Trophy Hunting

Hunting is something that’s been controversial in the media in recent years. Photos of hunters with big game trophies have made the rounds with celebrities and comedians who don’t understand it and use their influence to badmouth it. When people look at a photo from a successful hunt, they often either see the rewards of a hard hunt or something grim that they do not agree with. It’s a classic example of two people looking at the same photo and seeing two completely different things.

I think the best way for me to describe what we do and why we believe hunting is the best form of conservation for wild animals is for me to make a list of a few key points, then explain each under them. I’ve given specific examples to further prove the point.

Hunting as Conservation

The first point I want to get across is that we are not hunting areas that are viable to photo-tourism. Because of recent postings in the media regarding hunting lions and giraffe, I’ll use Africa as my example. The national parks of Africa are incredibly beautiful, and I will be the first to tell you that these areas should be kept off limits to hunting, due to the fact that money generated from photo-tourism can fully sustain the anti-poaching efforts that the park has to pay for. In addition to be full of wild fauna and flora, they’re typically very scenic areas that make for nice photographs and settings for camps. These areas typically see a large influx of photo-tourists in 10-15 passenger vehicles who, though they cannot leave the vehicle for their own safety, can still see animals from the car and take photos. The animals are obviously use to people because many have come through over the years, so they are quite docile.

Hunting areas on the other hand are areas outside of national parks that the governments have set aside as sort of “buffer zones” to the parks. Human encroachment in Africa is a huge problem because the population is exploding. The areas where we hunt are typically very thick, densely wooded areas, that have indigenous human populations within them. They are not conducive to photo-tourism, thus they have to find another way to raise money. The people living in these hunting areas make money by either raising cattle, crops or both. The human/animal conflicts in these areas is extremely high because the wild animals compete with their cattle for grazing, and also severely damage their crops. The locals will do anything within their power to keep their cattle and crops safe, which typically includes killing them indiscriminately by any means necessary. An example would be, if lions kill their cattle, so they will poison the dead cow which in turn kills anything that feeds on the cow carcass. This typically not only means wiping out an entire pride of lions, but also the small scavengers and birds that also feed on them. Elephant and rhino are not only killed for eating crops, but unfortunately the Asian continent is in love with their horns and tusks so there’s an illegal demand for ivory and rhino horn. In these areas where there is very little outside income, people are easily persuaded to poach the rhino and elephant to sell their tusks and horns which has no limit and they poach until the animals are gone. They will wipe out any animal they think they can get money for, and 100 times out of 100 they simply shoot the animal, cut the horns or tusks out and leave the meat there to rot.

Sharing elephant meat with an entire village.

Sharing elephant meat with an entire village.

This is where hunting comes in as conservation. What hunters do, is take these areas that have no source of income from wildlife (thus rendering them useless in the eyes of the bush African) and transform them into hunting areas. Hunters pay big money to have these areas to themselves for 10-28 days and come hunt. The hunting operators hire locals as trackers, skinners, cooks and scouts, and the government regulates this by setting very conservative quotas for animals, to ensure that off-take does not exceed reproduction rates. The money derived from hunting safaris goes toward funding anti-poaching teams, and the quota insures that only old animals are taken and the younger ones are allowed to reproduce. Anti-poaching teams are there to ensure that no illegal hunting is going on, and curbs poaching of animals indiscriminately. It’s a proven fact that in hunting areas, wildlife populations flourish because they have a value. Giving them value to the locals makes them want to protect them because instead of the animals competing with their crops and eating their cattle, now they gain income from them just being there. When a cow is killed by a lion, the hunting operator pays compensation to the cows owner. So, instead of the cows owner killing the lions in retaliation, he goes to the hunter and the hunter pays him cash. Same with the crop destruction.
If an elephant herd breaks into a crop area and destroys it, the hunters money pays the local farmer compensation. On top of that, all the meat not eaten by the hunting party is required by law to be donated to the local community. The community gets paid for each animal taken by the hunters, gets compensated by the hunting party for crop and livestock loss AND gets to keep all the meat (which they are in desperate need of). This is how hunting brings the animals value, and why it stops poaching and indiscriminate killing. Hunting is truly the best option for the areas outside of national parks, and most areas without it are complete devoid of game and full of cattle.

Specific Example

Kashmir Markhor - Pakistan

Kashmir Markhor – Pakistan

It’s a fact that hunters are willing to go into areas that no one else is in search of exotic game. A specific example is NW Pakistan. Pakistan isn’t exactly considered a top tourist destination in the world. They’ve had trouble with Taliban in recent years (Bin Laden was killed there), road systems are awful and extremely dangerous, and they’re not set up for accommodating large groups of people outside of the major cities. In NW Pakistan is where you find the Kashmir Markhor. A Kashmir Markhor is the rarest wild goat in the world. In and around the town of Chitral, Pakistan they historically had a large population of the Markhor, with as many as 10,000 of them living within just miles of the city. Over the decades as the human population expanded, so did the demand for more room for them to graze their livestock. As the demand for grazing ground grew, so did the conflict with the Markhor and domestic goats. Herders would kill the Markhor illegally in order to make room for their livestock, and by the early 1990s there was only an estimated 30 Kashmir Markhor left around Chitral. The local government saw that if they didn’t do something to protect these animals that they would go extinct, so they declared a portion of the mountains near Chitral a “Markhor Conservancy”. In doing so they made it illegal to graze goats within the boundaries of the park in an attempt to keep people out and grow the Markhor population.
Game guards were hired to keep watch of the Markhor and make sure they weren’t being poached, but funding wasn’t there to keep this conservancy going for long. In the late 90s when funding was running dry because there was no tourism to sustain it, they decided to auction one hunting permit for a male Markhor. The permit brought over $50,000 the first year and was such a help that they were able to fund additional game watching teams and all but stopped illegal poaching. Today they auction 4 permits per year for Markhor for over $100,000 each. The permits directly fund the conservancy, but also fund road projects in the area, mosque building and area schools for school supplies. I visited this area in February 2014 while joining a client on his Marhkor hunt, and today there are well over 1,300 Markhor living within the areas conservancies. They’ve been able to expand the conservancy boundaries to neighboring towns because they see how much money these animals are worth living rather than using the ground for grazing their domestic goats. The population is growing at an exponential rate, and it’s 100% due to the fact they are hunting them.
This shows how incredibly treacherous the Himalayan Mountains are. Here's a picture of a guide checking for ibex on a near vertical cliff.

This shows how incredibly treacherous the Himalayan Mountains are. Here’s a picture of a guide checking for ibex on a near vertical cliff.

 

Why I believe there is a difference in hunting vs. shooting…

Why I hunt

Like the majority of hunters, I was raised hunting. My grandfather was not a hunter, but my father picked it up while working on his families farm in the summers and fall and raised my brothers and I to hunt. Growing up I was rarely allowed to actually carry a gun while hunting. My father would take me deer hunting, but we never shot anything. We would watch and observe the deer, and he’d teach me about them. Watching them in their habitat while “hunting” as a boy, I gained a respect for them that most people don’t have because they don’t understand them. I think it’s safe to say that I know more about whitetail deer than 99% of the people who say you shouldn’t hunt them, and the reason I know so much about them is because I hunt them. I hunt for the challenge, and the older I get the less I actually shoot anything while deer hunting. The older the deer is, the more of a challenge he is to successfully hunt, and I do enjoy the sport in trying to outsmart them. I hunt does (females) for meat, but never take more than I need and eat the deer meat year round. Its a good source of protein, and you know it hasn’t been tampered with like most meat in supermarkets have been. Even “Grass fed” beef has typically been fed grain and hormones for the last month of the animals lives.

When going on adventure hunts in Africa, Asia and North America, for hunters, it’s a personal challenge. Climbing at 16,000 feet is incredibly difficult, and trying to actually get close enough to a big game animal who’s spent his entire life avoiding snow leopards and wolves, is extremely challenging. People have flown halfway around the world and spent 2 weeks in a tent and failed to fire a single shot. That’s hunting, it’s not easy when you stick to your goals and never waver on them. If anything, unsuccessful hunts give you a deeper respect for your quarry. I also hunt because I know it’s the best way to manage game populations. This could mean controlling their numbers from getting too high, or spending the necessary funds to keep them valuable to the local population (as seen above in the Kashmir Markhor example above). Please don’t take this as me trying to make hunters sound like some kind of philanthropic organization, because that’s not why I hunt and that’s not what I am. I respect the game I hunt and do like the sport aspect of it as well, and that’s something I will never apologize for. We do however have a deep respect for the tradition of hunting, and care about all animals. Sustainable hunting is the best way to ensure they exist outside of national parks, period.

Final Thoughts

At some point in every single human’s genetic linage there’s a hunter. I understand that some people are so many generations removed from hunting that they cannot understand why we do it, nor will they ever understand it. But you must understand, that what a true hunter is doing, is not some attempt to prove our manhood, to try and look tough or to gain attention. A true hunter is doing it for themselves and for the game they pursue. Are there people who do it for the wrong reasons? Sure. But that’s human nature, and you’ll find people doing all sorts of things for the wrong reasons. Like everything in life, a few bad eggs can ruin the image of an entire group. When people stop respecting the game they pursue, they’ve lost what it means to be a hunter. The best way to keep this from happening is to educate kids and new hunters, what we perceive as the correct way to hunt. Teach them the way it is supposed to be done as my father did with me at a young age. Personally, I try and teach them it’s not about the kill, but about the pursuit, it’s not about the size of the trophy, but the challenge it took to get it. To teach them to utilize every bit of the animal they take, as to not waste it.  In the case of someone reading this blog post, I hope at the very least I’ve said enough to show you, that most of us are not blood thirsty, chest bumping morons, who get off on ending the life of an animal the way the media likes to portray us.

Greg Brownlee