I’m struck by the January 20 op-ed article in the New York Times by author Richard Conniff about the ethics of auctioning off a rhinoceros kill in Namibia for $350,000. When word of the auction got out in the United States it resulted in anger and threats directed at the Dallas Safari Club, which will hold the auction in this country. Animal advocates are concerned for rhino populations teetering on the brink of extinction.
The purpose of the hunt is to raise money for conservation in Namibia. But while impressive statistics are cited for increases in wildlife in Namibia, it may not be a model that works for other countries on the African continent. Protecting wildlife is complicated, as Conniff admits. It is complicated by poverty, too little of a middle-class, desperate and hungry humans and corruption.
I live in Colorado when I’m not in Kenya. Last year I spent seven months in Kenya working for the Africa Network for Animal Welfare. We hunt in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Game and Fish manages wildlife and the revenue from hunting supports conservation just like the model being embraced in Namibia.
The difference in Colorado is that the rules for taking game and fish are strictly enforced. Over the centuries, and after clearing the land of buffalo and elk, elk populations in particular have regained numbers. Elk are managed in hunting units where populations are sparse. Elk, bear and deer can become a problem when they start to forage too close to human settlements. This is managed by the departments with authority to relocate or destroy problem animals.
Conniff reports Namibia is handling the situation there through regulation coupled with communities taking ownership of the animals. With local communities in control of the hunt and access, income flows back to the local level. It would be great if such a system could be put place in other African countries like Kenya but, again as Conniff points out, human population is sparse in Namibia. Not so in Kenya where there are 40,000,000 people and growing.
And the other dilemma is control. Without strong checks and balances, corruption abounds.