THE HUNTING CONTROVERSY – by Carl Stormanns
If you consider that in our world today, most people are living in urban or peri-urban settlements and that most of the face of our earth has been highly modified by various forms of industrial and agricultural development, it really is not surprising that the majority of mankind has lost its connectedness with nature in its pure form. In reality, only a pitiful percentage of wild places remain, surrounded by an ever increasing human population and we are all affected by this environmental “crime” in one way or another.
I think it is fair to say that, those of us who enjoy hunting are ever more being scrutinized and criticized by a majority who have never had any close association with nature conservation whatsoever. Today this is evidenced by anti–hunting organizations and individuals who vehemently oppose any form of consumptive use of the natural environment, albeit that they have little or no knowledge of the ecological processes that determine these environments. The anti-hunters attack us on moral grounds as well as their perceptions of ethical considerations about our actions. They draw us into emotive discussions regarding hunting, which all too often result in a furore and somehow we are left tainted in the eyes of those who know little about nature, and thereby they fuel their cause. To me, this is dangerous ground because emotions seldom have any logical foundation. Therefore they are open to misinterpretations, making them highly unquantifiable and subjective. To add to this, there are people amongst us who claim that irrespective of any logic, the anti’s will refuse to listen to our reasoning and are hell bent on closing all forms of hunting. However, one thing is clear to me and that is that if we do not establish a firm logical (indisputable) foundation for our cause, we will have little or no foot to stand on in the face of the ever increasing anti-hunting sentiment. To me, the justification of our actions needs to be based on facts, derived from the harsh realities of the way that nature conservation exists today in a highly modified (by man) world. Our statements need to be clear, concise and simple, leading to a proper conclusion which presents achievable alternative solutions to the given controversy.
THE PRIMARY OBJECTIVES OF NATURE CONSERVATION
The primary objective of nature conservation is to maintain species diversity as well as the natural processes that define them.
Most people today claim to relate to the understanding that all things in nature are interconnected and therefore they are inextricably linked. What many fail to accept though, is the harsh reality that because of the pressures imposed on the natural environment, by the ever increasing numbers of people and their influences, we cannot exclude man from this connectedness.
Furthermore, because of the crisis of human numbers, we can no longer look at our remaining natural areas in isolation from humans, quite simply because today we are on the doorstep of nature everywhere and the land space (free roaming areas) we afford true nature (worldwide) is very small and is declining.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF NATURAL PROCESSES
The way we observe natural environments today, is a consequence of destined natural processes which have taken billions of years to develop and that gradually change over time.
The second thing that people need to understand is that even in a perfect world, ecosystem boundaries are difficult to define, as are the processes which account for their manifestation. Ecosystems can be identified at both macro and micro levels where there are small systems that function within the boundaries of larger ones. The consequence of this is that when we impose physical boundaries (e.g. fences) on the environment, this can never take into cognisance the reality of ecosystem boundaries. Therefore managing natural systems 100% effectively within these confines becomes exceedingly difficult, if almost impossible, especially when areas are decreasing in size.
People know that lions (predators) depend on other animals (herbivores) for their food supply and that these in turn depend on vegetation formations for their food (i.e. there is a logical sequence of energy transfers in nature). In exactly the same way, the plant formations are exclusively dependent on the physical environment (light, water, soils, minerals, elements, etc) for its development. Knowing this, one of the most important things to understand clearly is the time sequence necessary for these natural systems to develop. The conditions of the physical environment that we recognise today have taken billions of years to develop through processes such as volcanic activity, glacial activity, wind and water erosion, heat, cold, fire, physical pressure, etc. This having been achieved (and ongoing), the plant formations we now see have been able to grow on these soils and this has taken millions of years to establish. Finally, the many varied wild animals we see today have taken thousands of years to establish themselves on the vegetated physical environment. (Note: Referring to billions, millions, thousands of years in one paragraph).
THE SITUATION THAT MAN HAS CAUSED
The hard cold fact is that today we have imposed finite physical boundaries, confining animal movements to relatively small parts of an intricately interwoven environment, on which they depend exclusively for their survival. This being the case, it now becomes easy to understand that we have forced animal numbers into a situation of strong competition for the food resources within their confines. Unattended, these animals will continue to breed with nowhere to go and sooner than later they (with the unpredictability of weather patterns considered) will exhaust their food and energy supplies necessary for their survival and they will starve to death. It is my assertion that since we as humans have created this situation, so too are we accountable for its ultimate outcome. This is the real moral dilemma we have to face, whether we like it or not! To think that we should allow animal numbers to escalate unabated, falls nothing short of mindless stupidity and is the ultimate crime against wildlife. If you go back to my explanation of time scales, the antithesis becomes true where increasing animal numbers will result in the destruction (negative feedback) of their food supply, thereby destabilising their environment and opening the way for erosive processes to wash away the soil formations which could take an untold amount of time to re-manifest themselves. This inevitably is completely and utterly unacceptable, no matter how anyone looks at it.
WHAT ARE OUR MANAGEMENT ALTERNATIVES?
If we accept our nature conservation objectives in the light of the logical sequence of natural processes and their inevitable outcome, then we should now all agree that, focussing attention on the preservation of individual animals or species in isolation (although noble), is completely illogical and self defeating.
The fact of this real situation which we have created for our wild animals today is that we are morally and ethically obliged to intervene in their management and the management of their physical environments, if we are to attain our nature conservation objectives of species diversity. We cannot accept an uncontrolled increase in animal numbers beyond the carrying capacity of the area to which they have been confined and therefore, numbers in excess of this will have to be removed from the area, in one way or another.
CONCLUSIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
Fortunately today we do have options for the removal of excess animals from a given area. The first option is to relocate these animals to suitable new areas, or to existing areas which are currently under stocked. Animal relocation is not always possible owing to practical considerations (species, terrain, expenses and relocation stress) and this is where I suggest that we involve those people who are averse to hunting. Perhaps we should suggest to them that they should find and procure these areas and then implement the purchase and relocation of the animals that they are allegedly so concerned about. I can hardly believe that any landowner would be against this idea. Furthermore, the process can be repeated year after year with the excess animals. In any event, as I have made abundantly clear, it really is mostly about space considerations & the financial requirements to effectively manage these.
The second option to landowners who have excess animals is to have them removed through culling or hunting (at the end of the day this amounts to the same thing i.e. the animal dies). The fact that there are excess animals which have to be removed from certain areas entertains the practice of hunting which some of us enjoy, while others don’t. To justify hunting to its opponents is difficult and sometimes impossible, irrespective of the fact that we have all genetically inherited this basic instinct – the anti’s included. Everyone has the right to choose his/her interests in life (for their own reasons), be it the pursuit of an animal on a hunt or partaking in an art form such as photography. If the hunting of an animal can be justified in terms of nature conservation objectives whereby its removal from an area is ultimately beneficial to the greater purpose and this is done in such a manner as to cause the least social disturbance to the other animals in the area and the least physical suffering to the individual concerned, then I fail to compute the logic behind not doing so. I feel that we should have every confidence in saying this because it is not as if we have failed to offer the anti’s an alternative solution to the problem. Somehow I have my reservations though, and I strongly doubt that the anti’s will ever implement such real measures because this would cost them money and, accordingly, I have to deduce that they neither have the true concern for animals and/or the environment that they claim to have, nor do they pay anything more than totally misguided lip service to an uninformed disconnected urban majority. Perhaps that’s where our conversation and interaction with the anti’s should end until they show some real action to the contrary.
I notice that the anti’s have chosen to focus some of their attentions on “trophy” hunting, suggesting that we are depleting the gene pool of the “best” animals. Firstly, I think that their understanding of what constitutes a trophy has been over simplified and relates to horn length measurements which they have no doubt gleaned from the likes of the Safari Club and Rowland Ward record books. The true definition of a trophy is “something that is kept as a memento of any contest or success.” Yes, it is true that some hunters do hunt for horn length measurements, but this is certainly by no means universal. For example, many hunters hunt for the oldest animals, others hunt for venison and skins and then there are those who hunt for odd or deformed animals – none of which have any concern for horn lengths whatsoever. These too are trophies. So, to assert that hunters necessarily focus their attention on “the biggest and the best” is totally unfounded.
When it comes to genetic transfers, their assertion that selective hunting will soon eradicate certain genetic traits from the animal’s gene pool, presupposes that these animals have not bred, and therefore they have not transferred their genes. Clearly this is utterly incorrect because most animals have the capacity to breed long before they attain adulthood (hunters seldom target sub-adult animals) and in this way vital genetic traits are maintained in the population. This notion also presupposes that landowners and nature conservation place no restriction on the numbers of animals that are allowed to be hunted, which is untrue and would be self destructive in any event.
Finally we need to address the allegation that our reasons for having wild animals is purely selfish and based on our own financial greed. Somehow this makes me think that the anti’s believe that we should all become altruistic supporters of their own misguided ideals. How in the world is it possible that the anti’s think that wildlife conservation and management cost nothing? Let us consider the costs involved; the price of land, road maintenance, alien plant control, undesirable species encroachment control, maintaining water supplies, fire implementation and control, anti-poaching measures, staff salaries, infrastructure (homes and bush camps), erosion control, communication and security, etc. Where does this money come from? I assure you, certainly not from the anti’s! If we want to have wild animals in our highly modified world in which they are now unfortunately confined (because of ever-increasing human population numbers and the diminishing availability of wild natural spaces), this comes at a high price financially and that, unfortunately, is the reality of our current situation.
WRITTEN BY: CARL STORMANNS
DATE: JULY 2011