“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.” – John Sawhill.
I took this photograph of experienced wildlife guide Stretch Ferreira and guests with a wild bull elephant in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. The trust that exists between this elephant and Stretch is exceptional. This photo shows a group of visitors kneeling before an elephant, but to me it also shows a group of human beings paying respect to one of Earth’s wisest animals.
But in most of Africa, things are very different. Elephants across the continent are being killed by poachers at a rate of about 100 every day. There are no more than 400 000 of the world’s largest land mammal left in the wild. A century ago, there were probably about 5 million.
There are many reasons for this crash in numbers, but whatever these may be, the world needs to start looking at Africa’s wildlife very differently. We should no longer see wildlife only as an economic commodity or a tourism product. While tourism and certain kinds of ethical hunting (not of elephants, however) have a huge role to play in conservation, we must never forget that wild animals have a right to exist on their own terms.
How to fund the proper protection of Africa’s wildlife, then? The rich countries of the world need to start paying. There is more than enough money in organizations like the UN and World Bank. It’s just a matter of acknowledging that Africa’s wildlife and wildernesses are global treasures. Would it be okay if all the art in Europe was destroyed? All the music, all the sculptures and all the architecture? Of course not. So do we really want to live in a world without wild lions, rhinos or elephants? To me, a single elephant is as impressive as all human inventions combined.
Respected American lion biologist Craig Packer has researched the sustainability of African wildlife, and after decades in the field and interacting with governments, hunters and safari operators, he’s convinced that the only way forward is if the rich western world funds Africa’s wilderness and wildlife.
His new book Lions in the Balance makes instructive reading for both hunters and animal rights activists.
“Trophy hunting is not inherently damaging to lion populations, provided the hunters take care to let the males mature and wait to harvest them after their cubs are safely reared,” Packer was quoted in The Guardian newspaper.
“Trophy hunters are no angels but they actually control four times as much lion habitat in Africa than is protected in national parks; and 80% of the world’s lions left in the world are in the hunters’ hands.”
But this is Africa, where corruption is rife, and the temptation to evade the rules is immense. The hunting industry is notoriously crooked and untrustworthy. Hunters are under huge pressure to secure trophies for their clients, some of which can pay $100 000 for a lion hunt.
According to Packer, hunters may argue that this money goes directly to conservation and communities, but in reality, almost none of the hunting fee reaches the ground. Most of it ends up in the pockets of the professional hunter who guides the client. The way forward? Packer believes that the rich western world needs to fund the protection of Africa’s wild places. Phototourism and hunting will never generate enough revenue on their own.
“We cannot expect wildlife to pay its way. I am now goading people to engage organisations like Unesco and the World Bank to recognise that if we are to keep the wildlife, the global community must pay for them. That is my crusade. A lot of people have been duped into thinking that just by being a tourist or a hunter, it is enough. It’s not.”
“If the giga-bucks do not come, then there is no hope. I have resigned myself to the fact that in 50 years, the only places in Africa that will be worth going to for wildlife will be Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. All the rest will be gone.”