife of all tangible values will save it, is one important component, and the manipulation of the well-meaning empathy of the average human for individual animals the other one. To reach their objective this movement uses huge public propaganda budgets, which in turn mobilize millions of followers to regularly spread their often convoluted messages in a flurry of effective political lobbying and social media campaigning. Those who know and practice conservation recognize that the animal rights groups are increasingly and blatantly dishonest by distorting, ignoring and misinterpreting available science and even hard facts; nevertheless they appear to be winning the debate.

Hunting has become one of “their” main targets – it is opposed with claims that it is anachronistic, unsustainable and immoral or unethical. In this recent debate of sustainable use experts one participant said that “they” attend all the important meetings, all the rallies, and appear to be constantly lobbying. In the meantime sustainable use experts and advocates sit back, confident that science and facts will speak for themselves – when in reality they don’t. As a conclusion, this participant believed that sustainable use advocates do need to be fronting up and presenting our case face-to-face, because that’s what “they” are doing. I interpret in this context WE as sustainable use practioners in general and hunters as one component of the “sustainable use side” in particular.

Another discussant added that the important issue is not “how” we are able or not able to argue the potential benefits of sustainable use [and hunting] but more “what” we are saying – i.e. the message. She added that “we need to be really cognizant and honest that it is not only our delivery (or our hindered ability to deliver the message) but also that the message itself is not palatable and seemingly becoming less so.”

I paraphrase the remarks of another discussant: “Hiring a few articulate scientists will not be enough to counter the animal rights behemoth. We need to reach the ear of the media and the public, and through them the politicians. You can give scientific facts to politicians until you’re blue in the face, but without public support they rarely act in a constructive way for conservation.”

The movie Blood Lions has been aired in the United States South Africa and elsewhere. Most of the movie’s message condemns captive breeding and canned hunting of lion. I suggest that all decent hunters will subscribe to ostracizing canned shooting. However, the producers of the documentary could not resist discrediting and attaching a stigma to all hunting. Maybe they felt the pressure of previous own actions and decided to ride the bandwagon of the recent tsunami of public outcries against all forms of hunting to act this way. Yet a succinct piece of information on the producers contains a certain irony: Producer Pippa Hankinson sits on the board of the Global White Lion Protection Trust, an organization which spends most of its donor funds on captive-bred lions. The documentary makes it very clear that captive bred lions have no conservation value. Yet somehow Mrs. Hankinson does not apply this to her own white pets.

This movie and the Zimbabwean lion case have clearly shown that expressive human voices go a lot further than a few scientific facts lingering in obscure peer-reviewed journals. We need to find the financial resources and the philanthropic support of foundations, smart billionaires and whatever to package the messages of sustainable utilization and with it the conservation contributions of sustainable and regulated hunting in a way the public can understand and find acceptable. We need to do this aggressively and fast in order to counter the gobbledygook the AR faction is presenting and to front up in the dire situation and the potential and real threats to biodiversity and conservation.

AR NGOs do little else but produce media propaganda. They have dozens of experts designing and cranking out campaigns through mailings, websites and social media. They organize well-publicized marches and get celebrities to lend fame and face in TV ads and public statements.

If this attack on sustainable utilization [and hunting] is not faced and won in the court of public opinion, wildlife and habitats will disappear very much quicker than anyone has yet predicted, said another discussant. The people who live with wildlife will not put up with the costs with no benefits as compensation.

The key to a solution are sustained, strategically targeted, well-resourced science-based messages, documentaries, school programs, publications and articles understandable to the proverbial “man or women in the street, expert participation in popular talk shows, etc. The only obstacle in rolling these out is our failure to find and globally pool adequate financial resources, and on occasion, petty institutional jealousies.

I paraphrased an important remark of Robert Kenward of the European Sustainable Use Group of the IUCN: Some of the more rational members of the opposition will agree that wildlife that competes with other land use forms is unlikely to survive in the longer term as a priceless, but paradoxically, commercially valueless asset. We need to enter into a constructive dialogue with them to plan for win-win outcomes that improve hunting regulations, promote best practice in hunting and animal welfare, engage local communities and encourage coexistence with natural systems.

There are card carrying members of the flat earth society sitting on both sides of the fence – they certainly will not be willing to dialogue. “But there are also many of goodwill out there who are ready to define a compromise that will lead to a sustainable mission accomplished”, Robert Kenward said.

I fully concur with Robert Kenward that there seems to be a need for outreach through the multilingual communication of very simple messages, based on good peer-reviewed research, collated for practical application via broadcast [and social] media, and through communication of messages with a little more meat from good research via special web-sites. This needs to be done on a country by country (or perhaps culture by culture) basis in order to shine idiomatically.

The large hunting and conservation associations of the world, the different North American clubs, the European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation (FACE), the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) as well as all the respective national associations and clubs need to recognize the immense challenge sustainable use is facing, and with it our valued traditions and passion for sustainable hunting. There is a host of potential allies out there – may our leaders rise to the challenge.

Editorial by Gerhard R. Damm