Nowadays the debate on the most sustainable way to shoot African wildlife rages on relentlessly, as it has since man stopped hunting day-to-day for his supper. However, even those who hover on the outskirts of this rapid fire exchange tend to agree that there is a far more morally, economically and ecologically sound way to way to shoot Africa’s wildlife than trophy hunting.
Photographers discovered Africa’s wealth of photogenic material decades ago, and photographic tourism is fast becoming a more proper way to generate a much needed, and more tolerable, income on the African conservation front. Regrettably, it can never match the quick financial fix that many developing African countries receive from trophy hunting.
Man has been a hunter since the time he first picked up a stick, but hunting for food is a far cry from the selfish act of killing for a coveted ornament, especially when that animal belongs to an already endangered species. The process of tracking a sought-after specimen for hours to gain the perfect shot is just as thrilling, whether it is with a camera or a weapon, and it is only the act of killing which separates the two.
Traditionally, hunters made use of almost every part of their victim for food, clothing and tools, while trophy hunters are selfishly beyond wasteful. Hunting on (more) level terms – or even footing – with an animal is also a far cry from the abominations of driven hunts and other such despicable practices that the media so eagerly reports. It has to be said though that there are establishments that embrace more ethical ways for the avid hunter to get his fix, at a price. There are also communities that benefit from these protective trophy-hunting practices and the spoils of a successful kill, particularly in Namibia.
Culling has become a necessary evil as Africa’s truly wild spaces decline, and it makes sense to restrict this unpleasant activity to the conservationists themselves, to avoid any grey areas and in order to avoid horrendous situations such as the recent ‘Cecil the lion’ controversy.
Handled responsibly in a perfect world, this could be a win-win situation for both conservationists and trophy hunters. While this undoubtedly forms the basis of the argument for those in favour of trophy hunting; each side of the fence has a different set of figures when it comes to calculating where the income derived from this actually goes.
Although photographic safaris may generate less income from a single visit, there are many thousands more people who would prefer to shoot with a camera. The same prize specimen can be “shot” over and over again, each time in the unique way and style of the photographer, and still be available for the next tourist to enjoy – and it is the tourists who are vital to Africa’s ongoing reliance on the safari industry.
With little need for hiding out in remote or illicit hunting lodges in order to avoid offending others, photographers can enjoy the luxury of being accommodated in every kind of establishment from ‘sleep under the stars’ outfits to luxury lodges.
This in turn boosts the economy, with photographic safaris providing jobs in a far greater number of accommodation establishments, both directly and indirectly, not to mention the camera industry itself. Game guards, office staff, rangers, guides and photographers are all employed in this industry which exists peacefully alongside the more mainstream safari offerings in most African countries.
With its dramatic desert landscapes, unique ecosystems and great variety of animals and birds, Namibia is a photographer’s paradise with a thriving photographic tourism industry which welcomes photographers of all levels. Despite this, dedicated photographic safari setups are still a relatively young and untapped source of income offering considerable prospects for growth.
Unlike the ill-gotten gains of the trophy hunter which will need to be transported by a willing airline, at considerable price, a prized photograph attracts no government taxes or extra surcharges for the thrill of shooting their wildlife, with a camera.
The Botswana, Zambia and Kenyan Governments have in fact made the bold move of closing their doors to trophy hunters and subsequently turned their backs on the $20 million a year industry in favour of more sustainable long-term benefits to be reaped from photographic safaris. While it will take a lot longer to earn that kind of money without any bloodshed, these governments believe that wild animals are worth far more alive than on the wall of some egotistical hunter, when that same animal could be on hundreds of walls in the form of a magnificent print.
As the public outcry against corrupt hunting practices continues, it is possible that other African countries with lucrative trophy hunting industries, such as South Africa and Namibia, may follow suit pending the success of this initiative.
Namibia has experienced outstanding success with its conservation efforts regardless of the culture of hunting in this country but it can be argued that such examples are few and far between, and after all Namibia is just, to be honest, very good at conservation.