by Karen Mehall Phillips - Monday, March 1, 2021
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all writers understood a topic before they wrote about it? And if those who were uninformed gathered more information before forming an opinion? Those who strive to tell the truth about hunting know too well this is not the case, but last week’s article, “Misinformation about Trophy Hunting Is Wrong—Dead Wrong,” in TheHill.com is a reminder that accuracy and objectivity still exist—and that facts matter.
The article thwarts TheHill.com’s two recent opinion articles by photographer Cyril Christo, who charges that trophy hunting hurts, not helps, wildlife conservation. With facts on their side, the writers, a group of four researchers and college professors including NRAHLF.org contributor Catherine Semcer, research fellow with the Property and Environment Research Center, delve into how banning trophy hunting without presenting viable alternatives imperils biodiversity and undermines local communities. They focus on just three of the misconceptions Christo touts because they are among the ones so often purported by anti-hunting groups. The goal: to help policymakers become better informed as such untruths are increasingly cited as fact in policy debates from the walls of Congress and the California legislature to the U.K. Parliament. Following are their three key points.
1) Trophy hunting is not driving species to extinction.
Christo claims trophy hunting leads to species’ extinction, despite decades of scientific research and field experience showing this is false. Case in point: Semcer and her colleagues note that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List does not cite hunting as a key threat driving any listed species to extinction. For an example, they call out the anti-hunting Humane Society International (HIS), which points to the top 20 species imported by American hunters and alleges hunting is causing their decline. The truth, they say, is that nine of the 20 species are increasing in populations and six are stable. In fact, the IUCN specifically identifies hunting as a positive instrument in four of the 20 species’ conservation.
They explain that hunting conserves wildlife because it provides a much-needed economic incentive to conserve large tracts of habitat where there are few, if any, other funding sources. By incentivizing wildlife and habitat conservation, including the maintenance of dangerous game species, they note, “trophy hunting can play an important role in reducing far greater threats such as habitat loss and poaching.
This conservation benefit is particularly significant, they say, as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlighted changes in land use as the primary driver of massive global biodiversity loss. This is why more than 130 scientists and local stakeholders signed a letter published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2019 warning against eliminating hunting to safeguard biodiversity.
2) Poaching is not hunting.
The authors contrast legal, regulated hunting, which benefits wildlife populations, with illegal poaching. Poaching often is indiscriminate, kills many non-target species and leads to wildlife decline. Additionally, hunting bans eradicate the incentives hunting provides to wildlife and risk making the poaching crisis worse.
Much of the so-called evidence linking poaching to hunting, they note, is that those who do not understand hunting say the acts can occur in the same area. So then what about premier African photo safari destinations, such as South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where poaching occurs and where rhino numbers have decreased 67 percent since 2011? Should photo-tourism be banned if poaching occurs there too, they ask? Of course not. Sadly, much of Africa’s protected areas are under-funded. Removing either hunting or photo-tourism would raise the likelihood of poaching.
3) Westerners are wrong to disrespect the post-colonial decision-making and human rights of African communities in favor of imposing their own ideals.
While animal rights extremists push for hunting bans in Africa from half a world away, today’s new African-invented wildlife conservation models are based on giving legal rights back to local people to sustainably use their wildlife. “Let the communities that live with wildlife decide whether the benefits they receive from trophy hunting are meaningful,” they note. How many times have Westerners’ restrictions such as import bans and hunting bans undermined both sustainable wildlife management and human rights? And neither ensures wildlife will have a better future.
The authors are willing to consider alternatives to hunting, but explain the problem is that nothing secures Africa’s vast habitats the way hunting does. They use Kenya as an example, which banned hunting in 1977. Since then, its decline in wildlife populations averaged 68 percent for 18 species in 40 years. Kenya contrasts with countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia, where landholders make a living from wildlife and have incentives to protect it.
“Misinformation about Trophy Hunting Is Wrong—Dead Wrong” underscores the need to follow the data that wildlife science reveals and that misinformation can have destructive impacts. As the article concludes: “Loudly spoken misinformation is a blight in conservation, and we need to counter it with pragmatic solutions, examples and scientific evidence. … Denying facts and amplifying misinformation around trophy hunting causes major harm. It harms evidence-based conservation across vast areas, and risks disempowering and disenfranchising many of the world’s most vulnerable people in whose hands the future of our biodiversity increasingly lies. It needs to stop rather than being given platforms.”
Opinion pieces such as those put forth by Christo are, by definition, based on personal views and not necessarily on facts. The danger comes when they foster misconception. And therein lies part of the problem we hunters face in communicating about hunting.
To read the entire article “Misinformation about Trophy Hunting Is Wrong—Dead Wrong,” click here.
About the Author
An NRA Endowment member, Karen Mehall Phillips is an avid hunter and the director of communications for the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum. She is invested in fighting America's culture war on hunting and works to shed light on animal rights extremists’ blatant attempts to tout emotion and misinformation over scientific facts. Karen worked in the NRA public relations arena before joining NRA Publications in 1998. She is the founding editor of two NRA official journals, America's 1st Freedom and Woman's Outlook, and a founding member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association. National writing awards include being named the 2015 Carl Zeiss Sports Optics Writer of the Year.
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