I want to share the following thoughts by my friend Ab Abercrombie with his permission.
Dr. Abercrombie is a Professor Emeritus at Wofford College and teaches Plant and Animal Resources of Africa and Techniques and Strategies of Wildlife Management at Africa University near Mutare, Zimbabwe. Africa University is a private university affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Its students come from 22 diverse countries throughout the continent.
Read along with an open mind. Abercrombie’s words are in blue:
“OF LIONS, SYLLABI, NEOCOLONIALISM, AND DEFERRED DENTAL SERVICES
I really like lions, especially the one that finally decided not to eat me some years ago near Vic Falls. Furthermore, I think that Cecil, a late, lamented resident of Hwange National Park, was a fine lion, a glorious lion if you like. I am saddened by the tasteless manner of his death. Heck, I’m so mad that if Walter James Palmer were my dentist, I might skip one or even two cleaning appointments.
I am also disturbed that Cecil’s death has dominated America’s Africa-headlines for days on end. During this same period, South Sudan has been descending into the
abyss of renewed civil war. Guinea has been racked by scary health-care catastrophes. And in east-central Congo, juvenile higher primates, of a species that y’all know very well, have died because proxy fighters for “developed” nations have sought the cheapest coltan to make for us the cheapest cell phones. Probably some truly wonderful things have also happened in Africa, but how would we know?
OK, I’m upset in general. But I’m also upset in particular because Cecil’s death & the furor surrounding it will affect my own life. In a few days Chrissy Hope and I shall depart for a semester in Zimbabwe. She’ll teach “Rural Development.” I’ll teach “Plant & Animal Resources of Africa” and “Techniques and Strategies of Wildlife Management.”
I have taught the Management course before. And I always spend a lot of time on trophy hunting. Of course I’ve never been a trophy hunter myself; I don’t have the money. But some people do, and I am thankful for that. Ecologically, trophy hunting is very low-impact. Properly managed, it is entirely sustainable. Justly administered, it provides revenue for local communities that are desperate for money.
And thus, when it’s done right, trophy hunting can be a powerful tool for conservation. The death of an elephant by Yankee gunfire can contribute $20,000 to a dirt-poor village. Then perhaps elephants will no longer be defined as five-ton rats that will destroy your maize-crop—and perhaps ivory poachers will be condemned as game-thieves rather than praised as agents of nuisance-animal control. Similarly, a trophy-hunt for a big male lion might generate > $30K; then perhaps a villager can tolerate the loss of the occasional cow and can teach her kids how to be very, very careful. Otherwise, well, poison is pretty darn cheap, and somebody will know how to use it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that trophy hunting in Zimbabwe always works super-well. Mr. Cecil’s death certainly proves that point! But before you propose a general condemnation of trophy hunting, please scan presentations by Zimbabwean, Namibian, and South African biologists at Plenary Meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Or read articles about lion and elephant
management in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Or meditate on the conservation triumphs made possible by Teddy Roosevelt, the greatest trophy hunter of all time. Or, best of all, come to Zimbabwe and do some serious research. I guarantee that you’ll discover plenty of nastiness, complexity, inefficiency, cruelty, and injustice within the trophy-hunting enterprise. But if you keep your eyes and your mind open, you’ll also recognize some substantial successes—the schools, the clinics, the empowered communities, the changing attitudes about conservation.
In the end, of course, you might decide that you still want to oppose trophy hunting. But if you do, management biologists will challenge you to offer a just way immediately to infuse several million replacement-dollars into Zimbabwe’s economy. And if you can’t invent such a plan, then do an honest gut-check on which you like better: tawny-skinned lions or black-skinned people.
ADDITIONAL, PERSONAL NOTE: I do not enjoy killing anything, and therefore I am uncomfortable in supporting trophy hunting. Nevertheless, I am completely convinced that resource managers in developing nations should possess that option within their repertoire of potential conservation strategies. Alongside my students, I’ll think enthusiastically about how this might work. Furthermore, to tell the truth, I’ll be sympathetic when my students brand as neocolonialist certain American attempts to frustrate African-designed and CITES-approved wildlife management programs. And, yeah, you guessed it: for a whole bunch of reasons, Chrissy and I are nervous about this Zimbabwe-semester; we would appreciate your kind thoughts and even your generous prayers.
Grace and Peace, Ab.”
From further speaking with Ab, I know that different African countries are applying varying plans in an attempt to balance wildlife and the revenues that wildlife-watching and legal, responsible safari hunting bring in. For example, Rwanda charges trophy hunting level fees (Ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching!) for the privilege of watching mountain gorillas in the wild. Botswana has ended trophy hunting and is experimenting with two different fee structures for wildlife-watchers (camera safaris), something akin to “first class” and “tourist” class.
Ab told me that he would hate to see Zimbabwe price middle-class tourists out of being able to go there and view wildlife. As a middle-class American, I simply wish I was well-off enough to take a couple of weeks off and purchase a tourist class plane ticket to Zimbabwe!!!
Remember that you cannot generalize about Africa. It is made of many diverse countries, each attempting to make its way into the 21st century. It is my opinion that carefully managed wildlife-watching and trophy hunting are important tools to protect their precious resources and bring in revenue. Sadly these nations also must fight the bushmeat trade, habitat loss and a level of poaching that is tantamount to organized crime in order to protect many game and non-game species.
It is noteworthy that in the United States, much of the revenue used to manage game and non-game species and their habitats is generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, tags and permits. Hikers, campers, birdwatchers, etc do not have to purchase a license to view animals here. If you like seeing our native wildlife, thank a hunter. Better yet, purchase a hunting and fishing license even if you do not intend to use it.
Thanks to my sister-in-law Sarah for the photos accompanying this blog.