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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

Seemingly Sanity May Prevail

Here in the UK, I recently read an article by journalist Mark Hookham, in The Mail on Sunday, 4 December 2022. In it, he quite correctly writes how MPs who are backing a proposed law in Britain which seeks to ban sport hunters from bringing their trophies home, have been misled by a ‘hurricane of misinformation.’ This intentional misinformation has now also been claimed by a number of scientists.

As any ethical sport-hunter with a wildlife conservation ethos will know; a ban of this nature, far from protecting vulnerable species such as rhino, lion, and elephant, will place them more at risk, and destroy years of well-meaning conservation efforts by slashing critical funding for African communities.

Sadly, last month the British government threw its support behind a private member’s Bill which will ban the importation into Britain of hunting trophies, including animal skins and heads. This Bill followed a 2019 pledge by ex-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to ‘end this barbaric practice’. It’s conceivable Johnson may have been influenced by his wife who is known for her anti-hunting sentiments.

However, in a rather extraordinary intervention, some enlightened conservation experts have accused the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, which purports to be an animal welfare group, of deliberately feeding MPs clear misinformation regarding the impact of such a ban. Mark Hookham explains how Amy Dickman, who is a professor of wildlife conservation at Oxford University, said researchers had analysed 118 statements made by MPs during the parliamentary debate last month, and had found that 85 (or 72 percent) were either false, or misleading. Dickman said they included erroneous claims that there were as few as 10,000 lions left in the wild, and that British trophy hunters were among the world’s most active killers (my italics), of endangered species.

Thus, she quite correctly points out how easy it is for this type of misinformation to be accepted, and shared by MPs and then used directly to influence policy-making. In her words, ‘That is shocking, and highlights a major risk of biased interest groups being able to influence legislation.’ Professor Adam Hart, from the science communications at the University of Gloucester, described the ‘scale of misinformation’ in Parliament as ‘staggering and deeply concerning’. He blamed the influence of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, whose director, Eduardo Goncalves, provides secretariat services for an all-party parliamentary group of MPs who support the ban.

As Professor Adam Hart says, ‘Our concerns are based on evidence and experience, but we are whispering in a hurricane of misinformation deliberately manufactured to advance bans that will likely cause irreversible conservation harm.’ Both Prof Hart and Prof Dickman are opposed to ‘canned hunting’ – the shooting of captive bred lion. On this truly abhorrent practise, I fully concur with both professors.

On 25 November, in the Commons, Tory MP Henry Smith, who initially proposed the Bill, said: ‘Sadly, British trophy hunters are among the world’s most active killers of endangered species.’ This is absolute unmitigated drivel, and I was pleased to read how Prof Dickman highlighted data from the Conventional Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, showing the UK is ranked No 24 on a list of countries importing trophies from threatened species.

Tory MP Smith said researchers have claimed there could be as few as 10,000 to 15,000 lions left in the wild in Africa. Again, a seemingly deliberate mistruth as a result of misinformation. However, Prof Dickman said the best estimate was that there are 24,000 lions left in the wild in Africa. This figure is closer to the truth.

While on the lion issue, we must remember the outpouring of emotion across the globe when ‘Cecil’ the lion was shot in Zimbabwe, by an American dentist in July 2015. If Cecil hadn’t been humanised by being given a name by research scientists, he would have just been another lion on quota for the 2015 safari season. Granted, the fact he had wandered out of Hwange National Park (as lions are want to do), and was wearing a research tracking collar became a bit of an issue. However, it was the name Cecil, and the media driven Disneyland image which it invoked, that caused the emotional furore.

Although Mr Eduardo Goncalves said scientists who oppose the hunting trophy ban ‘are in the minority,’ Prof Dickman has raised more than £4million for her conservation project, including £16,000 from pro-hunting groups in 2013. This money had been ‘far out-weighed’ by funding from donors who oppose hunting, she said. Charity Save the Rhino International says ‘responsible trophy hunting of rhinos’ is valid.

During my nearly 8-year tenure with the Parks & Wildlife Resources Board in the Ciskei of old, sport hunting across all three of our game reserves was a vitally important, if not the most important means of deriving much needed income for the continued benefit of the tiny nation’s wildlife conservation program. It was based entirely on the sustained yield concept, and looked upon as merely another form of land use. Similar in concept to Zimbabwe’s successful CAMPFIRE (Communal Area Management Program For Indigenous Resources) the Ciskei’s wildlife management concept was hailed internationally by conservationists. Sadly, this is no more, as photos sent to me of the once popular sport hunting venue, the Double Drift Game Reserve (previously LL Sebe Game Reserve) show.

Above: A truly sad indictment on South Africa's Eastern Cape Tourism Board. These are wasted mixed species skulls lying in a shed in the Double Drift Game Reserve. It used to be LL Sebe Game Reserve during the Ciskei era, and enjoyed a viable and sustainable seasonal trophy hunting program. Now no more.

Above: What were once attractive, restored, tastefully furnished period accommodations for paying sport hunters, have been neglected and are no longer in use.

Above: A lodge bathroom totally trashed.

Above: The reception area in the office where sport hunters and guests used to be made welcome is now no more.

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