I find it rather sad that Don Pinnock continues to lambast the character and “type” the persons involved in trophy hunting. He refers to them as wealthy, elite, callous and cruel. It is simply not so. Simply describing all trophy hunters as wealthy and elite, let alone callous and cruel, immediately shows an unacceptable and incorrect bias on the authors part. That may be his perception, but it is certainly not true and is a gross generalisation. It is also unfair, dangerous and provocative to stereo type any person and I can only conclude that the use of this wording is an emotive ploy to manipulate the reader. It also simply does not help the process of engagement that is so desperately needed on this topic.

Mr Pinnock complains that hunters react angrily to articles written by people such as himself. Well maybe he is correct, and maybe it is because so many anti-hunting journalists are seen as manipulative in how they approach the topic, crudely stereotyping hunters and hunting. My request from the outset is that we engage on this really important issue, trying to find solutions that benefit conservation and communities. Attacking each other is simply not going to lead to a positive outcome as each side defensively fights its cause.

I want to respond as follows to the issues raised in Mr Pinnock’s article.

As a previous game farm owner in the dry Marico bushveld, I have seen that part of the world positively transform from cattle farming to game farming over the past 3 decades. This has largely been achieved by the incentive of better financial returns from game farming, which is dependent on hunting, especially trophy hunting. The area has benefited from this transformation.

In many circumstances in South Africa, hunting and especially trophy hunting, remains the only financially viable option to finance privately owned areas under game and to protect, preserve and promote habitats. We all know that the biggest cause of wildlife loss is from habitat destruction and human wildlife conflict. Poaching is a growing contributor as well to wildlife loss as is the bush meat trade. However regulated and managed hunting is most definitely not a cause of wildlife loss. Nobody can say trophy hunting has caused any damage to any species in South Africa, it is in fact quite the opposite. Trophy hunting has been the cause for the massive growth of private land transforming to wildlife, moving from cattle and other forms of farming. This has allowed for the sustainable management of wildlife on huge tracts of private land. This has seen a massive increase in game numbers and has played a significant role in saving certain species from extinction such as the white rhino, bontebok and Cape mountain zebra which are now arguably more plentiful on private land than on national and provincial parks.

In addition, trophy hunting is part of the solution to some of our land transformation in SA where beneficiaries have obtained prime game areas under land reform.

I am involved with a community who are the beneficiaries of a land claim. There is no better alternative land use than to keep the property under wildlife and the only means, the lowest environmental impact means, is through trophy hunting. In addition, this has the potential to grow into a larger reserve and that creates then the possibility to accommodate the big five which in turn creates opportunity for non-consumptive tourism.  The anti-hunting lobbyists are shutting these opportunities down as they continue to mobilise the public against trophy hunting. I also challenge the anti-hunting establishment to show a better use of the land. It is very easy being an arm’s length armchair critic of an industry, when you don’t have to address the reality of what happens if that industry ceases to exist.

The anthropomorphism is a problem to the hunting fraternity but so it should also be to those that consume domestic stock. Why is it in order to kill pigs, chickens and cows in their thousands but not to harvest wild animals for the best price when it is quite sustainable and preserves habitat and the future of the species.  Pigs are intelligent animals but yet we eat them as bacon every day.  I am sure many anti-hunting activists readily enjoy a glass of wine, but do they consider the millions of insects, rodents, snakes and birds that are destroyed to create the perfect vineyard? Where is their outrage at this cruelty?  Vast tracts of beautiful natural vegetation are destroyed by the farming of luxury food and drink items that the wealthy consume? Where is the outrage? Where is the stereotyping of those farmers?  I am not for a minute saying they should be trashed, but I point this out to illustrate the double standards that are applied when it comes to journalists and hunting.

One must consider what will happen in South Africa if trophy hunting is stopped. The value of game will drop as there would be little incentive for farmers to keep wildlife. Thousands of wild animals will be culled to make way for domestic stock (Is it worse to shoot an animal in its natural environment than to feed an animal, transport it to an abattoir and shoot it in the head with a retractable bolt?!) Most private game farms will become uneconomical to run. This will result in further habitat destruction as land is ploughed over to produce food of all sorts. Add to that the damage that herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers make and erosion due to the environment, our rivers and estuaries and you have a greater ecological disaster. It is this that is causing extinction of so many of the world’s species, not trophy hunting. Not a single species has become extinct or even endangered because of trophy hunting.

You may not like trophy hunting, and that I can accept, but do not try kill the industry. The alternatives are far worse and the consequences far reaching.

Outside of SA, another issue that critics of trophy hunting are not recognising is the large disconnect between African people on the ground and liberal conservation ideologies promoted by the western anti-hunting lobby. The ideals preached by Pinnock can be debated at one level but while this debate is going on few are noticing the rising anger of the rural population. Many see land set aside for wildlife as wasted land and unless the communities benefit in ways they chose, pressure will increase to de-proclaim reserves to make more land available for communities. We have seen this in other countries in Africa. If game has no value, why should a community wish to ensure its survival on their land? They are not going to buy into the liberal self-righteous western argument that game should not be consumed or utilised on a sustainable basis. That has not been my experience when dealing with communities. And again, I have seen absolutely no viable alternatives promoted by the anti-hunting lobby.

More specifically, looking at Don Pinnock’s article, the elephant “Voortrekker” was shot at the request of a community where the elephant was threatening livelihoods. Do we place the life of one elephant above that of a community? The lifting of the ban on elephant hunting in Botswana was because the people on the ground in rural areas requested it as elephants were impacting negatively on their lives through destruction of crops and danger to lives. Villagers are being killed by elephants. The recent Wildlife Summit at Victoria Falls shows an increasing level of frustration from communities and African sovereign states at having western philosophies thrust upon them.  The anti-hunting lobby needs to understand that it is promoting the end of an industry without a viable alternative. I do not believe the anti-hunting lobby has the support of the people on the ground and from my experience with communities and in fact there is disbelief that such views exist given the consequences such activism will have those affected.

Shutting down trophy hunting will just accelerate habitat and specie losses. One more thing to consider…the alternatives to trophy hunting will be worse for wildlife as African countries continue to court the Chinese, Russians and the middle east where sentiment is very different regarding animals’ rights and welfare.

I can understand that people do not like hunting and in particular trophy hunting. But closing the industry is not the solution. We have to start finding common ground and I believe there is a lot in common but we won`t make progress if we continue to attack each other. Let us create a forum where we can discuss problems with hunting as well as those associated with tourism (which are never discussed) and find solutions that will benefit wildlife, our economy and all the people of South Africa.

Stewart Dorrington