Trophy Hunters attempt to co-opt the Black Lives Matter Movement

Sep 11, 2020 | Commentary

Rosie Awori –  Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network

Shrouded with selfish ambition, certain American trophy hunting factions have chosen to identify with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement under the guise of caring about conservation and people in Africa. In a desperate bid to maintain the anachronism of trophy hunting in certain parts of Africa, some groups are claiming that banning trophies doesn’t consider the plight of the African people. Their argument is that hunting contributes to conservation while financially benefitting impoverished communities in hunting regions.

The claim came as the Californian Senate proposed a bill, Senate Bill 1175, that would have seen a ban the importing of hunting trophies taken from several African species such as elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, giraffes, antelope, pangolins, zebras, hippos, hyenas and baboons. Following the implementation, Californian hunters would be fined to the tune of US$40,000 and upwards if they continued to possess trophies in the state.

But yet these pro-hunting groups claimed that this would be detrimental for the conservation of the species they kill and for the rural communities where trophy hunting takes place. They paint a false picture to give the impression that without hunting, African communities will suffer from lack of revenue or may be attacked by the lions or elephants that may wander into their villages in search for food. They also allege that trophy hunting will help generate funding to protect these very animals from poaching.

As an African, I find these claims shameful and patronising. Furthermore, the Black Lives Matter movement is a call for social justice in the face of systemic racial discrimination, and for a new look at historical figures from a bygone time of slavery, colonialism and cruelty. It aims to empower people of African origin, not to perpetuate a narrative of subordination and inequality. Where is this indignation as policemen shoot unarmed Black men and women?

One of the biggest myths of trophy hunting is that it provides funds for economic upliftment for rural communities living near or alongside hunting concessions. But the evidence shows that very little money goes to local communities.[i] Most of the money paid by a trophy hunter goes to the hunting outfitter (the agent, usually based in the United States, that organises the hunt) and the Professional Hunter or hunting guide. The remaining money goes to middlemen and government officials. Some may trickle down to the chief of a village and almost zero goes to anyone else, except for some meat from the carcass the trophy hunter has discarded.

Africa may not be a country, but there are common threads that unite us Africans, some beautiful and some problematic. Our rich biodiversity is one of those beautiful threads. It spreads across Africa from Equatorial Guinea to Kenya and from the Sahara to South Africa.  But sadly, our natural heritage is threatened. This is mainly due to a loss of species from poaching, habitat destruction, climate change and, of course, trophy hunting.

Those hunters trying to hijack important movements such as BLM as an excuse to kill our wildlife and destroy our biodiversity should be called out and shamed. Support for the movement means species and natural habitats surrounding Black lives should be protected above all. And a threat to African biodiversity is simply not only synonymous with the protection of Black lives – our animals are worth more alive than a dead head on a foreign wall.

While hunting has been part of our African culture for subsistence and, in some cases, as part of the process of initiation, it was never carried out in a way that threatened the existence of a species. Therefore, those who try to propagate the notion that trophy hunting corresponds with African traditions are extremely misguided. Their narrative is a colonial and post-colonial construct[ii], because trophy hunters want to remove those iconic species with biggest tusks, manes, horns, antlers for fun. This a far cry from hunting for food and survival. What’s more, trophy hunting is the reverse of natural selection in the wild where only the weak, sick, injured, old and young are selected. For example, the domino effect from the killing of one dominant male lion by a trophy hunter is that the entire pride suffers. An entire generation of cubs is often wiped out by the new pride leader. Is this sustainable? I think not.

And while some small-change from a hunter’s fee may find its way into communities once every blue moon, a more sustainable way would be support for wildlife-watching or photographic tourism, whose far greater revenues have genuinely improved the lives of communities as we have seen in Kenya among the Maasai community, for example.  Tourism not only promotes equitable economic development for the people of Africa but protects species at the same time.  

The Californian Senate Bill 1175 was a step in the  right direction for the protection of Africa’s iconic species. Yet the misuse of Black Lives Matter movement may have caused senators to “overlook” the bill in the name of political correctness. On Monday September 1, the bill quietly expired as the senate failed to vote on it before the prescribed deadline. For our species this means that their few months of tranquility is coming to an end, as they continue to face the threat of extinction. Until then we live to fight another day.  

[i] Murray, C. K. (2017) The lion’s share? On the economic benefits of trophy hunting. A report for the Humane Society International, prepared by Economists at Large, Melbourne, Australia. 

[ii] Mkono, M.  (2019) Neo-colonialism and greed: Africans’ views on trophy hunting in social media. ournal of Sustainable Tourism, 27: 689-704.

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