Uganda Ends Sport Hunting as Wildlife Numbers Decline

Investors in sport hunting in Uganda’s game parks have up to January next year to stop shooting wild animals for fun, The Uganda news site The New Vision reported recently.

According to The New Vision: “This follows a resolution from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to cancel hunting concessions offered years ago to the wildlife reserves.’We are concerned about the dwindling numbers of wild animals in the wildlife reserves. Hunting is prohibited,’ said Mark Kamanzi, the acting director of UWA.”

Kamanzi was reported as saying that the share of benefits of sport hunting were lopsided and unlikely to deter poaching or improve UWA¹s capacity to manage the wildlife reserves.

Wildlife managers had argued that the only way to save wildlife in Uganda was to use it to attract the private sector to invest in the management of wildlife reserves, The New Vision explained.

Read the full story on The New Vision website.

Nat Geo News Watch spoke to Dereck Joubert, a veteran wildlife filmmaker based in Africa who has been warning for years that hunting could be devastating the continent’s remaining herds of wild animals and especially their predators.

Dereck Joubert and his wife Beverly Joubert are National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence and founders of the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, a program designed to restore and conserve Africa’s last wild lions, cheetahs, and leopards.

Dereck Joubert interviewed by David Braun

Uganda has re-imposed a ban on hunting, reportedly citing the failure of hunting concessions to halt dwindling of populations of wild animals in preserves. You have long been opposed to hunting as a means of conservation. What is the argument against controlled hunting as a means to give economic value to wildlife conservation?

I have been against unethical hunting, not so much hunting itself, for many years. Sadly that has become one and the same recently.

I have been against hunting of declining species. We have endured 50 years or more of conservation by the gun in many parts of Africa and the one lesson we can take away is that it does not work.

With lions now teetering on the edge at around 20,000 animals, clearly the old ways have to change. Trophy hunting of the iconic animals really knocks back the genetic best of those populations as they decline and the selection process gets more refined and there is more targeting at the few decent specimens we have left.

Imagine for a moment that not long ago we could hunt tigers! Today we have only about 2,500 left! Lions, leopards, jaguars are all heading towards the tiger numbers fast.

Very little actual revenue from hunting makes it back to Africa in reality, and while the paper “rules of engagement” seem clear, there are many, many examples of blatant disregard not only for these gentlemanly rules, but laws of the country being broken.

So the drain on many regions, the risk to predator populations, to the corruption that some hunting generates, and the depletion of key populations far outweigh the conservation, moral or economic benefits today.

The one rule that hunting fraternities live by, that of “fair chase,” is a vestige of an era when the plains were black with animals and the luxury of making a sport out of killing things was okay, (well semi okay…I don’t think anyone today thinks it’s the test of a real man, or a polite thing to do.)

I believe that hunting will one day be relegated to the category of awful things we did as humans, alongside apartheid and the Holocaust, just in an animal context.

Has the failure of the economic theory of hunting in support of conservation in Uganda been paralleled in other parts of Africa?

Hunting has been banned in many places largely not for being uneconomical but mostly because of the negative impact it has on animals. And here we should be clear. Statistically it seems okay to siphon off some wildebeest in a migration of over a million. It may even seem to be reasonable to pick off or harvest other prey animals that are resident, but it gets very difficult to justify taking out, and specifically targeting the top predators that should roughly equal 10 percent of the mammals in a balanced system, but very quickly collapse under this kind of pressure.

Even selective hunting by a rather unnatural set of qualifying filters (such as size and fitness) is exactly the opposite of the natural selection that one sees going on in the wild. We don’t see lions circling a herd to find the fittest, largest bull buffalo while there are injured and weak nearby.

The investment by nature in those fit, large males is disproportionately great in that they are the ones that have worked their way through life to breed, and they should be the ones to breed more strong breeders that will lead and carry the herds, prides and populations into the next generation and next era.

But we take an enormous amount of time, spend a lot of money, and effort, finding and killing those perfect animals! It’s like burning the best antiques of our collection to keep the house warm.

Kenya banned hunting in 1977 for that reason. Many critics of this decision point to the fact that there are now fewer lions than in 1977. Well, there are also ten times as many humans, and that has a lot to do with the decline of lion numbers.

Are African governments becoming more aware that hunting might not be what it is cracked up to be in terms of generating revenue AND protecting their wildlife heritage?

Very definitely, and the Botswana model of low-impact, high-cost tourism has turned the economic reality of its wild places around completely.

As these wild resources on the planet shrink, we will all be looking at them as a shared and precious commodity and with a universal responsibility to protect the last of them.

In the next 50 years or so, we can expect wars to be fought over game reserves and natural resources other than gold or silver, or even water, because each lion will be a gem, each acre of untouched land will be worth more than the gold underneath it. Imagine the value of the last pride of lions!

I think also that as the world’s communication leaps to more efficient levels, a sentiment felt in New York is transmitted instantly to the capital of Botswana, that influences leaders and drives policy changes. There is less room for misunderstanding. If the world sentiment is that hunting is no longer socially acceptable then governments in the remotest places hear that argument and can weigh it up with all the information.

What economic models have worked to support the protection of wildlife and sanctuaries? Are there any outstanding examples of success?

Well I am biased, but the Botswana eco-tourism model is the best I know of in Africa. It is rapidly being recognized as such and we are seeing efforts to replicate it in Tanzania, and Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. There are low-density lodges starting in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and South Africa has long had this.

What do you say to the statement by hunting concerns that they manage wildlife areas and keep poaching under control?

Huh? I don’t understand the question! You are suggesting that hunting has anything at all to do with curtailing poaching? That is what the propaganda magazines will have you believe. Here is the way it really is: Hunting concessions allow hunting for five months a year in most countries. That means for seven months there is no one in residence. So seven months of poaching–un-manned, un-policed, the Wild West!

And, in areas where there are five months of hunting, anyone patrolling (99 percent of the time not hunters) who hears gunshots assumes it is hunting, while in fact it is poaching.

So the barrage of wild gunfire in hunting areas, and trust me there is a lot of gunfire going on, from target practice to multiple guns shooting at animals, sometimes from cars (80 percent of animals shot on safari–according to one source, Dr. Ian Parker in 2005–are shot illegally, from cars, at night on baits, and so on) is all a perfect smoke screen for poachers.

Poachers shy away from eco-tourism areas in general because it is constantly silent. When they fire a gun there are vehicles and planes on to them. Hunting and poaching go hand-in-hand, not in opposition.

Poaching gets reduced by creating wealth and health among rural communities so they can join a real world economy and not have to rely on bush meat to live.

Hunting, as we have seen, leaves most of its revenue outside of Africa, so that doesn’t help much. Eco-tourism creates 12 times as many jobs in most cases, has a real skills-transfer process, and eases people into that real economy.

Many business sectors do this, of course, but eco-tourism does it on the canvas of conservation, so not only does it feed the system with educated and trained people, but those people go out into the business world converted to conservation by default.

Poverty is linked to lack of education and lack of conservation ethic. If we want to fix wildlife, and stop poaching, it won’t be done with hunting. We tried that for 50 years, at least.

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Read more about the work of Dereck and Beverly Joubert.

NGS photo by Mark Thiessen

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn