• Kev Thomas Writes

It Boggles the Mind!

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

My first Blog post yesterday was a brief overview of where I grew up in the then Rhodesia. It probably comes across more as an essay or short article, rather than a Blog post in the true sense. Please understand, I'm new to this, and now in my 70th year. What I was trying to portray was the fact I've spent virtually my entire life, living in fairly close proximity to tribal southern Africans. I'm a fifth generation white African, and proud of it. After leaving school in 1967, I joined the then Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) Department of National Parks & Wildlife Management. Initially as a cadet game ranger, until I qualified as a game ranger.

In time, I moved on, and after I'd soldiered for five years during the Rhodesian Bush War (in a unit that was 95% black), I gravitated into wildlife management and the hunting safari industry. That was in 1980, and I finally retired in 2014. From 1968 to 2020 totals 52 years. I reckon fifty-two years in the industry qualifies me to make objective comment on some of what is currently having a negative impact on the consumptive African safari industry. Even if one factors in the 5-years I soldiered, I still conducted hunting safaris during my leave breaks. My intention certainly isn't to be judgemental, or confrontational. I'm merely wanting to point out the flip-side of the coin in this ongoing saga. Perhaps I could better describe it by saying I'm trying to give the African take on it, rather than the developed world's.

So, why my blog title, It Boggles the Mind!?

Quite simply, because I'm finding it increasingly difficult to understand the logic behind the current anti-hunting communities strident calls to ban trophy importation into the UK, and the US. Although I'd go so far as to say that when it comes to the UK it's already a fait accompli. Not for one moment do I believe these anti-hunters have done any research or homework. Due to their very behaviour, their calls are seemingly driven entirely by ignorance, and misguided emotion. Fortunately the UK hunting client base visiting southern Africa is extremely small, relative to the many sport-hunters from elsewhere on the globe, who visit the sub-continent.

In the Third, or Developing World context, and with particular emphasis on southern Africa, and here I speak of Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, the consumptive and non-consumptive safari industries are extremely important employers. Tourism is a huge industry. And because safari is a rural pursuit, most of a safari operator's employees are drawn from rural communities. This invariably means they're from areas where high levels of poverty and unemployment are endemic. Zimbabwe currently has 90% unemployment, with inflation running at about 161.8%.

What do I mean by Consumptive & Non-Consumptive Tourism?

Consumptive tourism normally means hunting safaris, and the utilisation of wildlife on a scientifically based sustainable yield basis. Non-consumptive tourism means photographic safaris, and tour groups. Few people understand that non-consumptive tourism isn't always the ideal form of tourism in a given area. More often than not, this is because of geographical and other related limitations. I'll list a few:

  • Difficulty coupled to high cost in accessing an area due to remoteness, lack of roads, and a lack of supportive infrastructure.

  • Difficulty in seeing wildlife due to habitat density.

  • Health hazards by way of tsetse fly etc

  • Remoteness from medical facilities in case of emergencies.

  • Lack of alternate activities, for example, when they're not doing game drives, photographic tourists normally like to indulge in various alternate activities, These vary, but could include canoeing, fishing, cultural village tours etc. which aren't always available in remote areas. If the photographic safari operator isn't able to offer a variety of activities to his client base, it soon dwindles.

Non-Consumptive Tourism as an Income Earner:

When we speak of photographic safaris as an income earner, we usually refer to it as 'gate money' by way of reference to game park or game reserve entry fees. Group composition is normally 6 to 8 persons (for ease of vehicle transportation), and each group has a qualified guide in attendance, probably with a tracker/spotter who during the daily morning and afternoon drives sits on a customised seat above the game viewing vehicle's front bull-bar. Most photographic tour groups enjoy a package tour with perhaps 2 to 3 days spent at say four different venues. They travel between these venues by air charter, in itself expensive. Group photographic budget tours across Southern African countries average from about £200 to £300/night. Duration could be from 1 to 27 days. A 7-day budget tour would cost perhaps £2100 (@£300/night). This figure excludes airfares, air charters, gratuities, and accommodations before and after the safari. As one can see, it's going to take a huge photographic safari tourist turnover to generate an income big enough to sustain Southern Africa's wildlife. And we haven't even factored in the wildlife management aspect yet. The aforementioned tourist category are basically just game viewing.

Consumptive Tourism:

Utilising wildlife resources on a scientifically based sustainable yield basis is what consumptive tourism is all about. In other words, hunting safaris. In the South African context the hunting safari industry is game ranch driven. There's nothing unusual about game ranching, and like any other type of farming it's just another form of land utilisation. In many game ranching areas the land is marginal and totally unsuitable for other forms of agriculture. Because one gets browsers and grazers amongst antelope, the game rancher can carry a wide variety of species. Obviously his wildlife carrying capacity is governed by landmass and habitat type. The seasonal carrying capacity will also be influenced by rainfall, and drought. On average too, a South African game ranch is about 8,000 acres and South Africa has in the region of 10,000 registered game ranches/farms. Each can carry a wide variety of wildlife, mainly antelope species and game ranches don't have large predators like lion, hyena etc.

The Rifle: The Regulator:

South Africa has a total of 72 different antelope species, most of which are found on commercial game ranches. I'd love to know what the anti-hunters think should happen to the surplus to carrying capacity on these game ranches, if hunting were to be banned? Antelope normally breed seasonally, and the calving usually takes place to coincide with the first green flush after the rains. Nature is unique and ensures the mothers have plenty of green grass to eat, in order to produce milk for their offspring. If these ranches don't have large predators like lion, hyena, leopard, cheetah etc How does one control the antelope population on a game ranch and keep it at what the optimum levels should be? There are basically only two options:

  • Live Capture for Sale: Game capture is costly and time consuming, and demand for species fluctuates. If hunting is banned, there won't be any demand for live game.

  • Culling: This means the landowner has to shoot the surplus game himself, or bring in contract hunters and pay them to do it. At the end of the day he only gets a monetary return for the venison (always lower than commercial beef), and the return for the hides and skins is negligible. He also has overheads by way of contract hunter wages, vehicle wear and tear, fuel etc. As the sole means of income off a game ranch, it'd make the entire enterprise non-viable.

  • The Paying Sport Hunter: Using the paying sport hunter as the management tool, and the rifle as the regulator is the most economically viable form of wildlife management on a game ranch. And it also ensures the game ranching enterprise will continue, and not be scrapped to make way for some other farming venture. Income is Derived From: Daily rates, Trophy fees & Venison sales, Curio sales.

Hunting Safari Duration: Antelope on a game ranch or on any safari concession, are normally collectively referred to as 'Plains Game'. Hunt duration is built around species availability, which means the most common species like kudu, impala, blesbok, wildebeest, warthog etc can normally be hunted in a 5-day package. The more sought after, but slightly less common species like eland waterbuck, etc might be offered in a 7-10, or even 14-day hunt.

What I'm endeavouring to explain is how if the paying sport hunter is used as the management tool, and the rifle the regulator, the game ranch owner can run a viable and sustainable business. Monies are accrued from the daily rates, and from the trophy fees from the old non-breeding male antelope shot. There's nothing cruel about the way it's done. If a stalk is conducted correctly, the targeted animal is totally unaware of its pending death, and drops instantly to a killing shot. How does that compare to cattle getting pushed down a chute in a commercial abattoir? Nobody can convince me the cattle aren't stressed with the smell of blood, and the noise, caused by those ahead of them. And it's not unheard of for the first attempt at killing a cow with a bolt from a stun gun to go awry, causing even more stress and suffering. I know what I'd far rather be - an old kudu bull browsing and totally unaware of the bullet with my name on it.

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