Recently, there has been heightened interest in the welfare of African wildlife. Many charities and major newspapers like the Guardian and Times, among others, have highlighted the need to save African wildlife. Thanks to social media, new online campaigns – complete with adorable videos of baby elephants rolling in the mud or mountain gorillas nursing their babies – have won over the hearts and minds of just about everyone who has seen them.
The problem, however, is that the campaign to save African wildlife has made it easier for governments in Africa to crack down on indigenous populations, whether evicting them from their ancestral lands or shooting them on sight from helicopters in the name of stamping out poachers (as is the case, sadly, in Botswana).
The reason for this mistreatment is that these indigenous populations, who have been hunters and gatherers on the African plains for millennia, depend on animals such as antelopes for food and medicine. Hunting these animals is part of their traditional lifestyle, so now they are in the crosshairs of wildlife activists and government officials who are attempting to equate them with illegal poachers.
There’s no doubt animal rights need to be taken seriously in Africa (or, for that matter, anywhere in the world). Charitable organizations are to be applauded for their work in preserving animal species in Africa. And stepped-up efforts by governments and activists to crack down on illegal poaching should be intensified.
However, there is a fine line between illegal poachers and the native populations that are banned from their legitimate livelihoods. Sometimes, African tribe members are arrested, tortured and beaten for simply doing what they have been doing for millennia. In other cases, they are evicted from their ancestral lands and ostracized by their own governments. They are treated worse than the poachers the governments should be targeting. In short, there are double standards in enforcing animal rights laws when it comes to Africa.
There is a thin line between poaching and trophy hunting, and that only reinforces the double standard in Africa. Whereas poaching is defined as an act of trespassing (especially on another's game preserve) in order to steal animals or hunt, trophy hunting is the selective hunting of wild game animals, typically paid for with a hefty fee.
To give you an example of how hard it is for many Westerners to differentiate between poaching and trophy hunting, consider the example of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, who is also the president of United for Wildlife. On the one hand, he calls for the end of illegal poaching, even going so far as to suggest that these poachers are using their ill-gotten gains to finance acts of terrorism. On the other hand, however, he has suggested that the trophy hunting of animals could be justified in certain situations.
Thus, Prince William sees nothing wrong with hunting sick or infertile animals in Africa, as long as the fees collected from the hunters can be used as part of broader species conservation efforts. Think about that for a second – that’s as if people from Africa were to come to the UK on vacation to hunt and kill off “old and sick” animals in Britain’s forests.
Trophy hunting in Africa has always held an allure across the globe. There has always been something “gentlemanly” or “macho” about taking home a big game prize. Beginning with the early game hunters during colonial times, the British have been particularly fond of hunting, viewing it as an epic sport pitting man vs. beast.
Sir Winston Churchill, who was also an avid sportsman, writes in “My African Journey” the following:
“The manner of killing a rhinoceros in the open is crudely simple. It is thought well usually to select the neighbourhood of a good tree, where one can be found, as the centre of the encounter. If no tree is available, you walk up as near as possible to him from any side except the windward, and then shoot him in the head or the heart. If you hit a vital spot, as sometimes happens, he falls. If you hit him anywhere else, he charges blindly and furiously in your direction, and you shoot him again, or not, as the case may be.”
These attitudes paved the way for other high-profile big game hunters, such as former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt and author Earnest Hemingway. The African continent, then, has hosted its share of ambitious hunters from the leading nations in the world.
Today some of the wealthiest people on earth are among those that hunt for big game in the wilds of Africa. This list includes Donald Trump Jr., Bob Parsons (CEO of GoDaddy.com) and Spain’s King, Juan Carlos. These multi-millionaires have all taken expeditions for a chance to slay some of the continent’s prized beasts.
Hunting big game in Africa draws the extremely rich because the price tags for bagging any animals can be extremely expensive. In fact, these prices are too expensive for the indigenous population to afford. One could hardly imagine any African tribe – let alone a single tribe member - paying the thousands of dollars required to hunt big game.
Members of the indigenous population, who mainly live a hunter and gatherer lifestyle, have had this lifestyle criminalized, as hunting is made illegal. They are treated as common everyday poachers – or even worse. In some cases, broad sections of the indigenous populations have been moved off their native land in order to create national parks.
One example involves the Batwa people of western Uganda, who have always been forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers. In the 1990s, deep-pocketed business interests and Western-funded conservation agencies combined forces to move the Batwa off their ancestral lands in order to establish the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks for mountain gorillas. The Batwa now experience widespread discrimination from the government and other sectors of society.
Moreover, the Batwa people are prohibited from hunting. They can only exercise this right at a hefty fee, as hunting a giraffe costs about $3,000. The fees and licenses for an elephant can range as high as $70,000, while a license for a black rhinoceros in South Africa can reach $350,000. African governments have no problems with collecting these sizable fees from foreigners, all in the name of tourism.
The number of unjustified evictions continues to rise. This was the case, for example, with an impending eviction of the Masai people in Tanzania. This prompted a social media outcry that eventually halted the sale of the land to Arab “investors.”
And what about the persecuted Samburu people of Kenya? In 2011, they were evicted by a wildlife charity that wanted to set up the Laikipia National Park in Kenya. As a result, there are now 2,000 Samburu families that are forced to squat on the edge of territory that once belonged to them. This was a government land-grab, pure and simple, and the losers are the Samburu people.
It has become quite obvious that Africans don't even have the same rights that are accorded to animals! In some cases, the genocide of Africans is taking place in broad daylight. In Botswana, the government has a “shoot on sight” policy for illegal poachers. That provides a convenient pretext to shoot at the Bushmen of the Kalahari, who have been hunters and gatherers on the African plains for millennia. In some cases, they are being shot at from helicopters, where they have absolutely no chance of defending themselves.
Unfortunately, the travel agencies, businesses and governments that support these types of policies in Africa appear to care only about the profits they intend to make after setting up such parks, having evicted a population that has lived on these lands for centuries and that has now been rendered homeless because of the need to create tourist destinations. This is a clear violation of the human rights of the indigenous people of Africa.
So here’s the real moral conundrum - the whole world is up in arms to save the animals and preserve "tourist destinations" while African communities are being displaced or even being hunted themselves. And there’s no outcry about that!
Sadly, nobody cares about the homeless African as long as the animals have enough room to roam and can be viewed and hunted for fun. As the celebrity Chris Rock once pointed out sarcastically, only in America do people go hunting on a full stomach as a form of sport. In the rest of the world, it is a matter of everyday survival.
It is impossible to see justice, respect or consistency in enforcement of animal rights in Africa when you have laws outlining when and how to hunt in total disregard of the people that have lived there for thousands of years. This is the destruction of an entire way of life, all in the name of profits and economic opportunity.
The law essentially hands an outsider – usually a foreigner from a different continent - a permit and a gun and allows them to shoot animals for a hefty fee, yet the indigenous people can't even hunt for dinner? What happened to the right to eat? It’s not possible to fish because they need a $1,000 permit?
Granted, there are some complexities here. The natives do realize that there’s a lucrative market for these animals – especially their teeth, tusks and skin - and thus they may be tempted to hunt animals that they never harmed in the past. The only crime they committed was not having a “license to kill” like their European counterparts.
No indigenous people can afford those hefty fees that the poaching laws have imposed on their livelihoods. Poaching from indigenous populations has never been a big problem, as most African tribes don’t eat giraffe and lion. Instead, they eat deer, wild boar, buffalo and other small animals. At the same time as Africans are denied the right to hunt for animals, African governments are handing out licenses to kill the animals for sport! Just how irresponsible can these governments be?
Moreover, some tourism agencies in Africa have the audacity to claim that the selective killing of some animals is “good for wildlife.” More precisely, the selective killing of some animals is “good for business.” According to the New York Times, an average of about 200 lions are shot a year, generating about $1.96 million in revenue for Tanzania. These revenues then are used to build hotels and buy safari cars and pay the salaries of guides. In the meantime, the indigenous people have lost their land and any rights to it.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), trophy hunting in Africa is a multi-million-dollar industry. Revenues from hunting generate tens of millions of dollars annually in remote rural areas of Africa. But do these revenues actually impact the lives of those living near the game park?
Moreover, why it is okay for the wealthiest to engage in big game sport but not for the indigenous population to hunt for their food? What’s more, even the argument that trophy hunting is somehow good for conservation comes up short when the nonprofit organization Safari Club International hosts contests for members to kill particular species of animals to win so-called “Grand Slam” and “Inner Circle” titles.
The list of macabre “contests” includes those that target Africa’s “Big Five” – the lion, the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros. There are 29 awards in all, and in order to win all of them, at the highest level, a hunter would have to kill 322 animals of different species or subspecies. So why is it that a certain group of people is given permission to kill up to 322 species, take glorious selfies and celebrate their kills by sharing those bloody moments on social media?
The silence from animal rights activists and tourism agencies in Africa is deafening - not a word from the tourism industry is heard condemning such efforts and the laws that put a price on human lives in exchange for lucrative tourism deals.
It’s quite a relief to know that many African countries now have a ban on trophy hunting. Uganda and Kenya banned this practice in the 1970s due to fears about extinction. More recently, Zambia and Botswana have also banned trophy hunting.
As recently as 2013, the African lion was declared an endangered species after research revealed that the lion population had almost been cut in half. Who is to blame for this? Not the Africans. According to National Geographic, the Americans are primarily to blame: “Approximately 60 percent of all lions killed for sport in Africa are shipped to the U.S. as trophies.”
What’s happening in Africa now would not be possible without permission from African governments, which allow such practices to continue. This is a clear double standard. If the indigenous African populations are not allowed to hunt for survival purposes, then it’s simply unconscionable that wealthy big game hunters would be allowed to hunt for sport. There’s only one obvious solution: a flat out ban on killing animals by both locals and foreigners.