October 2015, Volume 13-5

By now most hunters have become aware of the fact that due to the unfortunate coincidence of illegal international trafficking in wildlife products and ill-advised anti-hunting campaigns, a serious crisis for trophy hunting has arisen. So much so, that it might well be a question of all hunting coming to an end, if – and this seemingly is the important underlying lesson only to be learned the hard way – the so-called hunting industry is not able to shrink into convalescence.

Several opinions were voiced lately, amongst them the accusation that hunters, although having been warned about this, have done nothing to create a united front against fanatic anti-hunting activists. This cannot be left standing; the issue is much more complex.

If there is one reproach that can be laid on the doorsteps of hunters (and I mean those true hunters) then it is that they failed to properly justify their doings emotionally. Fanatics at all times needed the hotbed of unhealthy conditions for their campaigns. And hunters certainly were unable to dissociate themselves from the amalgamation with the “abusers” of the sustainable use principle.

There is much talk about “winning the hearts and the minds of society”. However, and this is the crux of the matter, the clever technocrats totally seem to forget that emotions (the hearts) are an immensely strong factor – ultimately perhaps the strongest force – in opinion forming. In the late 1980s there perhaps was an intermediate high stage for our case, after pioneers like Dr. Heribert Kalchreuter (Die Sache mit der Jagd – The thing about the hunt: perspectives for the future of hunting) and others had explained sustainable human off-take within the correct context of natural connotations. In their wake followed many dedicated experts, who have made the “principle of sustainable use” widely accepted. For the open-minded general public and nature-loving hunters alike at that time it went without saying that this “principle of sustainable use” meant “respectful, moderate, circumspect use”. There thus was this intermediate high, when the hearts and ears of the open-minded public at least were open for our case. But what has become from it?

Unfortunately the well-founded and well-meant “principle of sustainable use of natural resources” to a considerable extent has become a matter of “sustainable abuse of natural resources”. Zauberlehrlinge[1] who, typical of human nature and for reasons of greed, have run astray not only with generally accepted standards of ethical hunting, but with the important ecological and nature conservation linkage of the sustainable use principle; financial aspects totally overriding any moral considerations, besmearing the image of trophy hunting and putting a big question mark over the true motives of trophy hunters and totally losing the hearts of the general public in the process.

“Captive bred lion hunting” or, to even top it, the “artificial breeding of color variants and outsized trophies for the hunting industry” are the most unacceptable practices that developed under the guise of “wise use”. Sadly enough too many people who should have known better, have lend their ears and their voices to these practices. I cannot agree to the notion that the “only group that counts are the fanatics”. The group that counts is the open minded general public. If we for once just would learn that only with a well balanced approach of comprehensible facts and acceptable emotions the hearts and minds of society can be won.

The present ban on the transportation of hunting trophies by various airlines is directly linked to the worldwide concern about the illegal trafficking in wildlife products, most notably rhino horn – a concern that we hunters certainly share wholeheartedly. Unfortunately the disturbing truth is that rogue professional hunters have been directly linked to the horrible rhino poaching, and rogue outfitters indirectly linked to the illegal trafficking of rhino horn. Fact is also that Campaign Against Canned Hunting CACH is actively promoting the ban. Whatever the ultimate aim of CACH might be, typically this movement uses the leverage of an unacceptable practice, to support their case and rally up emotions [editor’s note: see also Blood Lions – The Movie].

Let us be a bit practical. The general public is stricken with dismay about the constant bad news of rhino and elephant poaching getting totally out of control. Let’s rather have some understanding for a momentary overreaction born out of utter powerlessness, instead of polarizing and accusing all around us of a mysterious conspiracy with the anti-hunting lobby, thereby heaving the fanatics into an importance they do not have.

Still, most decision makers, just like the general public, listen to reason if approached in a measured way. Nevertheless we face an imminent crisis, a make it or break it situation. What is at stake is not the financially lucrative side of an industry … it is hunting that is at stake. It is high time that we hunters for once take our fate into our own hands and distance ourselves from unacceptable practices and explain ourselves well as the nature lovers and conservationist that indeed we are; instead of having our case tabled by technocrats who too easily motion away valuable human qualities like empathy and mindfulness as “just some emotions”. For once those breeders, dealers and rogue outfitters, who, for greed alone, have commandeered the honest intentions of the sustainable use principle and ethical hunting standards, should step back. Stewart Dorrington has explained that well in his deliberations on “Hunting and Game Breeding” in the one of the 2015 issues of African Indaba.

The art of survival largely depends on adaptability to changing circumstances and environments (changing times and growing awareness in our case). Instead of the ever-the-same “money counts” strategy of the last two decades, which in no way could stop our slow decline, we perhaps should adapt a bit and redefine trophy hunting as to suit such important human traits as growing empathy and circumspection. Perhaps it is time to more adequately speak of “sustainable off-take of natural resources within healthy eco-systems” or even of “sustainable human participation in nature”. Because unspoiled nature as such is the one commodity that clearly is hugely desirable for many humans, not human “use” and “abuse” and “manipulation” of nature.

Hunting on the long run can never survive in the loud, money-driven, competitive “Wildlife Industry Form” it has grown into. In its pure, honest, respectful and original form, however, it could be a hugely important supplement to a general conservation strategy – very much to the advantage of the protection of last fragments of unspoiled nature. And that, after all, is what mankind wants.

Hunting as such – and unspoiled nature it can help protect – is just too dear to me. I have a strong feeling that it is time to cut old plaits. The principle of adding “value to wild animals” has not proven itself – it is just too prone to abuse, and with that creating the hotbed for fanatics. We should sit back and open-mindedly consider admitting that wild animals have aesthetic values alone. That their value lies in their unconditional belonging to nature humanity would like to protect. We should get away from the “killing animals for money” perception. Nature’s laws as such are easily explained. Surely we hunters do not kill environments, rather the contrary. The “value of the privilege to hunt” is what explains our case much more appropriate. To put it in plain, practical terms: the “daily fee” for being able to hunt in natural surroundings is the hugely powerful value that supports our case of contributing towards ecologically sound conservation – not the value of the individual animal to be shot; its value is only in being part of a bigger, healthy concept.

[1] The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Author: Kai-Uwe Denker