Trophy Hunting

Posted on January 27, 2014


At the beginning of the month I was approached by the news team at the cable channel Arise News to rejoin as a presenter. I did a small stint at the end of the summer but left after August to pursue other projects. It’s a news channel with a particular focus on African stories and is funded by a Nigerian multi-millionaire.

I’ve landed the gig as the weekend breakfast presenter, something that is still a shock to the system every time the alarm goes off at 4am. The beauty about having my “own show” means that the producers are really open to me bringing in story suggestions and let me go down whatever line of questioning I want. Conservation and wildlife crime are issues I’m really keen to bring to a wider audience. I’m so fed up with people associating wildlife stories with cute and cuddly images. The reality is we are losing the battle to protect our planet and organised illicit gangs are cashing in on using wildlife to fund criminality on an unimaginable scale. Mainstream editors are so blinkered failing to see this is a ticking time-bomb – we should be covering the state of our planet now not when it’s too late.

Trophy Hunting is an issue that still divides many in conservation. Some argue for healthy populations of certain species the money raised goes back into conservation and it is a ‘sport’ that can be managed and can overall play a valid role in conservation strategies especially for those projects that are very expensive to maintain. Others argue that it is never acceptable to hunt certain species and they should be left in peace. Plus there are those that exploit the legal loopholes and take advantage of the system. There are allegations of South East Asian gangs posing as legitimate hunters when in fact they have no hunting background whatsoever. In April 2012 South Africa suspended its issue of hunting permits to Vietnamese citizens. The horn is usually taken back to the country for use in “traditional medicine” and it is the reason rhino numbers are threatened in a number of African countries.

I’m here in Africa at the moment, a continent that has captured my heart in a way I find difficult to explain. My first leg has brought me to Johannesburg and later this week I’ll be heading to Congo. It’s a work/pleasure trip all self funded as usual. One of my really good girlfriends lives out here in Jo’burg – the blonde – and I have also lined up some meetings with various NGOs I met in Nairobi and Jackson Hole at the UN conferences last year.

The issue of rhino poaching is not uncommon here. South Africa and Namibia both allow legal hunting of the black and white rhino. It is regulated by the international conservation organisation CITES. Trophy hunting is allowed under strict permit conditions – a maximum of five black rhinos can be hunted in both of those country per year. The rhinos selected are usually picked due to biological reasons: age as well as those that are post-reproductive bulls. During my first visit to Kruger National Park I didn’t see a single rhino. In Uganda they have been completely poached out and have had to bring over South African rhinos into the country.

Recent news that an American (Corey Knowlton) has paid $350,000 (a ludicrous amount of money) for the privilege to shoot an old infertile bull in Namibia has caused outrage globally. It has resulted in him receiving death threats and asking both local police (what a great use of tax payers’ money) and the FBI for protection. His identity was outed over social media as the winner of the Dallas Safari Club’s auction.

It’s a story that I debated with my guests on air and it lead to an emotive and highly charged debate. There are only 1,700 black rhinos in Namibia and 5,000 in the world. The Namibian government which has agreed to this expedition has identified a number of animals that are old and no longer capable of breeding and are considered a threat to younger rhinos. I’m sure the fee was a bit of a sweetener too.

Following his outing Knowlton has received messages like: “You are a BARBARIAN. People like you need to be the innocent that are hunted.” Another post said, “I find you [sic] and I will KILL you.”

Despite the backlash he has faced, Knowlton has engaged in some debate with various news channels and papers and says his actions are to help protect this endangered species. He is a hunting consultant and has hunted more than 120 species on almost every continent.

The Humane Society says it plans to fight Knowlton’s efforts to bring the trophy back into the US. The CEO described the act of killing one endangered animal to save the species as an “Orwellian idea” and raised his concern that it will inspire other hunters to pay millions of dollars for the chance to hunt other endangered species like: orangutans, tigers, elephants etc. Others argue that the money would be better spent focussing on eco-tourism. Knowlton says he wants to preserve the black rhino’s hide and then donate the meat to need communities in Namibia.

The Texan says he is not sure when he’ll schedule his hunting expedition to the Namibia. But given that illegal poaching, trafficking of rhino horn and poor conviction rates for those caught red-handed without legitimate permits are a serious and growing problem should legal poaching still be allowed to continue and do we need to re-think the trophy hunting issue?

Tomorrow I have a meeting with the African Parks Network, an organisation that helps to protect and manage various national parks across the continent, including those in South Africa and Congo. At the moment its biggest headache is the rampant elephant poaching for the illegal ivory trade but I’ll be interested to hear where it stands on this debate.