Far from benefitting the lives of indigenous people and rural communities, trophy hunting activities trap them in a never-ending cycle of impoverishment and social disenfranchisement reminiscent of the South African apartheid era.
As the Trophy Hunting (Import Prohibition) Bill painstakingly makes its way through the House of Lords, it is alarming that a handful of Peers are objecting to a piece of legislation that has overwhelming public support in Britain (86%) and a substantial cross-party backing in the House of Commons. Even the national carrier, British Airways, does not permit any trophies on their aircraft.
The small group of Lords’ biggest justification for allowing wealthy foreign hunters the right to shoot endangered wildlife – and bring their trophy home – is that the funds generated from the hunts are essential for the economic and social upliftment of indigenous people and rural communities. This worn-out narrative, which is a product of the immediate post-colonial era of the 1970s in Africa when white trophy hunters needed to gloss over the continuance of an outdated colonial practice, is a false one. This is not only because communities never benefit from the proceeds, but it forces them to remain in a perpetual cycle of impoverishment and social disenfranchisement.
I grew up In South Africa, towards the end of the apartheid regime. I live there still but the long shadow of apartheid remains ever-present, and none more so when you look at the trophy hunting industry.
Almost all trophy hunting takes place on private land owned by white South Africans. These exclusive game farms and reserves, which make up a significant portion of the country’s landmass, are stocked with a range of wildlife, ranging from baboons and crocodiles to high value Big 5 species such as elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalo, all for the primary purpose of trophy hunting. It is a big industry. Prized buffalo, bred purposefully for bigger horns, lions bred with white pelts and other artificially bred species fetch tens of thousands pounds per individual. The industry generates a substantial amount of income…for the white elite.
Surrounding these farms, villages and communities of black South Africans remain in abject poverty. Their lives are no different from the apartheid era. There is scant opportunity for employment as game farms require little labour, especially for women. From my own field investigations, racism, intimidation and exploitation remain persistently widespread. In some parts of the country, privately-owned agricultural land has been converted into hunting reserves. A study has shown that farm labourers, who have traditionally lived on and worked the land, have been removed and are without access to meaningful employment. This is reminiscent of the brutal forced removals of black people under apartheid.
A similar pattern occurs in Namibia. Namibia was also under the yoke of South Africa’s apartheid laws until its independence in 1990. And like in South Africa today, the majority of trophy hunting takes place on white-owned private land where the financial benefit remains with the landowners.
But unlike South Africa, Namibia has since 1993 actively encouraged trophy hunting on community land ostensibly in an effort to allow rural communities and indigenous peoples a slice of the trophy hunting pie too. The Namibian government has instructed these communities to manage their natural resources themselves. This is done with the creation of communal conservancy areas through a process known as Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM). CBNRM areas are self-governing entities with fixed geographical boundaries. They are managed by a small committee of members, which then permits outside (white-owned) hunting operators a lease-hold to trophy hunt on the conservancy. Around 20% of trophy hunting proceeds goes to the conservancy committee for distribution among community members.
However, recent studies and from our own investigations, most of the capital never trickles down to the community individuals. This is due to corruption and over-capitalisation. Even if corruption and over-capitalisation did not occur, trophy hunting income amounts to just a handful of pennies per individual per year.
Worse, most of Namibia’s 86 community conservancies are situated on land where marginalised ethnic groups live – San, Nama, Damara, Caprivian, Kavango and Himba. These minority groups have little political representation at a national level and are mostly prevented from seeking employment in the major urban areas of Namibia. Like in South Africa, they remain as poor as ever. They are expected to stay in their so-called self-governing conservancies and live off their natural resources relying on the non-existent proceeds from activities such as trophy hunting. Again, this is reminiscent of apartheid.
Beginning in 1968, homelands or ‘Bantustans’ were established for the different ethnic groups by the South African government in Namibia (then South-West Africa). Bantustans were areas to which the majority of the non-white population was moved to prevent them from living in the urban and profitable agricultural areas. The idea was to give the various ethnic groups of non-whites the responsibility of running their own independent governments, thus denying them protection and any remaining rights they could have in the rest of the country.
The CBNRM process is essentially the same system, only now it’s the dominant ethnic group, the Ovambo, that have replaced the South Africans as overlords. It is telling that the old map of the Bantustans in Namibia almost exactly mirrors the map of CBNRM areas of the current political geography.
Furthermore, the Ovambo and other larger ethnic groups, such as the Herero, have in recent years moved into communal spaces of minority groups in their own pursuit of commercial capitalisation of natural resources. Our research revealed that the exploitation of rural communities and indigenous peoples, and the removal of natural resources is currently taking place in the form of land invasion and expropriation for livestock and other commercial agricultural practices, wildlife over-utilisation, mining, oil drilling, logging and other natural resource appropriation.
Who really benefits?
In terms of trophy hunting, the bulk of the beneficiaries is overwhelmingly white. Trophy hunters themselves are of European origin, primarily from the United States and Europe. A couple of years ago, I attended the Safari Club International convention in Reno, USA, the largest of its kind in the world. The hundreds of participants were predominantly white middle-aged men. There were no indigenous people or rural community members present. The trophy hunting operators are all of European origin too, former masters during the apartheid days. The outfitters, the professional hunters, lodge and land owners are almost always white. Africans do not trophy hunt.
It is inconceivable then that in this day and age where the dominance of the pale-male is finally making way for a more equal, diverse and gender-inclusive society, a few white male Peers in the House of Lords are still desperately clinging to an injudicious past. Trophy hunting, and the human cost it carries, must be cast into the pit of former injustices for good. By getting this Bill on the statute books will be the first step in doing that.
Adam Cruise is an award-winning investigative environmental journalist, academic and Acting CEO for the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. He has contributed to a number of international publications covering diverse topics from the plight of wildlife in Africa to polar bears in the Arctic and coral reef rejuvenation in Indonesia. He has a PhD in Philosophy specialising in wildlife conservation from Stellenbosch University in South Africa.