Longtime Conservation Partner Robin Hurt Warns of Inappropriate Reaction to Cecil Incident
Zimbabwe wildlife regulations and laws are not familiar to me. But, in all other countries I have operated in, the professional hunter is responsible for his client’s actions. Nevertheless, I was deeply upset to hear about the demise of a lion named Cecil, a study lion equipped with a GPS collar around his neck, at the hands of an overseas client on safari with a Zimbabwe professional hunter. I was upset that a hunter could be uncaring enough to shoot a known study lion and hope to get away with it. I was upset because it made all hunters look evil in the eyes of many. I was upset because this was a case of seemingly unethical hunting causing unfair worldwide condemnation of legal hunting as a whole.
I can't give further opinion on Zimbabwe game laws as I have never operated there. However, if on investigation the law is found to have been broken, then the Zimbabwe Wildlife Department should prosecute the perpetrators to the full extent of the law.
Some consideration at this time needs to be given to the benefits to wildlife conservation from proper, ethical licensed use of wildlife and not to tar all hunters and wildlife managers with the same brush as those who willingly break wildlife laws.
All too often well meaning people who don't understand the issues involved try to dictate to Africans on wildlife matters without any consideration to African requirements from this resource, any consideration of the heavy financial cost of wildlife conservation to Africans, any consideration of the conservation and management benefits that the role of safari hunting plays, or any consideration of the heavy cost of setting aside land for wildlife at the expense of other forms of land use such as agriculture.
Wildlife and wild places need to be self-supporting financially, whether through photographic or hunting safaris. It is not possible to make all wilderness areas into fully protected National Parks, so viable sources of income for non-protected areas need to be found to encourage its stewardship. Legitimate safari hunting is one such source. Buffer zones surrounding protected core areas, such as hunting blocks, concessions or private land, are essential to survival of the core; to allow wild animals room to migrate.
This is all of utmost importance to human communities living on a day-to-day basis with wild animals in the wilderness - they must benefit from sustainable wildlife use if they are to be encouraged to look after this resource outside of national parks and protected areas.
Simply put, legal hunting is a management tool strictly controlled by quota offtakes set by respective wildlife departments (and in some cases by CITES, the international regulatory body responsible for international permits). Wildlife, just like domestic animals, must be managed, when populations warrant this. The key is sustainability.
All too often legal use of wildlife through safari hunting and illegal theft of wild animals through unchecked poaching are lumped together through misunderstanding under one umbrella as wildlife destruction. Nothing could be further from the truth. A bank manager is not lumped together with a bank thief as one entity. Similarly, legally licensed management and illicit poaching are at opposite extremes - one being legal the other pure theft. To underline this point: There is an enormous difference between legal hunting on the one hand (sustainable licensed management) and illegal poaching on the other (uncaring, unethical, unchecked, criminal theft of the wildlife resource).
Costly anti-poaching is undertaken by most safari companies. The motivation for the wildlife manager to look after and conserve wildlife is greater than anyone's because their very livelihood depends on healthy game populations. If the bush is vacated by legal hunters for whatever reason, they are replaced by illegal poachers. Hunting bans in some African countries have been tried. The results have been catastrophic, with plummeting wildlife numbers. When people don't benefit from wildlife, they tend not to keep it.
An additional part of the problem is the end user in Asian countries of lion bones, elephant ivory and rhino horn creating demand for these illicit wildlife products. It is these end users who need to be targeted. No market results in no poaching.
Let us not forget that an avid hunter, President Theodore Roosevelt, was the founder of what today is the worldwide National Parks system. A true conservationist.
In fact, the biggest danger to wildlife today in Africa is through an ever increasing human population encroaching into the wilderness, displacing wild animals.
Yes, I am a legal hunter and wildlife manager, but I am also a staunch conservationist in the true sense of the word. (Conservation means wise sustainable use, not just protection.) I abhor the illegal use of wildlife, but condone its careful use as a sound management tool. Most of us have a common interest in the well being of wild animals, whether we are licensed hunters or non-hunters. It is time for realism in conservation and not feelings of emotion that cloud management issues. It's time for all parties to work together for the benefit of wildlife and wild places we love.