Anti-hunting groups are desperate to keep hidden from the public a dirty little secret that would put them out of business tomorrow, but I will share it with you: Hunting increases big game populations.
Harvest, kill, take, shoot...whatever your verb of choice; when regulated hunting of a species is implemented, numbers of the species increase. Just take a look at a decades-old experiment in wildlife conservation that proves the benefits of hunting as a management tool: Africa.
Everyone knows Africa is the Mecca of big game hunting. From some of the smallest antelope that could just as well be weighed in ounces rather than pounds, to the multi-ton pachyderms and everything in between, Africa has a plethora of big game species to satisfy even the most discriminating hunters' taste. But that is the situation today. The wildlife picture was not so rosy as recent as a few decades ago--and for the whole story, we need to look back a bit further.
When Europeans arrived at Cape Hope in what is today South Africa, wildlife was abundant. Vast herds of elephant, Cape buffalo, and antelope roamed the plains. The land itself seemed in motion as wave after wave of zebra and wildebeest migrated in search of green pastures. But the arrival of Europeans signaled a reversal in wildlife's fortunes. Market hunting for ivory and rhino horn significantly reduced elephant numbers, and pushed both the black and white rhinoceros to the brink of extinction.
Equally hard on the fauna, human encroachment turned natural habitat from wild bushveld into ranching operations of domestic cattle, sheep, and goats. This highly destructive form of land use not only destroyed natural habitat, but also turned wildlife into competitive species, creating a "shoot on sight" mentality to exterminate wildlife to make way for domestic stock. One of the greatest resources of Africa, wildlife became the enemy and, inevitably, populations began to crater. And there was nothing governments could do about it; that is until they changed the system.
But between 1967 and 1975, a major policy shift occurred. Rather than governments claiming sovereign ownership of wildlife, the countries of Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa changed their policies to vest quasi-ownership or "use rights" of the wildlife with landowners that met certain conditions. Instantly this paradigm shift turned the status of wildlife for the landowner from "competitor" to "asset," and the rural business model changed. No longer was that pesky zebra herd or pride of lions a source of loss of business income. The new-found economic value of wildlife to the landowner became a bankable asset that could be quickly and efficiently turned into profit. "Ranching" of native wildlife was less labor-intensive, less expensive to maintain, and did not have the detrimental effect on the land as did domestic stock.
Given the incentive of profit, wildlife was protected, species were reintroduced, and wildlife numbers began to grow exponentially.
Today, there are more species of game animals in South Africa than anywhere on Earth. In fact, there are more animals in South Africa today than when the Dutch arrived in the 17th century
Which brings us back to the anti-hunters and the indisputable paradox of hunting: Place an economic value on a resource and the owner will protect and nurture it. Hunting gives wildlife an economic value, ergo, landowners/stakeholders will protect it and help it increase in value.
Let us look at another paradoxical example of a species that was saved from extinction by hunting.
In the late 1800’s, the white rhino was thought to have been extinct, shot into oblivion by poachers selling rhino horn to markets in Asia and the Middle East. But a small population was rediscovered in Natal, South Africa, and the species rescue began. Conservation-minded individuals, groups, and politicians created protected areas for the rhino, placing breeding pairs on private ranches and game preserves. Armed rhinoceros security guards were posted to protect the animals from poaching. Slowly, the conservation measures began to work. Given the proper habitat and protection from poachers, rhinoceros numbers in South Africa began to increase ever so slowly, as conservation-oriented philanthropy could only carry the species so far.
But with a problem that occurred in rhinoceros social order, a solution to species sustainability was found.
Old bulls created problems for the sustainability of certain populations. These mature bulls’ behavior created conflicts for territories, higher mortality, and reduced calving for the population as a whole. Old males that had already sired a number of calves clung tenaciously to their territories, attempting to fight off rivals, sometimes to the death, until the old males themselves were displaced or killed by a younger, stronger bull. This situation of surplus mature males gave rise to the most important funding vehicle of rhino conservation--trophy hunting.
The introduction of sustainable sport hunting provided the economic incentive to landowners to provide additional habitat and create further economic demand for rhinoceros. And though hunters were taking trophies, rhino safaris were very expensive. Consequently, there were only a few rhinos harvested. Landowners soon discovered they could open rhino-hunting opportunities to many more individuals, as well as generate significant additional revenues for themselves, by offering less-expensive rhino darting safaris for western clients looking to finish their Big Five. This new economic incentive for rhino ownership spurred additional demand, breeding programs became even more profitable, and species numbers increased dramatically.
Today, species numbers exceed 13,000 worldwide, and according to the conservation group World Wildlife Fund, the white rhinoceros is one of the world's greatest conservation success stories.
Though the antis will never admit it, the correlation is clear: Hunters' dollars create economic incentives to protect wildlife. Given this incentive, landowners throughout southern Africa stocked rhinos to increase their profits. Increased demand incentivized breeders to produce more "product," and the species has flourished. But without the incentive of hunters' dollars, the rhino would still be in the shadow of extinction. The same is true for the other huntable species in Africa--and most everywhere around the world. Sustainable-use sport hunting is the fuel of the conservation engine.
So if you want to save a species, put a hunting season on it.
Side Bar—Illegal Darting, Poaching Threaten Rhinos
Though the white rhino population is still strong, things are happening in South Africa that threaten to reverse the hard-earned gains in rhinoceros numbers.
Because of over-darting by some landowners in violation of regulations, rhino darting is no longer available to hunting clients. Though the activity still occurs, only licensed veterinarians are allowed to pull the trigger on the dart gun. This development has cost South African landowners significant revenues, causing the market for rhinoceros to decline. It is yet to be seen if this will cause a long-term decline in the rhino population, but the laudable goal of protecting the species from exploitation could be achieved with less draconian measures than a complete abolition of an activity that has had a net positive impact on the species.
In another disturbing, and possibly related matter, rhino poaching is up more than 3,000 percent since 2007, as 448 illegal rhinoceros kills were documented in South Africa in 2011. Strong demand for rhino horn from Asia, particularly Vietnam, has pushed the price of rhino horn to more than $25,000 per pound, or put another way, today a pound of rhino horn has the same value as a pound of gold.
Anti-hunters, of course, take every possible chance to use the word "hunters" when they really mean "poachers," hoping the general public will think they are the same.