The AWCF is sponsored by the SCI Foundation and is a gathering of all recognised regional professional hunting bodies as well as government representatives, scientists and researchers in an effort to share information, collaborate on mutual issues and best practices with the purpose of advancing wildlife conservation through sustainable use.

This year was the 16th AWCF and Custodians were invited to attend for the first time.

OPHAA (Operators and Professional Hunting Associations of Africa) members all attend the AWCF and have their own meeting on the first morning. Custodians are recognised as the SA representative PH body at this by OPHAA.

At the OPHAA meeting it was decided that a permanent CEO is needed as well as a formal constitution. Currently all the countries are operating under a simple MoU.

Danene Van Der Westhuizen was elected CEO while James Rosenfels from Zimbabwe  was voted the incoming chair for the next 2 years.

All parties signed a cross border MoU which sets out the aims and objects of OPHAA as well as a code of conduct which is in line with Custodians. The object is also to prevent members misbehaving outside the country. They will be held accountable.

It was agreed that SCI will notify OPHAA of any complaints against our members and in turn, we will notify SCI of any known illegal activities by PHs and hunting outfitters. SCI is also donating video promotion to OPHAA at Reno to run on the main in house TV.

All countries are listed on the OPHAA website

Next meeting for OPHAA will be in Reno.

All countries gave feedback pertaining to hunting in their respective countries. Namibia has a very successful and growing industry while Tanzania is in crisis. Over 80 of the 151 hunting blocks are vacant as outfitters cannot profit anymore with the extremely high government fees as well as the USFWS suspension of elephant and lion imports. It has killed the industry and huge areas of wildlife habitat are being lost to invading humans and livestock.

An interesting snippet from Zimbabwe is that poaching levels have declined significantly since they have started recruiting female VEGAN rangers. It appears many of the past rangers sympathised with the communities and were complicit in poaching.

Most significantly was that for the first time ever, a USFWS delegation attended the meeting. For all 4 USFWS it was their first trip to Africa. Both parties are extremely encouraged by this opening up of dialogue between the range states and the USFWS.

What became evident is that he USFWS does not make the policies that affect us, it is the politicians that make the policy and the USFWS is charged with enforcing them.

Also attending was a representative from the European Commission to inform us of how legislation is drawn up for the European Union. Our representation through FACE is important as they are the European Parliaments intergroup on biodiversity and hunting.

The biggest threat to wildlife remains human wildlife conflict (HWC) as growing populations consume more resources, take up more space and compete with wildlife for land use. Trophy hunting is very seldom a contributor to a decline in populations.

The second cause of decline is lack of communities to benefit and manage their own wildlife. Ownership usually vests in the state and thus communities place little value on the resource other than the meat and are thus often poachers or sympathetic with poachers. Namibia has successfully allowed communities self determination with their wildlife ad have taught them to benefit from hunting and wildlife tourism and the result has been a stunning return of wildlife to many parts of Namibia.

The increasing influence of the anti hunting lobby over institutions like CITES and the USFWS is cause for concern and its imperative that we continue to engage with the scientists and researchers to show our commitment to conservation through ethical hunting.

While a comprehensive report back of every session would be tedious and often repetitive, one of the biggest benefits of the AWCF was the networking opportunities and the sharing of information and pooling of ideas. It is meeting people who can influence decision makers and put our voice and opinions into the mix. For that alone make the trip a worthwhile investment.