This week in Zimbabwe: Elizabeth Ndlovu, 64, of Mpumelelo village gored by a buffalo; Elliot Sianyanga, 45, of Sonyathi village attacked by an elephant. Both incidents occurred around Hwange National Park, where “Cecil the lion” once roamed. These incidents are just a few examples of the cost of ‘wildness’ in Africa.
Meanwhile in the UK, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has recently assured farmers that the government will not support reintroducing lynx to the English countryside, following an outcry over the threat that lynx pose to sheep. Instead, the government plans to cull thousands of deer as part of its timid ‘rewilding’ effort.
While the British farmer cannot countenance anything larger than a fox coming near his sheep, the Zimbabwean farmer must stop her children from playing outside after dark for fear of lions and elephants.
Although British people and politicians may have little idea of what living in the wild entails, they seem to feel entitled to tell Africans what they may or may not do with their wild animals. This takes the form of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which would significantly curtail trophy hunting revenue that plays a significant role in maintaining Africa’s wild lands.
The argument that this Bill does not interfere with Africa falls flat when one listens to the debates in the UK Parliament, where Cecil the lion is mentioned in tearful tones and trophy hunting is labelled ‘barbaric’, unless it happens in the UK. Although they would like to prevent hunting in Africa altogether, British politicians can no longer change African laws as in the Empire’s heyday. This Bill is the next best thing, which sends a clear message: the civilised British public don’t want ‘barbaric’ Africans to sell the right to hunt their animals like British landowners do.
Yet selling a small number of hunts at a premium rate to hunters from Britain and elsewhere is part of the delicate balancing act between human and wildlife needs in Africa. Unlike the total failure of the UK to preserve any large indigenous predator that remotely threatens human concerns, Zimbabwe and its neighbours continue to find that balance despite tremendous human cost.
Just like the British farmer, the rights and views of Zimbabwean farmers cannot be ignored. They need good reasons to defend their crops from elephants, build stronger enclosures to protect livestock from lions, or prevent their children from playing outside. Injuries and deaths caused by wild animals require even more financial help. While income from trophy hunting does not cover all of these costs, it is often the only available source of funding.
“But there are plenty of alternatives to trophy hunting,” UK-based anti-hunting campaigners tell Africans condescendingly, “You just don’t want to try them.” The well-worn myth that hunting somehow prevents alternatives is then invariably repeated, despite many examples to the contrary.
Lying in hospital, Mrs Ndlovu and Mr Sianyanga may be wondering what those alternatives are. Their villages are located too close to Hwange National Park to be designated as hunting zones, where people benefit from hunting. As one of Zimbabwe’s premier tourism destinations, surely villages right next to Hwange benefit from tourism? Sadly, the only thing these people receive is dust from passing safari vehicles.
The Hunting Trophies Bill will soon be debated in the House of Lords. To avoid sounding like colonial masters, Peers must first walk a mile in Africa’s shoes. If they cannot imagine the UK with wolves and lynx roaming free, they cannot sit in hypocritical judgment over those who live with lions and elephants.