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Does game hunting benefit wildlife?

BBC Wildlife magazine
9 April 2008

Category: Discussion

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The BBC Wildlife office this morning was buzzing with chatter about a programme shown on Sunday night here in Britain called Louis Theroux’s African Hunting Holiday, in which the controversial presenter investigated big game hunting in South Africa.

It’s great that such a mainstream media figure such as Louis has looked into this, because there’s little doubt that it is an issue where ‘the truth’ becomes heavily distorted.

Aside from whether you believe killing an animal so that you can put its stuffed head on your wall is morally defensible (I don’t think it is), there’s actually a far more important issue to address – whether you think it provides any conservation benefits, whether it benefits wildlife as a whole.

Louis seems to think it does. ‘Simply put, hunters are paying for more and more exotic animals to be kept alive and healthy – which has to be a good thing,’ he wrote in his BBC blog. ‘There are now more wild animals on private farms in South Africa than in nature reserves.’

With respect, Louis, I don’t agree. There are supposed to be more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild, but I don’t think anyone regards that as a ‘good thing’. China has hundreds of giant pandas in its captive-breeding centres, but it’s the ones in the wild that count.

The fact is that South Africa’s game reserves, often tiny parcels of land of no more than a few hundred hectares, do little to promote conservation on a broader basis. The wildlife is fenced in, and there is a constant merry-go-round of trading between the farms to stop in-breeding. Even a large reserve of more than 30,000 hectares has to do this.

Fenced game farms are, in reality, little more than glorified safari parks where the very rich go to take assisted potshots at the ‘inmates’. It might provide a living for a few white farmers, but it doesn’t increase the long-term viability of endangered species.

It should be obvious that wildlife isn’t really wildlife unless it exists in the wild. Of course, that doesn’t mean I think South Africa’s fences should all be torn down, because I appreciate that most people don’t actually want to live with lions loose on their doorstep. But let’s not swallow the propaganda that game farms contribute anything towards conservation – eh, Louis?

James Fair is BBC Wildlife’s staff writer and news editor


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