Power Hungry? A rebuttal to Ian Michler’s article “Like the fossil fuel industry, trophy hunting is unsustainable”. By Karen Seginak

Dear Mr. Michler,

I recently read your article suggesting that trophy hunting (TH) is unsustainable and comparable to the fossil fuel industry.  Your criticisms are directed towards the African continent, a place where approximately 60% of the residents currently have no electricity from any source, and yet you describe both fossil fuels and TH as being “anachronistic views on the environment”.  Interesting, albeit inapplicable.

Let me preface all that I am about to say that as a hunter, wildlife biologist, photographer, angler and traveler, I participate in a variety of outdoor activities and I contribute to conservation in a blend of ways.  I am deeply concerned about doing all that we can to properly manage wildlife and wildlands around the globe, and firmly believe that we should all be committed to doing what we can to help all flora and fauna thrive on into perpetuity.

Therefore, I will never condone the elimination of any conservation stakeholder group that does positively contribute to these goals.  TH does do that, whether it suits your own personal ideals or not, Mr. Michler. To suggest ending an effective practice based upon your personal preferences makes me question whether you are truly interested in conservation or is it more about getting your own way?

So, let’s look a little further at some things you express in your article.  You mention that the anti-hunting sentiment possibly started in the early 1900’s, when Theodore Roosevelt killed an enormous number of trophies whilst on safari in East Africa.  Perhaps.  Although there are some interesting things to add here.  The early 1900’s were a vastly different period than current times. Indiscriminate hunting did indeed threaten “charismatic” species “back then” as you say.

Unregulated hunting threatened much more than simply the charismatic species back then, and these animals were not killed as trophies either.  Many were killed to feed people, to make lands more suitable for human occupation, to make money via market hunting, or simply out of fear and misunderstanding.  These sorts of indiscriminate killings still continue, particularly on the African continent, but it’s imperative to mention who is currently responsible.

It is the poachers, illegal wildlife traffickers, those affected by human-wildlife conflict, the illegal bushmeat trade, and the anti-hunters as well.  Anti-hunters seem to have little to no understanding of how their desire to see no animals killed by legal hunters so often results in actions that cause many more animals to be killed due to land conversion, a depletion of resources or intolerance and resulting persecution.

Your one-sided portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt as a greedy killer also fails to tell the full story. Due to his firsthand experience with unregulated killing and witnessing the resulting decimation of wildlife, he went on to do great things for conservation and became known as the “conservationist president”.  He realized full well that hunting needed to be regulated to be sustainable, and that habitat is the key to maintaining healthy populations of all species.  During his presidency, he went on to designate approximately 230 million acres of public lands for conservation purposes, in the form of national forests, wildlife refuges, game preserves, parks and monuments.

And hunters continue his legacy today, leading efforts to create and conserve wildlife habitat on both public and private lands.  Additionally, along with fellow hunter George Bird Grinnell, he joined forces with even more hunters to develop the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which is widely considered one of the most successful wildlife management models in the world, along with that of South Africa’s.  Both models include regulated hunting as one of their basic tenets and major funding sources.

You mention that there is a decrease in the number of young hunters in the USA and other countries. True, but just as comparing wildlife population numbers with those of times gone by can be misleading, so is viewing this trend without perspective.  The USA population has become increasingly urban, with over 80% of citizens now living in urban or suburban areas.

Urbanization limits hunting interest both in terms of land conversion and also in ease of access to hunting areas as urban sprawl continues.  Africa fights many wildlife challenges due primarily to land conversion also – but from rapidly expanding rural populations in addition to urban ones, as only about 40% of Africans currently live in urban areas.

That brings me to your claim of the increase in opposition to hunting from the general populace. Just who is the “general populace”? In America, it is the urbanites, whom I feel should not rule the rural areas with their opinions.  In Africa, it’s the rural dwellers, who often are not even asked their opinion or else are overruled by the urbanites, hailing from both within continent and abroad.

You mention two people who state that the arguments for TH are “old and tired” or “thinning”.  The first of these men is Dan Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  His quote you include in your article is in direct opposition to one of his from December of 2015, when the announcement was made to halt the import of lion trophies into the USA.

Dan had this to say in an official USFWS statement – “Sustainable trophy hunting as part of a well-managed conservation program can and does contribute to the survival of the species in the wild, providing real incentives to oppose poaching and conserve lion populations”.  Very interesting.  Perhaps you can explain this double speak?

Or at least reflect upon the hazards of selectively quoting people?  You also state that Dan says the hunting of certain species of certain population levels would not happen if they occurred in America, then why should we approve of it in Africa?  Well, because Africa is a much different place than America, with different challenges to wildlife, different funding opportunities, and different law enforcement realities, just for starters, really.  And the second man you mention is Dereck Joubert.  You use his quote to illustrate that anti-TH sentiments are shared by a growing number involved in conservation.  In the vast majority of anti-TH/pro photo safari pieces I read, Mr. Joubert is the one person quoted.  N=1 is not, by any means, a “growing number”.

Next, you state that the scientific community supports TH with caveats that it must be well-regulated, transparent and make definitive contributions to protection.  I, as well as many others, would readily suggest that the same caveats hold true to any nonhunting businesses who commodify wildlife as well.  But I would use the word conservation instead of protection, as a defining feature of conservation is wise use, not a completely hands-off approach.

You also state that Dr. Loveridge criticizes TH by saying that little of the financial gain filters down to covering costs of conserving wildlife.  I’m uncertain how anyone concerned about conservation or familiar with the TH industry could make such a statement in good conscience.  The hunting safari industry has many examples of rewilding formerly abused lands, increasing existing wildlife populations on already intact lands, and curbing poaching rates, not to mention benefits conferred to local communities as well, both mandatory ones in many situations as well as voluntary ones.

The anti-hunting proponents either have little to no actual examples of such successes – or are often reaping the benefits of such efforts by the hunting industry and completely failing to recognize those who make their businesses possible by providing the wildlife, both currently and historically.  And when an anti-hunter criticizes the TH industry for lack of transparency and not enough money trickling down, I always look for evidence that such critics meet these criteria themselves or are superior in doing so.  I’m typically disappointed in what I find.

The website for your own safari company, Ian, mentions nothing about how much of your profits you contribute to conservation.  And that is true of many such non-hunting tourism websites I look at.  I often, however, hear the claim that photo safaris generate much more money than TH safaris do, are able to charge more per night for accommodations, and thousands of people can enjoy viewing even just one iconic animal vs. one trophy hunter killing that animal.

Such claims sound like photo safaris should be quite lucrative and should potentially generate much money for conservation.  If so, why aren’t these operators shouting from the rooftops about their contributions instead of bragging about their luxurious accommodations and authentic “Africana” they offer the discerning traveler?

You state that TH depletes gene pools.  I’d like to hear a further, plausible explanation of that.  TH typically occurs at rates of take in the single digit percentages of a population annually.  When appropriate habitat is available, reproduction and recruitment rates are adequate, and no significant additional causes of fatalities occur, this low of a percentage is not even enough to hardly put a dent in most populations, let alone “deplete gene pools”.

TH focuses on males, with older males the most preferred.  These animals have already had a chance to pass on their genes and are sometimes killed by younger males seeking dominance or territoriality and its subsequent breeding rights, depending upon the species.

Depending upon the mating system of the species in question, not all males may even ever get the chance to breed, no matter how long they live.  Just because you are male does not guarantee that you will ever be a sire. And even amongst those that do get to procreate, usually their tenure as sires is limited to a brief span of time. And males only contribute half of the genetic material to their offspring anyway.  Females, who are largely protected by TH, contribute the other half.  In most species, females are more likely to reproduce than are males, even in the absence of TH.

Producing a true trophy quality animal requires time and appropriate habitat resources, plus a healthy age structure in a population.  Your claim of TH depleting gene pools only makes sense if a hunting operator goes in and kills off every single male of trophy age or quality, leaving only subadult males incapable of breeding, and then returns to kill these animals when they are mature but have not bred yet – and that no new males enter the population by any other means.  No one does this.  If only for the very obvious, basic reason that they would not be able to stay in business for very long if they did, would they?

There are TH outfitters who have been quite successful for decades now in producing trophy animals. That, to me, does not fit the definition of unsustainable.  So, quite frankly, your claim that searching for trophies leads to promoting one’s own interests over and above the long-term interests of the species and its habitat is sheer bunk.

You simply cannot consistently produce trophy quality animals without time, appropriately managed habitat and an appropriate prey base in the case of predator species. There is one surefire way of depleting the gene pool, however, and that is indiscriminate, unregulated killing of animals.  Poaching, loss of habitat and the illegal bushmeat trade are unequivocally guilty of this.  Why do you not crusade against such sure things like this as hard as you do against TH?

I’m also interested in hearing more about your claim that “photo tourism is a far more effective and sustainable way of achieving all of these objectives” (meaning curbing poaching, protecting habitat and up-lifting rural communities).  This is confusing to me, as you then go on to say that there are alternatives to TH as a means of protecting habitat and species, but we “just haven’t put our minds to it yet”.  Can you explain this?

You assert that photo tourism is superior but then you say we haven’t put our minds yet to achieving conservation goals.  Are you saying that photo safaris have been mindless, ineffective pursuits thus far with no real results?  I don’t, of course, agree with that, as I believe photo safaris do have their place in conservation, just as TH safaris do.  You also assert as part of your analogy that wind and solar power have proven to be viable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.  Are you forgetting that wind and solar still require plenty of subsidization, are only appropriate in places with adequate resources, require new infrastructure to be built, and are so far unable to outcompete fossil fuels?

Hmm, maybe your analogy backfired a bit on you there, as there are similar concerns with proposing that all of Africa can be run on photo safaris or non-consumptive tourism alone. Kenya seems to have found this out the hard way and has begun re-evaluating that singular approach, and there are now murmurings that Botswana is seeing ill effects from banning TH on all but private lands as well.  It seems that more realistic, workable approaches to conservation are going to require a variety of stakeholders.

Lastly, you state that all of Africa is in urgent need of greater funding at various levels.  No doubt.  Which begs the question – what are you prepared to do once you accomplish your goal of eliminating TH – a primary one of those funding sources?  If funding is inadequate now, how will cutting out one source improve that scenario?  Especially since many trophy hunters also pull multiple duty as tourists or philanthropic donors to rural communities, contributing to conservation in that way as well?  How do you plan to ensure that conservation occurs on lands too marginal, remote or unphotogenic to realistically sustain photo tourism?

Continuing to host clients at already established, traditional tourist venues such as your own safari company does, will not achieve that goal.  Remove the hunting operators from these such lands, and it’s no secret at all that they quickly get converted to uses largely incompatible with wildlife.  I urge you, however, to try to take over one or more of the hunting concessions turned back into the government in places like Tanzania or Botswana, in large part due to the anti-hunting movement pushing its self-centered agenda.

Invest your money and labor in these places and show the world that your entirely non-consumptive model for wildlife conservation can work – in all situations, not just the ideal ones.  Start with one concession, extend your model to others in a self-sustaining fashion for at least a few decades, and then I, as well as many others, will find it much easier to believe your convictions.

In the meantime, I’d suggest that if you are truly concerned about effective conservation on the African continent, one of the best things you could do is stop spreading damaging propaganda about the TH industry.  You claim that “significant, adaptive challenges will be necessary by all stakeholders” – and yet your words seek to cause the elimination of a long standing, important stakeholder in conservation – the TH safari industry.

No adaptation is possible with the extinction your scenario proposes.  Instead of eliminating a stakeholder, may I suggest that you try putting your own personal preferences aside to accommodate tolerance?  Many TH outfitters also offer photo safaris and I have yet to meet one who firmly believes that no one should be allowed to conduct photo safaris – even if they themselves don’t have the slightest interest in photography.

And I also have yet to meet a TH outfitter who does not strive for healthy populations of wildlife that can realistically be supported sustainably, whilst also trying hard to curb all of the other unsustainable challenges that Africa’s wildlife truly does face – like land conversion, poaching, desertification, expanding human populations, etc.  If TH safari operators are willing to fight the same challenges you are and are willing to work towards the same goal as you are, then why can you not adopt a tolerant, cooperative approach instead of insisting upon an eliminatory, intolerant one? Again, where exactly do your priorities lie?

I’ll conclude with an extension of your energy industry analogy.  Perhaps conservation efforts and the production thereof share a more important trait with electricity sources?  It’s all too easy for those of us who have electricity to take it for granted, not bothering to truly understand how it’s produced and the costs thereof, expect it to be provided cheaply, rely heavily upon it, and then bemoan its absence when it goes out.  So many parallels to conservation, indeed.


Karen Seginak