By Imre Loefler
Mr James Isiche, the regional director of International Fund for Animal Welfare in East Africa, in his essay "Hunting for sport isn’t as good as it is made to be" (The Standard 13.12.06) reacts sharply to my commentary on Wildlife Policy (The Standard 29. 12. 06).
Indeed it would be strange if I, a proponent of dialogue and rational argument suggested that NGOs should be excluded from the wildlife policy debate. The headline under which my contribution appeared, "Keep NGO-s out of the new Wildlife Policy" would fully justify Isiche’s wrath. But the headline is not from me, headlines are added by editors and sometimes are out of tune with the text.
There is no suggestion of exclusion in the text of my commentary. I do not want to exclude anyone, I want to convince people, in this particular instance convince them of the wrong-headedness of IFAW. IFAW has, unquestionably, made positive contributions to conservation but its overprotective attitude to wildlife is counterproductive.
Having duly reprimanded me, Isiche is shifting the focus to sport hunting and implies that the re introduction of sport hunting is the core of the wildlife policy debate. It is not. Sport hunting is a side issue and a thorny one and I fully agree with the title of Isiche’s essay (whether it is his making or not).
The essence of the suggested new wildlife policy is to conserve species and restore habitats by means of husbandry, to legalise trade in wildlife, in game meat, skins and trophies, to recognize that in some regions of the country "wildlife farming" would be the best land use.
It should be obvious to everyone that the present policy is a failure: wildlife is disappearing fast.
The bush meat trade thrives for two reasons: there is a demand for game meat and wildlife in the non-protected areas, be it private or communal land is increasingly looked upon as a nuisance and is resented.
To reverse the trend, the people have to have a benefit from living with wildlife. Tourism alone cannot be relied upon for it is too fickle, practicable in selected places only and does not distribute wealth among the people who suffer most from wildlife.
Sport hunting is a side issue. Isiche tries to portray me as an arch advocate of hunting. I am not. I am not a hunter even I am apprehensive about sport hunting for a number of reasons among them my dislike for killing for pleasure and the knowledge that sport hunting is open to multifarious abuses.
Notwithstanding my reservations, in line of my responsibilities in the conservation arena, I have undertaken to learn about sport hunting as much as I could. I have accompanied hunters, I studied the hunting arrangements in several countries and I familiarised myself with the thinking of hunter and anti-hunter.
Anti–hunters believe that individualised, platonic ethics apply to animals as well as to humans and hence the killing of animals is unethical.
The anti–hunting front is not monolithic, however, and not all anti–hunters are vegetarians, yet their thinking, at least with regard to wildlife is strongly anthropomorphic. In contradistinction to platonic ethics, utilitarian ethics seeks the maximum benefit for the maximum number, be it people, or, indeed as in this case, species.
Hunters contend that were it not for hunting many species of wildlife would be extinct or would have disappeared from places where they are presently thriving. This is certainly true for certain species in Europe and in America, nevertheless the contention of the hunting lobby, that sport hunting would be the savior of wildlife in Africa is a gross exaggeration.
Some anti–hunters claim that sport hunting is responsible for the decline of wildlife on the continent. This is an assertion without base. There was no sport hunting in Kenya for the last 30 years during which time wildlife declined by half.
Sport hunting, properly organised and regulated and free of corruption can create wealth in rural areas but in order to do so, a number of conditions need to be met and they are not easy to meet. In utilitarian terms sport hunting can benefit people and wildlife but not just everywhere.
The debate on sport hunting should not be allowed to derail the wildlife policy review. Discrediting the rational discussion about the wise use of wildlife and discrediting the proponents of wildlife husbandry is a tactic animal welfarists and animal rightists often apply, one fine example being Isiche’s essay.
Yes, there is a paradox in the notion that the saving of species may depend on the killing of individuals. A Paradox, by definition, is an apparent contradiction, not a true one.
Those who may have difficulty in comprehending the paradox may consider the status of the humble goat. Goats are everywhere. They are bread, attended to, traded and cherished because they have a value.
If goats were declared wildlife, under the present policy they could not be owned, killed, eaten and their skin would be worthless too. The bush meat trade would quickly decimate goats and within a few years we would have to establish goat sanctuaries to save the species.
Wildlife husbanding would align conservation with development.
The writer is a surgeon based in Nairobi