I’ve never understood hunting; why anyone would want to hunt and kill an innocent animal for fun, and pay huge amounts to do so. I am a big softie and animal lover. I hate seeing any living thing struggling or suffering, and genuinely wouldn’t hurt a fly (rescued a drowning fly from a swimming pool yesterday, true story). I ignore the cruel natural processes that occur in the wild and pretend everything is great. I could never have been, despite wanting to be, a wildlife photographer or documentary film maker because when that baby antelope gets attacked by lions I’d be running into the fold arms flaying to save the poor bugger. And then feel guilty that the lions missed out on dinner!
I still don’t get the attraction of hunting, but I have become more forgiving – shocking!
My PhD, has meant I’ve had to confront these issues head on, unable to hide behind a pillow when nature is being cruel again on David Attenborough’s TV shows. During the course of my fieldwork I had to watch horrible things happen, forcing my arms tightly to my side and feet firmly grounded on the spot (the poor baby lamb and evil baboons – who knew baboons were carnivorous?!). Not only that but what I am researching tackles these issues head on…
My research is focused on a project in Zimbabwe called CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources). CAMPFIRE was set up in the late 1980s and early 1990s to deal with an ongoing and serious conflict between wild animals (mainly elephants, lions, hyenas, baboons, and buffalos) and rural subsistence agricultural communities. At this interface, conflicts occur in land and natural resource use. The main problem is the destruction of crops in people’s fields by hungry elephants and baboons, whose habitat is being destroyed for agricultural land. Lions and hyenas are common predators of household livestock relied upon for livelihood security and ploughing, and diseases are often spread from the interaction of buffalo with cattle. As animals have caused problems for people, people have tended to kill the problem animals when they could. As people have aggravated the animals, animals have attacked people back.
The original idea of CAMPFIRE is to provide financial income to rural communities whenever an animal is successfully hunted in the communities’ area. Through receiving money from the professional hunts, the communities are to see the benefits of conserving the animals and their habitats. For example, the price of an elephant for a hunter is approximately $20,000. When an elephant is killed, the hunter (usually a rich American or German) pays the safari company the $20,000. The safari company then gives 50% to the Rural District Council of the district in which the elephant was shot. Via various processes the majority of this $10,000 is to be passed down to the villages affected by the “problem animals”. I won’t go into details about the projects issues and intricacies here, that’s for another blog(s) about my research findings, but this is how it was designed and set up. By local people conserving the elephant and its habitat for example, the hunter could come and kill it, thereby making money for the area and rewarding people, whether through payment of cash directly to them or through the money being spent on community development projects.
Hunting in this way is organised, controlled and monitored. Every year, quotas are set on the number of each species that can be hunted in order to keep the populations at a sustainable level. The safari operators use professional hunters who are trained to perform quick and effective kills, and train the tourist hunters to do the same. They also know which specific animal out of a herd or in an area is the most suitable one to kill whether that is because they have been particularly problematic for local communities or because it works better for the herd as a whole. For example, with elephant herds, it is better to make sure the matriarch is not the one killed as she is the one leading the rest of the herd to food and water, and is obviously very important for breeding.
The benefits to be gained from this organised hunting and the CAMPFIRE programme are multiple.
- There are the monetary benefits to households. When the revenue from a kill reaches a village, some villages decide they wish to divide the money per household directly. This is usually used to pay school fees, to diversify livelihood activities through purchasing tools for example, pay for medical treatment or simply to buy needed food.
- Sometimes the village decides the money should be used to benefit the whole community. In these cases, it has been spent in the past on building things like classroom blocks, toilets, grinding mills, boreholes for water etc.
- There are ecological benefits derived from maintaining habitats and animal species at a sustainable level which also aids in encouraging altruistic animal activities such as photographic safaris bringing more money into the communities.
- All types of animal related activities in tourism create or support a large industry of employment in lodges and game parks, support local food markets, and develop surrounding infrastructure such as telephone network, electricity and roads.
However, the CAMPFIRE programme has somewhat collapsed over the last decade for many reasons, especially in the four villages I studied. Speaking with communities living at the forefront of these human-wildlife conflicts I actually found my head wishing much more hunting was happening in these areas, despite my heart screaming “no”!! In these villages people are living on the breadline, hand-to-mouth, reliant on subsistence agriculture. For most of year the majority are dependent upon food aid either from international donors or government programmes.
Why? Largely because all of their crops are eaten by elephants (changes in rainfall is also a significant contributor). What little was harvested by people would last only 3-4 months at best. Baboons attacking their goats and sheep has meant they have no livelihood security through the sale of these livestock or use of them as meat. Lions attacking cattle has meant a decline in some households’ ability to plough larger areas of land that would produce enough for the family until the next season. People have to stay up all night to guard their fields or homesteads banging pots and pans in attempts to scare the animals away, and have the constant worry of whether or not they will have crops or livestock the next day.
In one village we awoke to a man sitting outside our tent. He explained that his donkey had been attacked by two lions during the night, had somehow miraculously survived, and beyond wanting our help to treat it he wanted us to come and take photos so that we could take them to the government to show them what people are dealing with everyday. He was sad, angry, disappointed, and frustrated all at the same time, and that was a daily feeling for him. The poor donkey would have been better off if it had died, but we did the best we could (if painkillers and antibiotics are good enough for us, they’re good enough for a dying donkey right?!).
When at the centre of the situation it is so much easier to see how animal populations need to be kept at sustainable levels. Without professional hunting companies who derive their revenue from rich tourists wanting to kill a trophy animal, the conflicts reach such proportions that local communities will kill any animal in which they come into contact (although dangerously as they have no weapons), and poachers will have free reign to take any they want (as safari operators also organise the patrolling and protection of their concession areas), wiping out large sections of the species’ population.
It’s easy to sit there from a distance berating countries for generating revenue from killing beautiful animals and while I wasn’t ignorant to the fact that there was of course more to the story, living with the people having to fight with these animals and likewise with those benefiting from the sustainable use of these animals, has opened my mind to the idea of hunting. I still dont understand the psychology of wanting to kill something but if it is done right for the right reasons, I think I may now actually support it. I would still save the baby antelope though and things like this brief article about a TV presenter bragging about her incredible day hunting next to a dead lion still makes my stomach churn and fills my heart with anger, but… in my head I now know she’ll have paid a lot of money for that which will go towards making sure lions are still around for years to come. It’s not as simple as saying that “she’s disgusting” and “should be stopped immediately”.
This is a very simple account of a very complex situation but the bottom line is the same. There are sustainable limits to all natural resource use whether this is forestry, water, or animals, and in some cases the best means of maintaining these sustainable levels is by hunting through organised programmes and spreading the benefits of this in ways that further encourage such sustainability. There are of course many cons to this type of hunting, especially socially, but that’s for another time.