The Ethical Hunter in Africa Big Game Hunters Make a Claim for Conservation

To 62-year-old David Peterson, who lives in a hand-built mountainside cabin in Colorado and writes books about ethical hunting, the notion is simple: “If you’re killing something and not eating it, you have no moral standing.”

Peterson, the author of Elkheart (Johnson Books) and On the Wild Edge (Henry Holt & Co.) shoots only with a bow and arrow, considers hunting a spiritual pursuit and spends what time he is not walking the woods working to save public lands. To him, hunting has nothing to do with ego, or trophies, or record books—the bragging rights that are the cornerstone of the typical African hunting safari.

Safari Club International, the worldwide club that dubs itself “the leader in protecting your freedom to hunt,” keeps an eight-volume set of trophy animal records from big game hunts and gives out yearly awards at a lavish banquet. But many of these hunts take place in enclosed areas—some as small as 2,000 acres according to Montana hunter and author Don Thomas—leading to serious questions about ethics and conservation priorities.

Thomas says he has hunted in Africa 13 times, mostly in Southern African countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia. He, too, hunts exclusively with a bow and arrow. Culturally, Thomas says the issue of enclosures in Africa is a difficult one. In the U.S., he has campaigned against “canned” hunting; but, in Africa, with its unstable political climate and widespread hunger, he says “wildlife uncontrolled ends up dead.” What’s more, some of these enclosures are massive—200,000 acres—and easily bypassed by animals like warthogs, dikers and orbis.

Andrew Page, the director of the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) Wildlife Abuse Campaign, says the enclosure’s size doesn’t matter. “These “guides’ are really ranch hands,” Page says. “They know all the haunts and where the animals water and feed. It’s a sham.”

Actress Stefanie Powers at the William Holden Wildlife Foundation in Kenya. © W3 Public Relations

Hunting advocates argue that licenses and permits provide lucrative financial support to African wildlife reserves, living wages to locals working as trackers, cooks and guides and a ready supply of meat to tribal people. Thomas says a typical 30-day East African hunt would cost $50,000, plus additional trophy fees that can run up to thousands of dollars per animal. At a place like the Humani Reserve in Zimbabwe, free-roaming animals include rare black rhinos, lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo (a.k.a., “the Big Five”) and a dizzying array of other species. “You can drop $100,000 very easily,” he says.

But Page says tourists armed with cameras and binoculars spend plenty of money, too. He’s watched that very transformation happen in the U.S. “Since the 1970s, hunting has been on a steady decline,” Page says. “Wildlife watching is increasing…and generates almost twice to the general economy what hunting does.”

Stefanie Powers, the actress best known for her leading role on the “80s TV crime drama Hart to Hart, spends half her time in Kenya working as president of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, which she co-founded. Actor William Holden, who died in 1981, was an ardent conservationist and hunter and Powers doesn’t see the two terms as mutually exclusive. “But I’m talking about responsible hunting,” she says, “not a bunch of guys with a six-pack of beer.” Powers’ main focus is on education—giving locals what she calls a “relevant” education focused on biodiversity and alternatives to habitat destruction. The foundation’s education center serves 11,000 students and is a model of environmental sustainability, reusing graywater, using biogas and recycling everything, down to the fecal matter.

It is “bush meat”—the illegal hunting and trading of meat from wild animals—combined with the easy access offered by loggers that is having the most devastating impact on fragile wildlife populations, according to Powers. Livestock farmers can’t supply enough beef to meet demands, and sell wild animal meat instead, at great environmental and human health cost. In Kenya, hunting has been banned for more than 20 years, but as many as one million animals like buffalos and gazelles are being killed for bush meat each year, the Kenya Wildlife Service has reported. —Brita Belli

CONTACTS: Humani Reserve; Humane Society of the United States; William Holden Wildlife Foundation, (310)274-3169

The Great Elephant Debate

© Getty Images

In 1995, there were just 8,000 elephants in South Africa—today there are over 20,000. Each elephant consumes over 660 pounds of grass, trees and leaves a day, straining the ecosystem. South Africa’s solution was a reversal of its 1995 ban on elephant killing. According to government officials, culling will only be allowed as a last option and only under stringent conditions. The actual regulations require all killing to be “quick and humane” by using at least a .375 caliber rifle. Other options encouraged by the regulations include contraception and relocation.

Many government officials insist that the culling is only a small part of the regulation whose intention is to ensure the continued preservation of the elephant population. “Clearly the elephant debate is extremely emotive and often unrealistically simplified,” says Clarissa Hughes, general manager of ecoAfrica Travel, Ltd. “The decision to cull elephants as a last resort by the government of South Africa was not taken lightly.”

According to the World Wildlife Federation’s official statement on the new regulation, the organization “does not advocate culling as the preferred population management alternative,” but it does recognize that “government managers may deem it necessary.”

Other organizations say culling is unnecessary even as a last resort, as relocation and safe sterilization can accomplish the same goals. Animal Rights Africa, which supports animal rescue and an end to animal exploitation, calls the change in policy “undeniably cruel and morally reprehensible.”

The new regulation further impacts the tourism industry as big-game hunting pushes for a return. There are significant economic and social benefits derived from regulated elephant hunting. It is estimated to cost a client over $100,000 to hunt one trophy bull elephant, with a significant portion of the fee going to the national park system. And each elephant produces up to two tons of meat to feed local poverty-stricken communities. —Nicholas J. Klenske

CONTACTS: Animal Rights Africa; ecoAfrica Travel, Ltd.