Game Changer: hunting for conservation

Hunting is crucial to saving animal populations and is an invaluable conservation tool, according to author and National Geographic reporter Glen Martin.

In an interview on ABC Radio National on the weekend, Martin reveals how conservation has gone wrong and why animal populations have plummeted under a philosophy that has fused the concepts of conservation and animal rights into one flawed ideology that is killing the animals it purports to save.

Martin is the author of a new book, Game Changer: Animal rights and the fate of Africa’s wildlife, which argues conservation is failing under the protectionism that has been the dominant theme since the 1970s.

Geraldine Doogue introduces the interview with the phrase “unintended consequences” and asks if it’s “pertinent to the realm of wild animal protection”.

Martin says animal rights do not equal conservation, despite the Western world seeing the two concepts as one.

“The only growing philosophy in terms of wildlife and conservation in Africa these days is animal rights, which often works directly against preserving habitat and wildlife,” he says, stressing he is not talking about individual animals but populations. “It is disheartening.”

He’s also critical of modern society’s tendency to anthropomorphise animals, seeing them all as being individually important like humans.

“Every animal’s life is not necessarily sacrosanct. What is sacrosanct is habitat … and a proper balance between the various species inhabiting any given ecosystem.”

This includes taking into account the needs of the people who live there.

He implies conservation efforts to date have often caused conflicts that have done significant damage to animal populations, usually where people are given no option but to kill animals in order to protect their own subsistence living.

“If you’re a farmer with one hectare of corn in Kenya and an elephant is coming by periodically to stomp your cattle and eat your corn, you’re going to have to address that elephant somehow, some way,” he says.

Martin, who has hunted, says he was never philosophically opposed to hunting, but after studying the situation in Africa realised that the option to hunt must be integral to conservation efforts “or they probably will fail”.

He distinguishes between regulated hunting and the illegal practice of poaching, and notes that establishing a hunting presence works to curb poaching.

“Namibia, because it offers hunting as a conservation tool to people who own land – either farmers or tribal communities – they’re able to derive value from the animals that they maintain on that land and hence there is an incentive to maintain animals on that land.

“If there is no incentive, inevitably the game is poached or snared or poisoned so people can raise their livestock and farm in peace.”

The interview brings up the failure of hunting bans to preserve wildlife, such as Kenya’s 70% decrease in game in the past 25 years, despite a ban on hunting.

The success of private reserves is also mentioned; Kenya’s reserves hold only 30% of its animals, while private landholdings host the other 70%.

Taking a broad view of hunting, Martin talks of both the excellent conservation work done by hunters and their organisations as well as the abuses he’s seen by hunters exceeding bag limits and abandoning edible game they’ve killed.

His book takes an open mind to the achievements and failures of some of the pioneers of conservation.

In doing so, he boosts his credibility and establishes an admirable objectivity for his argument.

It comes across in this interview, which is very well handled by veteran journalist Doogue.

She calls Martin’s book ‘provocative’, although hunters who have already worked out the truth of hunting as a conservation tool will probably describe as overdue.

Hear the full interview, and Martin’s well argued points, on the ABC website.

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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.