The Price of Life

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$350,000. That’s enough to buy you a second home in Scotland, a handful of cars, a boat, (half a bathroom in London) and now the dubious right to trophy hunt a critically endangered black rhino in Etosha, one of Nambia’s national parks.

Writing this as someone who gave up all semblance of a respectable job (and indeed the promise of ever having $350,000) to pursue a career in conservation science, my initial reaction to this was one of abject disgust. What pleasure can you possibly derive from killing such a magnificent creature, when the tides are so immeasurably in your favour (current thoughts stem from impotence issues to small man syndrome)? Watching these great creatures roam the valleys of Namibia’s open countryside fills me only with the desire to shoot them with my camera, rather than to pick up the nearest rifle.

Nevertheless, whatever the motivation behind the sport, it would be naïve to allow compassion to blind you to the benefits that trophy hunting could bring to conservation.  Successful conservation is very much a money driven practice, and at the end of the day the dosh has to come from somewhere. Although controversial, the killing of one rhino can provide a much needed economic boost for rhino conservation generally; money that just cannot be generated by other means.

What’s more, often the animal that is singled out for hunting is problematic in its own right, and would have to be killed anyway, whether the deed is done by a national park ranger or an overweight American with far too much money to spare. Take Etosha’s black rhino. This old individual has lost the fire in his belly, being no longer fertile and expelled from his community for a life of lonely retirement (anyone see the similarities to the American hunter in this scenario?) Such rogue beasts often take it upon themselves to cause chaos, occasionally killing breeding females and calves in their stubborn rampages. In truth, their removal only stirs the hearts of sympathetic westerners who perhaps have not been exposed to the bitter-sweet circle of life that marks the red soil of the African plains.

I’m not saying trophy hunting works in all cases. However in Namibia at least, trophy hunting has certainly proven to be good for conservation and good for rhino’s in particular. Wild black rhinos all live in Africa, and (as with many other iconic African mammals), poaching and habitat loss have seen their numbers fall exponentially in the last 40 years.  However,  in Namibia, black rhino numbers have actually quadrupled since their low point in 1980 to around 1750 animals today*, of which Namibia can sell hunting rights for as many as five rhino each year. In each case the trophy fee goes towards a trust fund that supports rhino conservation efforts, for example paying for anti-poaching measures such as putting transmitters in rhino horns. Last year neighbouring South Africa witnessed a blood bath as poachers mercilessly slaughtered almost a thousand rhino. By contrast, Namibia lost just two*².

Protecting wildlife is complicated and often a moral minefield. . There is no doubt that trophy hunting is a risky business, but if an old, overweight, sunburnt Tory wants to pay through the odds to shoot an animal that is past its prime, then great, so long as it is done for the right reasons. Let us exploit the perversions of the weak man, to pave the way towards a better future for what are nature’s truly great beasts.

*There are only 5000 surviving black rhinos in the wild today.

*² As well as turning trophy hunting to their favour, Namibia also benefited from turning over wildlife to communal conservancies run by ranchers and herders (many of which had previously been poachers themselves).

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Louisa Wood

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