On March 10th, 2018, animal lovers in Cape Town, South Africa got together for a march to protest the ill-treatment of wildlife and other animals in their country. An estimated 400 to 500 people participated.
Firstly, I would like to stress how important it is for activists to raise public awareness of animal cruelty issues. Postings on social media and protest marches are useful tools for this purpose. They are also useful for building up networks of supportive groups. The Global March for Lions in 2014, which involved coordinated protest marches in 62 cities around the world, was particularly effective in that respect.
However, while we are strong on social media, activists often falter when it comes to working at a political and policy level with lawmakers. To illustrate this with two examples, let us examine what the hunting industry was doing around the time that placard-carrying animal lovers were parading around the streets of Cape Town.
Policy capture in Europe
During this time, the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation (FACE) was holding a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. No expense was spared. High-level officials from African rangeland states were flown into Brussels to attend the meeting, where hunting fanatics mingled with European lawmakers. It is worth reading this brief summary on the FACE website to see just how successful hunting public relations can be when employed at a political and policy level.
The theme of the conference was that European lawmakers should ignore calls for bans on the import of trophies from iconic animals, such as lions and elephants, and let African nations decide for themselves how wonderful hunting is for money and jobs. Naturally there were no voices present representing dissenting views, which could muddy the waters of hunting public relations by pointing out the flaws in their logic.
What about the USA?
While hunting privileges for Europeans were being sewn up nice and tight in Brussels, over the pond in the United States the hunting industry was celebrating the lifting of the ban on the import of lion and elephant trophies by Secretary Zinke, the Trump appointee to head the Department of the Interior. Zinke, a hunting fanatic himself, has appointed an advisory council that would effectively influence, if not control, conservation policy at US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS). To see how ‘insanely biased’ in favor of hunting this council is, read the excellent Associated Press report on this subject.
There is also a useful summary by Elly Pepper on the new Council. As Pepper sums up:
“Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council’s mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn’t want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.”
When you see how effectively the hunting industry invades and occupies conservation space by working at a political and policy level, you will not be surprised to see why we are losing the fight to save our wildlife from brutal exploitation and from ending up as living targets being bred for hunting on game farms.
We at CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting) are often approached by passionate animal lovers who want to assist us in our efforts to obtain a ban on canned lion hunting in South Africa. While we welcome such passion, we find that there is a dire need for keen activists to qualify themselves on this issue. Each activist needs to be trained and to get some personal experience of the issue. Even manning a stand at some event ought to be done by a trained volunteer, because some hunting protagonist will inevitably want to debate the issue, and the volunteers must be able to hold their own in debate.
They must know the pro-hunting arguments and the counter-arguments. They should, if necessary, be able to debate the issue convincingly on radio or TV against well-prepared hunting experts. Does hunting provide jobs and rural income as they claim, or is it a wasteful use of land? What are the facts? What are the statistics? Advocates must know the arguments on both sides.
Upon looking at the hunting industry as if it were a company with a proper balance sheet, we find that the industry is clever about publishing only alleged profit items while ignoring the losses, and claiming assets while ignoring the liabilities. Animal advocates should be able to force hunters to account for the whole balance sheet of the hunting industry, not only a few selected items from the profit account. All of this is very well explained by Julie Lewin in her admirable work at National Institute for Animal Advocacy.
What is official policy on hunting and conservation in South Africa? South Africa’s Minister for Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa summed it up:
“Biodiversity is an economic sector in South Africa that can be tapped into to contribute to radical socio-economic transformation in South Africa. One of the major contributors to wildlife tourism and the South African economy is the hunting industry. Besides contributing to the growth in GDP and creating job opportunities, this sector remains largely untransformed.”
One can easily see that animal welfare concerns about cruelty are excluded from this policy. Wildlife is merely an economic resource that must be used to transfer wealth from tourists to South Africans. That is South Africa’s government policy in a nutshell. In fact, former president Jacob Zuma was (in)famously quoted as stating at a public meeting that “compassion for animals is un-African.”
In order to respond to this ideology, the animal advocate has to put aside all sentiment and focus on the money, in order to convince African governments that hunting is a wasteful use of land and that rural economies will benefit far more from non-consumptive ecotourism.
Until animal activists learn to compete effectively against the hunting industry at a political and policy level, hunting propaganda will continue to be the mainstream narrative in conservation services. We are not winning this battle, people. I have been campaigning for twenty years against a cruel and senseless canned lion industry, only to see it mushroom from about fifteen hundred lions in captivity at the turn of the millennium, to more than 8,000 currently.
Terms of trade are moving against us. At the moment, hunting fits into African politics in a marriage made in hell for the animals. The seething, discontented underclass of an exploding human population will force political imperatives to push out all other considerations, such as conservation. Animal welfare is not even in the game. An increasingly desperate human population will regard animal welfare concerns as not only irrelevant, but positively subversive.
So although time is against us, two priorities are identified. First, to fund and organize professional training for animal advocates, and second, to commission academic studies that show the fallacy of hunting as a beneficial land-use for all but a tiny elite.
Originally published on Campaign Against Canned Hunting’s blog March 20, 2018.
Featured image: Lion Pose. Credit: Michael Day used under CC BY-SA 2.0.