A Funny Old Game

BY JOHN NASH

Hunting regularly comes under fire from supporters of animal rights, vegetarianism and folks who are concerned with ecological extinction.  The heaviest fire directed at trophy hunting in Africa, replete with visions of Victorian Rider Haggard types in pith helmets blasting African animals in all directions. Talk about barking up the wrong tree.  Modern Africa is very different.

Most trophy hunters go to South Africa, where, provided land owners high-fence their properties, they may claim title to the wildlife on their land, giving them the right to buy and sell wildlife as they see fit, provided it doesn’t contravene legislation designed to protect locally threatened species. Farming wild animals for hunting and venison is an excellent way of using land in a country where only 13% is suitable for rain fed crops, and ownership of wild life provides farmers with an income and collateral for further investment. Hunting has a real economic benefit.

Wild Animals do best in their indigenous habitat and are more profitable than traditional farm stock on marginal land, so farmers there have turned forty million acres of former farms and cattle ranches back into African bush, better known as game farms, all supported by hunting and the venison industry. The average size is about 6500 acres.  Apart from the millions of game animals, trillions of other non-hunted animals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants and trees also find a home in this vast area. It is a conservation success story that should be contrasted with the destruction in Amazon or Indonesia. No more than 70% of the progeny are harvested every year so all of the wild animals are increasing in number and none will become extinct. Regulated hunting is good for animal populations. 

Animals that are taken as trophies are still subsequently eaten. In fact, foreign trophy hunters are the most welcome hunters of all in the rural areas. The 300,000 local meat hunters take their meat home with them, but the visiting 6000 trophy hunters pay well and take only the skins home, so the valuable meat is eaten locally, important in remote areas where there are no other sources of income and food must be home grown. For a rural African with his family’s precious food growing on a handkerchief of dry land, an elephant is a dangerous five ton garden slug. It is also five tons of organic, free range meat. Why must it be protected so that a well-fed Western visitor can photograph it?

If this huge area wasn’t used to farm wild animals, it might be turned back into cattle ranches, where the wild animals would have to be removed because they are predators, competitors for grazing or vectors of disease. Worse still, it might be ploughed up to grow crops, resulting in the removal of all of the wild animals and all of the plant life, too.  Without hunting, much of it would be abandoned and invaded by poor informal settlers, forced by circumstance to turn everything into food or firewood in uncontrolled ways.   

Without a doubt, a free-roaming animal that lives a wild life in the sunshine, followed by a quick and unexpected death from a hunter’s bullet, has a better life and death than an intensively raised animal in a farm shed that is subsequently trucked to an abattoir. Few things die of old age on the African savannah, where death is neither painless nor dignified and a bullet is a kindness. 

A wild animal, raised in its natural habitat, requires fewer inputs of water, power, management, food and pharmaceuticals than traditional farm stock. Wild animals use the habitat more efficiently, since different animals have different feeding habits, unlike farm stock. They tolerate the heat better, avoid toxic plants and are immune to many local pests and pathogens. All in all, they are good for the environment and have a much lower carbon footprint. What’s not to like? 

It is often said that, because it takes 13 lbs of vegetable matter to produce 1 lb of meat, we should stop eating meat and eat vegetables.  However, we cannot eat the plants and trees of the African bush, but we can eat the animals that do eat them. It is paradoxical that it is “greener” to sustainably eat wild animal meat than to plough up the land for a vegetarian diet.

So, hunting on the game ranches of South Africa is better for the animals, increases the number of wild animals, is better for the habitat, is excellent conservation, is better for the people, provides some food security, has a lower carbon footprint and is greener than a vegetarian diet.

All in all, utilitarianism says, “something is good if it brings the greatest good for the greatest number”, so from the utilitarian point of view, sustainable hunting and eating wild animals raised in natural habitat must be a good thing for ecological extinction, for vegetarians and for animal rights.  

It is also supremely ironic that “Animal rights” the bible of the animal rights movement, was written in 1975 by Peter Singer, a prominent utilitarian………

John Nash grew up in West Cornwall and was a £10 pom to Johannesburg in the early 1960’s. He started well in construction project management, mainly high rise buildings but it wasn’t really Africa, so he went bush, prospecting and trading around the murkier bits of the bottom half of the continent. Now retired back in Cornwall among all the other evil old pirates. His interests are still sustainable resources, wildlife management and the utilitarian needs of rural Africa.