There is a substantial amount of rhetoric surrounding the current U.S. administration’s looming decision on the import ban applying to elephant and lion trophies. As a result, I am taking this opportunity to bring reason-based clarity to the discussions by summarizing the guiding principles influencing sustainable and ethical hunters. This writing seeks to engage thoughtful conversation amongst the stakeholders; which to be honest means ALL of us if we are to see our kids world with elephants in it ! To this end I respectfully request readers keep an open mind and approach this writing in a calm and pragmatic manner.
First and foremost, I support and advocate for the sustainable and ethical use of wildlife – utilizing wildlife’s inherent value in the most pragmatic manner to promote wildlife conservation. I am qualified to speak on this issue because I have spent my entire lifetime steeped in every aspect impacting wildlife around the world.
I have participated in a very wide range of conservation efforts ranging from wildlife relocation to anti-poaching efforts – on many occasions, risking my life to implement these conservations efforts – facing death or serious and massive bodily injury from both beast and poachers. I am willing to face these dangers because I love the wildlife and I want to see animals thrive – I am convinced by my life’s experience that the only way to achieve this conservation goal is by maximizing the wildlife’s inherent value.
More specifically relevant to this discussion, I have spent, cumulatively, years of my life amongst elephants. I love elephants and it is my belief that any time spent amongst elephants is a rare and invaluable experience that stays within each of us – within our souls – for the rest of our lives. It is my opinion that when approaching elephant conservation from a global perspective, or at least a pan-African perspective, we are correct (and duty bound) to be concerned for their future.
It is critically important (and reasonable) to understand that there is a vast difference between poaching and legal hunting performed in a sustainable and ethical manner. Like all conservationists, I abhor poaching and poachers and everything they represent. I likewise abhor non-sustainable and unethical hunting. I only support sustainable and ethical hunting that results in conservation of landscapes and wildlife and I sincerely believe that hunting that follows sustainable and ethical principles can be an incredible conservation tool. I know this because I have guided many people on elephant hunts and have thus seen first-hand the effect that sustainable and ethical hunting can have on local communities which deal with the wildlife on a daily basis, on antipoaching budgets and on the future of many wild areas in Africa.
It has been estimated that trophy hunting areas extend over 1.4 million square kms in Africa; that is approximately 22% more land than is covered by national parks in Africa.
Much of the trophy hunting areas rely on trophy hunting as their sole “land use.” It is unclear how much of that land could be viable converted to solely photographic or non- consumptive tourism. However, if we arguably give up hunting in those areas, some other economic activity must replace the hunting activities in order to sustain the local countries and communities. It would indeed be ironic to lose 1.4 million acres of wildlife land and eliminate wildlife to make room for crops and domestic livestock – cattle being the most common large animal on the planet by far. They roam in their millions across landscapes that were once wild and teeming with wild game. Why not instead support sustainable and ethical hunting that in turn promotes animal conservation in areas where wildlife is abundant (and in some cases overpopulated – such as is the case with elephants in Botswana). Additionally, hunting activities can and do feed people in local communities. Therefore hunting activities provide for both feeding local populations and supporting and promoting the inherent value of wildlife populations.
I therefore ask that each of you consider the following premises:
The Inherent Value in Wildlife Is a Conservation Tool – Where geographic sub-regional wildlife populations exist in healthy and sustainable numbers, sustainable and ethical hunting practices support and promote the inherent value that exists in wildlife. This result is due to the income generated by the financial outlays expended by hunters that have a direct, significant and immediate impact on the local countries and communities in which wildlife exists. This inherent wildlife value promotes continued conservation initiatives and efforts at the grassroots, local governmental and international NGO levels. It is critical, however, that the hunting activities are supported by scientifically researched and competently-executed conservation practices that focus primarily on wildlife population health and sustainability. Where hunting becomes poaching and is not sustainable of within any set of rules or ethics activities exists under substandard conservation efforts or conditions and as a result are poorly managed or unsustainable, the impact can be disastrous; these results are exampled by the current crisis that plagues the rhino populations. As I previously mentioned, I have spent most of my adult life engaged in conservation initiatives all over Africa. I have therefore been witness sadly, to the impact that poorly managed or unsustainable hunting practices have on ecosystems. Too often, I now visit ecosystems that are mere shadows of their former selves. My first-hand experience provides a nearly unique opportunity to compare thriving ecosystems and failed ecosystems where hunting activities exist. It is clearly apparent to me that the common thread existing amongst thriving ecosystems is that any wildlife-oriented activities – whether non- consumptive photographic or hunting – provide benefits to the local communities; this element raises the awareness and value in the ecosystems wildlife. Consequently, any reasonable person must at least consider that, provided the activity is carried out sustainably, ethically and for the benefit of the species, value maximization practices such as sustainable and ethical hunting of a wild population of any animal can be a beneficial practice to the species in question.
Elephant Populations Are Not Equally Distributed – The African continent (Africa) is composed of 54 different countries and many diverse habitats and ecosystems. There are, in fact, geographic areas in Africa whose elephant populations have been poached to the brink of local extinction (also known as extirpation). Comparatively, many other geographic sub-regions in Africa (especially in many southern African countries) contain successful and thriving elephant populations – in fact, in certain regions these Elephant populations are overpopulated/overcrowded to the point where the local ecosystem cannot adequately support the elephant populations. Consequently, any reasonable person must at least consider maximizing the conservation value of such populations by benefiting the communities and countries which they inhabit. By providing value to the local countries and communities in which elephant populations thrive, elephant populations become inherently valuable assets to those countries and communities and therefore encourage conservation efforts for the benefit of those elephant populations – this model is equally applicable to all wildlife populations.
No Meaningful Reduction in Legal Hunting Practices – The ban on elephant imports into the United States does not meaningfully change how many elephants are hunted in legal hunts. It does however, reduce the revenue generated to the local countries and communities in which the elephant populations live, thereby reducing the population’s inherent value to those local countries and communities and thusly negatively impacting conservation efforts that support those elephant populations. Consequently, any reasonable person must at least consider maximizing the inherent value of elephant populations by supporting legal, sustainable, and ethical hunting as a viable conservation alternative that has yielded successful results in Europe, the United States, and many other regions in the globe.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Ivan M Carter