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Professional Hunters in Africa and Wildlife Conservation

August 20, 1988

In response to Michael Hiltzik's article "For Africa's Hunters, It's a New Battle," Part I, June 21:

At first glance it seems inoffensive but it confuses yesteryear with the present.

Hiltzik refers to professional hunters as " . . . walking reminders of the white colonial tradition." Of those he quotes, one is sculptor Terry Mathews. A man of art, he is hardly reminiscent of "white colonial tradition" (whatever that term may mean). Another, Allan Earnshaw never was a professional hunter and is by training an anthropologist. And furthermore, both he and I are too young to recall very much about the colonial era! In fact I became a professional hunter in 1963, the year Kenya ceased to be a colony.

The terms "White Hunter" and "Great White Hunter" are dredged from a by-gone era and the legends of Hollywood and Hemingway. For the last 25 years, "professional hunter" has been the name of choice for those who conduct African sport-hunting safaris. To imply that the earlier terms are still in vogue is offensive.

It is also offensive to suggest that professional hunting is still, de facto, racially reserved for whites--which is untrue. Even before political independence there were a number of well-respected Asian professional hunters and both the former East African Professional Hunters' Assn. was and the present International Professional Hunters' Assn. is open to professional hunters of all races.

The Tanzanian Wildlife Corp. conducts hunting safaris and is run entirely by Africans.

The common denominator of hunting clients is not their race, but whether they have the time and money to afford a safari. As the world's affluent are concentrated in the developed (white) West, it is no surprise that most clients are (Western) whites.

Hiltzik questions the professional hunters' claim to be poaching deterrents by quoting a veteran game warden's record that he never saw a poacher arrested by them. But that record probably predates the current level of poaching. Warden William Ngowo, of Tanzania's Maswa Game Reserve, stated in 1987 that poaching diminished by 40% once safari hunting commenced in his area. My own company helped with the arrest of 10 poachers last year in Tanzania.

Hunters have never claimed to be a totally effective anti-poaching force but they are an anti-poaching influence, often in situations where there is no other law enforcement. Through mere presence, they are a positive rather than negative factor in discouraging poaching.

Hiltzik claims that the ban of elephant hunting in Kenya "was emblematic of the permanent tension between conservationists and hunters." He misleads by implying that professional hunters were in part to blame for the elephant decline and that they are not conservationists.

Safari hunting in Kenya between 1925 and 1977 took an average of less than 400 elephants annually throughout this period. This is 0.2% of the 169,000 elephants estimated to have been in Kenya in 1969. Such an off-take will have had little influence on the species' status. It is true that between 1972 and 1977 when hunting was stopped, a greater number of elephants were taken on licenses by private citizens--but not by professional safari-hunting clients.

Being conservationists, the professional hunters were dismayed by the rising tide of poaching. They protested. Indeed, it was they who made the general public aware of what was going on well in advance of the official wardens or wildlife scientists. There was never, to my knowledge, tension between conservationists and professional hunters in East Africa.

The so-called White Hunter is already extinct. We professional hunters could possibly be considered an endangered species. However, we do have our place in Africa's wildlife conservation, through proper controlled utilization of wildlife as a renewable resource.

The trends in elephant numbers have yet to be considered in economic and social terms. Surely an investigation of this new ground would be worthy of your paper.

ROBIN HURT

Nairobi, Kenya

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