Management for survival

Sustainable use is about more than giving hunters what they want, says Byron Pace – it is vital for supporting local communities.

Rain is something I am normally all too happy to see stop. We are used to it in the UK. Rarely do we see protracted periods without rain or feel the effects of limited precipitation.

In other parts of the world, the opposite is the norm. In Namibia, where I spent considerable time this year, they have seen many years of drought conditions (the same is true for many regions of southern Africa).

I saw this first-hand, flying over land parched and baked hard from the relentless sun. The vibrant habitat that should have been teeming with fauna looked tired and devoid of life.

Many private landowners had eradicated or sold their wildlife populations over the proceeding years, hoping to reduce the negative impacts on the habitat. On top of this, supplemental food had become a necessity, at great cost, just to keep the animals alive.

It was heartbreaking to see the stress and burden and loss everywhere you looked. This was true for those managing wildlife privately, or within National Parks, or indeed farmers raising cattle and livestock.

This gave me a new appreciation for something we so often take for granted at home. Water is rarely a consideration. I don’t think I have ever been so appreciative of rain as a few days before writing this article, when my friends around Namibia rejoiced at the arrival of water falling from the sky.

The dams were once again full and life had started to emerge from the aftermath of the drought. I can’t even begin to understand how they must be feeling right now.

It brings to the fore several interesting points, not the least of which is whether our changing climate will result in once-thriving areas of Africa having to accept a new normality.

One where lower wildlife population densities are necessary to cope with the limited rainfall and a resulting reduction in carrying capacity. 

Rain: Far from a nuisance, a much hoped-for event in many parts of Africa

This could see a shift in wildlife to more central regions. The problem here, as is well documented, is that as you move into central Africa, the issues around wildlife security and poaching increase.

Another interesting aspect around these extreme conditions is how we best harness and use landscapes in a way that not only helps to support the people living there, but humanity as a whole. By “best harness” I of course mean in a way that doesn’t negatively impact that environment or the wildlife in it.

Some may say that the only real way to do that is to extract ourselves from it entirely and let nature do its thing – what we often refer to as rewilding.

Like it or not, we live in the Anthropocene, and the effects of humans on the planet are everywhere to see. As I have said before, the most irresponsible thing we could possibly do is have a hands-off approach.

What we should discuss far more than we do, is how we work in better harmony with the landscape and the wildlife, accepting we are part of that story, and that means managing long-term sustainable use programmes.

I have long said that acknowledging this, and the role hunting plays in the sustainable use of wildlife, forms a crucial part of environmental sustainability.

The benefits are multi-faceted, from the provision of food to management funding, and a consideration of the fact that native wildlife is far more environmentally sympathetic than livestock. Though hunting isn’t explicitly mentioned, a new study certainly points in this direction.

To be published by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity (IPBES), the title of the study and forthcoming paper in 2022 is the Sustainable Use of Wild Species Assessment.

An overview of the project can be found on International Institute for Sustainable Development website, which is focused on providing a resource centre and commentary on the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development around the world.

The truncated version of the initial review suggested that the “sustainable use of wildlife is key to achieve sustainable development”. Of course, sustainable use is far reaching, with wild species providing more than half the world’s seafood as well as timber and energy.

As is pointed out by the authors, “In our increasingly developed, tech-focused and industrialised world, it may be a surprise to learn that billions of people globally still rely on wild species for their nutrition, health and well-being.”

Beyond the obvious benefits as a source of food and shelter, the report digs deeper into the social importance of sustainable use. “For many indigenous peoples and local communities, the use of wild species is inextricably entwined in culture and identity.

Even more broadly in society, the use of wild species provides non-material contributions, by enriching people’s physical and psychological experiences, including their religious and ceremonial lives.

This means that the use of wild species fulfills many different human needs and that policies and decisions relating to such use have consequences affecting health, food security, poverty alleviation and general well-being.”

There were, however, a couple of key lines in the review that rang very true to much of the discussion we have in these pages. “Human uses of wild species are not always and everywhere destructive and there are many examples where wild species have depended on human use for their survival.

Despite the claims of many in the media, the worst thing we can do to threatened species is leave them alone

“This is becoming more apparent as we recognise that landscapes have been managed by people over thousands of years, even in areas we sometime perceive as wilderness.”

There is a role for hunting in the future, and this direction will form the backbone of that future. It is clear to me, that framed in the correct context, our role as hunters can play an integral part in forming a better future for everyone. It is a complicated story and one in which we undoubtedly face many challenges– not least the continuing moral issue around trophy hunting.

The final few words of the review identify the need to establish approaches of management that are well thought out and based on science. “The complex social and environmental issues related to the use of wild species won’t be solved by implementing simple and often ineffective policies.” Sadly, ineffective policies usually claim wildlife as their primary victims. 

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