By Chris Mercer, Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)
On 10th of March 2018 animal lovers in Cape Town got together for a March to protest the ill-treatment of animals, including wildlife, in South Africa. An estimated 400 to 500 people participated.
At the outset I should like to stress how important it is for activists to raise public awareness of animal cruelty issues. Posting 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 co-ordinated protest marches in 62 cities around the world, was particularly effective in that respect.
Whilst we are strong on social media, we activists fall down 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
In Europe, the European Federation of associations for hunting and conservation (FACE) were 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 the 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 was for money and jobs.
Naturally there were no voices representing dissenting views which could muddy the waters of hunting PR by pointing out all the flaws.
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 (USFW).
To see how ‘insanely biased’ in favour of hunting this council is, read the excellent Associated Press report on this subject: https://apnews.com/07c11b7884174e68b75d6fdd52e9da91
And there is a useful summary by Elly Pepper on the new Council:
As Elly sums up:
“Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperilled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council’s mandate includes counselling 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.
Whilst we welcome such passion, we find that there is a dire need for keen activists to qualify themselves in our 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, as sure as eggs, some hunting protagonist will 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 with 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.
Looking at hunting as if it were a company with a proper Balance Sheet, the hunting industry is clever at publishing only alleged profit items from the profit and loss account, ignoring the losses. And claiming assets while ignoring the liabilities. The animal advocate should be able to force the hunter to account for the whole balance sheet of the hunting industry – not only a few selected items from the profit account.
All this is very well explained by Julie Lewin in her admirable work at National Institute for Animal Advocacy: http://www.nifaa.org/
So what is the political policy on conservation in South Africa?
“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.” – Edna Molewa, Minister for Environmental Affairs, in South Africa.
One can see at a glance that animal welfare concerns about cruelty are excluded by policy. Wildlife is merely an economic resource that must be used to transfer wealth from white people to Blacks. That is SA 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 feed into this ideology, the animal advocate has to put aside all sentiment and focus on the money; to be able to convince African governments that hunting is a wasteful use of land and that the rural economy will benefit far more from non-consumptive ecotourism. ie protecting wildlife.
Until animal activists learn to compete effectively against the hunting fraternity 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 – if not racist.
So although time is against us, two questions are raised:
1. How to fund and organise professional training for animal advocates.
2. Commissioning academic studies that show the fallacy of hunting as a beneficial land-use for all but a tiny elite.