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Johan Knols
Blogger, safari specialist, professional wildlife guide (Woerden, Netherlands)

Johan Knols is the owner of the planyoursafari blog. He studied tourism in the Netherlands and has been working in the African tourism industry for nearly 15 years. Starting as lodge manager in the Serengeti in Tanzania, he eventually owned his own mobile safari company in Botswana. Johan received his professional wildlife- guides licence in 1998 and was awarded the title of Honorary Wildlife Officer with the Botswana Wildlife and National Parks authority in 2005. During his time in Africa he has managed upmarket safari lodges and has done overland trips in the luxury and semi-luxury sector. At the moment he is a full-time blogger giving tips and advices on everything related to African safaris.

Post

Shooting At What Is Left

Published 03rd June 2010 - 23 comments - 16174 views -

Should hunting for pleasure be stopped?

The whole camp cheered as the hunting vehicle with the Arab and his freshly shot lion arrived. My heart pounded as I had the chance to see my first dead lion. The still bleeding carnivore got dragged from the car and now lay at my feet ( see image). I was suddenly not sure if I was in the right job.

 

I am not proud that for one season I worked for a Tanzanian hunting company, but at the time I didn’t have a choice. Despite the reassurances of my boss that everything was done in an ethical way, I saw multiple laws being contravened. I was even being asked by a white ‘conservationist’ hunter to keep certain things for myself. Like the bribing of a Tanzanian wildlife official in front of my nose.

That hunting is a very sensitive matter shows the sign in the image. The sign is from Maun (Botswana) and was erected by anti-hunting individuals. The original text on the sign read: "Kill me once or photograph me a thousand times". Two weeks later the text at the bottom was sprayed over it at night by hunting lobbyists.

The (African) hunting industry smells. And not only after carcasses.

Hunting in Africa

The debate whether we should be sports-hunting or not is old and those involved in the hunting industry have time and time again invented reasons to justify their profession. It apparently is good for conservation, it makes huge amounts of money for communities and it helps in combating poaching. That it helps in poverty reduction and anti-poaching is true, but whether it helps in conservation is, to say the least, dubious. How can one conserve by shooting something - especially endangered -down?

In recent years hunters from South Africa have found a new alternative to ‘wild-hunting’, which is called ‘canned-hunting’. What it boils down to is that animals, amongst them lions and (black) rhinos, are bred with the aim of releasing them on private farms for some rich oak to shoot them. Even the cute little lion cubs that you can touch as a tourist today might end up like gun fodder tomorrow.

Ronnie Crous that almost gets hurt in the video below is an acquaintance of mine from Botswana.
He is nice, I just don’t like his profession.

Hunting in ‘civilization’

But let’s not only look at Africa and stay a bit closer to home.

Foxes are vermin, deer are too many and pheasants belong on a plate. We also have our share of sports-hunters who are keen to use their index trigger finger and save us from wildlife in the 20km² of green that we have left. Is it true that we have too much of everything or should we make a more serious effort to conserve it? If we can change the attitude towards fur, why not to hunting in general? And I forgot to mention the hare-shooting. Those spread diseases. Shoot, shoot, shoot them. And imagine a deer causing a car accident. And, and..

Hunting world wide

During my time in Africa I often heard about an organization in the USA called ‘Safari Club International’ (SCI). These fellows have even created a bronze, silver and gold-system whereby hunters have to shoot rare animals on every continent. By the time you reach the gold-status, you have a trophy room full of heads, an elephant foot for your umbrellas and a lot of ‘adventurer stories’ to impress your millionaire friends. In the photographic safari world we refer to fellows like this as ‘those with the short man syndrome’: kill something dangerous (with a high powered rifle at 300 yards) and you are a real hero!

Shady deals

Seeing the above you can imagine that I was highly surprised when I came upon this article that mentioned that SCI had recently donated money to ‘Save the Rhino’, a rhino conservation organization in the UK. Its chairman is against killing, yet is eager to take the donations from SCI that promotes the killing of wildlife. Have we gone bonkers?

Time to act

Regarding the fact that we have a lot less species than we thought we had, that we are losing our bioDIEversity faster than we can protect it and that killing for fun is just not fashionable anymore, I think it is time that we come to our senses and say ‘let’s be wise and stop the blood shed’.

Hunting for reasons of conserving and anti-poaching are false. If those that pay up to $50.000 for a rhino would put their money where their mouth is, they could donate that same amount to anti-poaching teams without having to kill first.

Lets stop finding all the reasons to hunt wildlife. It is just too important to disappear.

Is this the solution?

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Comments

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th June 2010:

    I do believe it’s the “short man syndrome”, Johan. This trophy-hunting is disgusting. The ugly games of the rich who are getting out of their minds to satisfy their vice egos and show off in front of each other make me angry.

    I heard somewhere another “explanation”, which is that it is “natural” to hunt because that’s what our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years. OK if you are a local who lives off the land, but to these rich idiots I would suggest the same then. How convenient to select some historical facts and omit others. Why don’t you engage in gathering, too, then? Why don’t you live in a tree or a cave, just like our ancestors did? Why don’t you produce your own clothes and make some nice pots instead of buying them from a designer shop? Or, even better, why don’t you kill that lion with your bare hands and sticks and stones? In any sense, hunting with a rifle ain’t so very honourable, don’t you think, you “real man”?


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th June 2010:

    Just to make it clear, I don’t mean you Johan when I say “you”. I mean the rich ignorant idiots who imagine they are somewhat superior to anyone or anything else and thus can kill anyone they want. Except that if they kill one of their own species, they might go to jail. If money doesn’t help to avoid it.


  • Johan Knols on 04th June 2010:

    @Giedre,
    I know you were not talking about me but in general.
    What is actually unbelievable is the fact that there are still endangered species that are being shot. That in my opinion is an absolute no go in this day and age.
    And to even shoot non-endangered wildlife is crazy. There are only 20.000 lions left in Africa, yet hunting them is still possible. I have to say that their diminishing number are not only caused by hunting, but also human encroachment and poisoning. That makes it even more sad that those hunts are not forbidden.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th June 2010:

    When you say “hunting lions is still possible”, do you mean that there is no law that forbids it or there is a law, but it’s easily avoidable if one pays some cash to someone in charge?


  • Johan Knols on 04th June 2010:

    I mean legally possible.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 04th June 2010:

    And I suppose there’s no lobbying from the lions side for a law that would forbid this hugely entertaining activity?


  • Johan Knols on 04th June 2010:

    There are people that keep themselves busy trying to reverse the onslaught. Here is one: http://www.lionaid.org/


  • Tony Humphrey on 04th June 2010:

    I have never understood why anybody would want to kill an animal and then place the ‘trophy’ on a wall….but I enjoy flyfishing for trout and do keep the ocasional ‘trophy’ for the pan… a photo may go on the wall.  I practice ‘catch and release’ flyfishing…but is this good or bad? 

    Is killing a fish for a sport any different from killing a land animal?  So, can I honestly be a part of this debate?

    I cannot understand why someone would pay $50,000 to kill for sport but if the animal has to be ‘culled’ ....maybe there is some logic for the conservation group to sell this ‘product’....

    Educate the trophy hunter to only kill for sustenance and even then…without the use of a telescopic sight at 300yards…..get up close and then you may call yourself a hunter!  But, again let’s change the name from ‘trophy hunter’ to simply and truthfully…animal killer for sport.


  • Chris Macsween on 04th June 2010:

    Johan,
    This article is very well written and we at LION AID thank you very much for conveying the true facts about trophy hunting in such an unforgettable way. I urge everyone who reads it to share it with everyone they know.
    Let us not be seduced by the silver tongued hunters who would have us believe that killing lions is in fact beneficial to conservation efforts. They have coined a term called “sustainable offtake” where they attempt to justify their activities as good news for the lions. Videos, such as the one you have featured in your article, strip away the gloss and reveal the sickening reality of trophy hunting.
    We salute you!

    As you have already mentioned, there are barely 20,000 wild lions left in Africa, a drop of over 90% in just 50 years.
    Lions are on the brink and action needs to be taken now to prevent the slide in to extinction of this iconic species.

    LION AID is a UK charity dedicated to preventing and reversing the decline in African Lion populations.  http://www.lionaid.org/


  • Johan Knols on 05th June 2010:

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for your comment.
    Yes, you can very much be part of this debate (actually you already are because of your comment).
    For me the difference lies in the fact whether we kill ‘to eat’ or whether we kill to have a trophy on the wall. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with the occasional animal that gets poached or a fish that is caught and gets eaten.
    I do have a lot of problems with guys that shoot an (endangered) animal for the rush and the thrill. I have seen ‘heroes’ arriving in Africa that have top jobs, were nobody in the company dares to go against them. Animals won’t listen en maybe that is the reason to shoot an elephant or a rhino, to proof their superiority?


  • Marit on 05th June 2010:

    Hi Johan,
    Thanks for this eye-opener.
    I really thought this type of hunting belonged to our colonial times. It’s terrible to realise that this is still legally possible.

    To me it sounds as the biggest problem that there are still so many rich idiots that make the hunting tourism more lucrative and therefore favourable to normal tourism. Cause wouldn’t African countries be more stict in their policies if protected wildlife would bring more money through normal tourists (that want to see animals alive)?


  • Robert Stefanicki on 06th June 2010:

    In Poland the debate about hunting is now on, because leading candidate in presidential election is a keen hunter. Hunting is very popular here among politicians no matter their affiliation. Polish Hunting Association (called by Newsweek “the oldest political party”) is a curiosity: thanks to corrupting the politicians, it maintains monopoly on game conservation (Ministry of Environment has nothing to say here), and all shot animals by the law automatically belong to the Association. Little Africa in a center of Europe.


  • LION AID on 06th June 2010:

    Hi Johan,

    Firstly, let me say that I thought that your article was excellent - it was hard hitting and hopefully people will see the harsh reality of trophy hunting.
    Unfortunately, trophy hunting is a lucrative sport and there is plenty of money to go round to oil the eager palms, buy support and silence most protesters.
    As you mentioned in your post, trophy hunting is pedalled as good news for conservation. They coin a term called “sustainable offtake” where they would have us believe that shooting yet more adult male lions will in fact lead to an increase in lion populations. A skewed logic that is not borne out by the facts. Lion populations, not unsuprisingly, decline faster in areas where trophy hunting is practised, a fact the hunters vigourously deny.
    Hunters are under considerable pressure from a growing number of people to cease and desist (see our posts on this on this at http://www.lionaid.org/). However, the lobbying groups like SCI are well-connected politically and have deep pockets. They can afford to hire PR agencies, lawyers, put up fancy websites that say hunting benefits African communities in a diversity of ways, hire tame scientists, and when need be, hand out a few “envelopes” to government officials.

    When they get caught out, they will say that the hunting industry overall is above board, but there are a “few” rogue elements out there that do not represent the overall lofty conservation principles behind the hunting ethic.

    All we can do is make life more and more difficult for hunters and their lobbyists by challenging them every step of the way, involving the legislatures of our countries to ban trophy imports of endangered and threatened species, and seek better international means of protecting what is left, than CITES, for example.

    We might be lone voices in the wilderness right now, but that does not mean we have no voice. Keep on blogging Johan, it will make a difference, and slowly we will catch the monkey.


  • Johan Knols on 07th June 2010:

    @Marit,
    Thanks for commenting Marit.
    The problem is the following: Hunting companies use the argument of saying that they impact a lot less on nature than photographic companies. And they have a point to some extend. Were hunting companies have very few clients and normally use few vehicles, their impact on the environment is smaller than the big(ger) tourism lodges that use more water, waste more and create more tracks.
    BUT…what is never mentioned by the hunting companies is that they actually KILL (and make fortunes in the process). This behavior is in my opinion not coinciding with an international awareness of trying to save the planet from further decline.

    @Robert,
    It seems that every westerner that hunts is a high profile person. It has to do with cockyness and feelings of superiority. Fortunately those supposedly ‘nice’ politicians show their true faces by shooting wildlife. Especially bad in a country like Poland where -just like the rest of Europe- wildlife has almost disappeared completely. What mammals are being hunted in Poland?


  • Robert Stefanicki on 07th June 2010:

    @Johan: What mammals are being hunted in Poland? Mostly deers and wild boars. Recently I found out that it’s even possible to hunt Polish bison, reintroduced after the war, but this is strictly monitored and must be very costly.


  • Johan Knols on 07th June 2010:

    @Robert,
    Thanks for the info.

    @LIONAID
    Mayeb I should explain to other readers why the shooting of male lions is a bad thing and “sustainable offtake’ is nonsense.
    When a male lion is shot away from the pride, other males will come in and try to take over the pride. In other words, shooting male lions in hunting areas will suck male lions from protected areas. Once these males enter hunting concessions they might also get shot.
    On top of that, new males are not happy with cubs that are offspring from another male. This often makes the new male kill cubs with the intention of getting the females back into oestrus, so he can add his genes to the gene pool.
    So hunters that say that they only take out the old males are only partially telling the truth. By taking one male out, many more lions will eventually get killed. So they do not practice sustainability!
    LIONAID, please keep up the good work and thanks for commenting.


  • Tiaan Theron on 10th June 2010:

    Dear Johan
    I have read your article and though I am not pro-hunting I think hunting has its place in conservation.
    Studies by the Botswana University has shown that many conservation areas around the Okavango Delta continue to survive only because of commercial hunting.
    For instance, the very important corridor between the Okavango delta and the Makgadikgadi pans (necessary for migration of wildebeest and zebra) is used by various hunting companies and if hunting is stopped by the government this corridor might be taken over by cattle farmers.
    This corridor is of no interest to the photographic safari sector because it consist of mopane woodlands and game is very seasonal…but excellent for the hunting industry.
    The Botswana University predicts that if hunting is stopped there, one of Africa’s four existing migratory routes will be blocked with dire consequenses for hundreds of thousands of zebra and wildebeests.
    The same with other areas around the delta.
    Because somebody with money is willing to hunt in Africa, hunting companies can afford to rent concession areas unimportant for photographic safaris and in the process keep catle farmers out.
    If an area does not make money, conservation makes no sense…this is simple politics but it is reality.
    Furthermore, the world consensus on what is right or wrong (stimulated by the internet) or what some people call ‘political correctness’ is oppressive ...it tries simplify complicated issues for common consumption, and definitely tries to limit peoples freedom of choice. This is worse than short man’s syndrome.
    Cheers from an African, Tiaan.


  • Johan Knols on 10th June 2010:

    Hello Tiaan,
    Thanks for your long comment.
    What the government of Botswana is (and other governments are) doing is walk away from their responsibilities by allowing hunting to prevent cattle from taking over. Are you saying that only money generating hunting can prevent people and cattle move in to an area? I compare your problem solving to the following example:
    Lets cut trees as a fuel source because coal emits too much CO2.

    I say the problem is in the cattle industry and that is where the action should be taken. The fence between the cattle and the Makgadikgadi National Park is also not the right solution and brings lots of problems with it: http://www.mewt.gov.bw/DEA/article.php?id_mnu=149

    I quote a section from the above report:
    “Direct threats to ecosystem functioning:
    Competition for land and widespread human encroachment (especially mining and cattle farming), has resulted in habitat loss and loss of habitat quality. Erection of veterinary cordon fences to support the cattle industry in Botswana and establishment of wildlife control fences in the Makgadikgadi Pans national Park are affecting wildlife movement patterns in the areas while resulting in cattle overgrazing in other areas, and has put cattle in direct competition with wildlife. Recent allocation of ranches though the Ministry of Agriculture’s fenced ranch programme has exacerbated land pressure.

    Overuse and misuse of wetland, i.e. over hunting, over harvesting and cattle overgrazing are affecting the Makgadigkadi area. While overgrazing is the most serious threat to the wetland system, wildlife surrounding the pans is also affected by illegal hunting. Poaching within the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans National Park is reported to be rife and there is limited enforcement of hunting limits outside of the Park.

    Tourism in the area is currently fairly limited, but focused on the pans. Although most tourism operators are well aware of the sensitive nature of the pans systems, uncontrolled tourism, particularly motorbike tours are a threat to the pans as is disturbance of the waterbird breeding areas”.(end quote)

    We all know that hunting companies have one thing in mind: earn money. They should never be in a position of playing police.
    It is the government’s responsibility to be the watch dog, if it means it is going to cost them an arm and a leg, so be it. They are committed to conservation and biodiversity and this does not come without bringing a financial sacrifice.


  • Johan Knols on 10th June 2010:

    Two more articles that underline the seriousness of the problem:

    1. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/3007309/Lions-still-hunted-for-fun-in-South-Africa.html

    2. http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8815:animal-health-ugandan-lions-in-danger-of-extinction&catid=58:health-living&Itemid=89


  • Rhishja Larson on 11th June 2010:

    Hi Johan -

    Outstanding article!

    Great to see this distasteful industry getting the “exposure” it deserves.

    - Rhishja Larson


  • Clare Herbert on 12th June 2010:

    Really interesting debate here. it highlights that you can’t always make a full judgement based on fuzzy ideas. But, I am still anti-hunting.


  • Johan Knols on 13th June 2010:

    @Rhishja,
    Thanks. And indeed should the hunting industry soon be something of the past. Especially the canned hunting in South Africa should get a lot of negative exposure.
    But also in Botswana is not everything as smooth as it seems:
    http://www.africageographic.com/blogs/?p=441#more-441

    @Clare,
    Regarding the discussion that is going on: we people always look for easy solutions instead of choosing the side of the wildlife and take a bit more effort.
    Thanks for your comment.


  • Johan Knols on 08th July 2010:

    Today I came across a report about Trophy Hunting in South Africa and I felt I had to share this with my readers:
    http://www.animalrightsafrica.org/Archive/Hunting_in_South_Africa_A_Bloody_Mess_ARA_4_July_2010_final.pdf


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