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Why I won’t support sport hunting

There is a highly charged debate taking place in Kenya today. It concerns one of our unique national assets: our wildlife.

There is a strong and vocal lobby that is demanding we rescind our decades-long ban on hunting. An array of facts and figures is being marshalled, and it is finding frequent expression in the press. We have a Draft Wildlife Policy before us, and the pro-hunting lobby sees a unique opportunity to overturn what it sees as a flawed ban.

Why would anyone want to introduce a policy of killing our wildlife for fun? The answer, apparently, is very simple. There’s big money in allowing moneyed morons to come here and shoot at our animals. They will pay anything from a couple of hundred dollars for a lowly warthog, to a staggering US$ 50,000 or more to shoot a white rhinoceros.

We’re told 23 other African countries have cottoned on to this and are happily allowing the hunters to plug away, and that these enlightened nations are raking in the money. But it’s not as simple as just immediate financial gain. There is a more sophisticated economic argument being deployed here: that by placing a (high) value on our wildlife, we introduce an incentive for it to be protected. That if we allow a few animals to be shot in sport, those humans who could otherwise decimate our wildlife will have the incentive to keep the flow of animals coming (to be shot in turn, presumably).

The proponents of this point of view have figures to show: countries that have allowed sport hunting to flourish have seen dramatic increases in wildlife numbers. Countries such as ours who have failed to see the light, on the other hand, are apparently overseeing an inexorable decline in numbers as land is taken for domestic use and natural habitats are inevitably destroyed.

We are also told that all those who are against sport hunting are in the hands of rich and sentimental foreign lobbies who value the life of animals over human progress, and want to keep Africa as one big game park (surrounded by poor Africans) for eternity.

Emotions are running high on both sides. Facts are twisted to suit arguments, and accusations are hurled daily. I have tended to stay away from this debate for precisely this reason: that it is ill-tempered and self-serving. But this issue is too important to ignore. We must all take a stand. I do not wish to stoke up more emotion; merely to state my own view. You must make up your own mind.

I have a fundamental worry about the incentives argument. This column has often advocated the use of economic incentives as a key tool of growth and advancement. But this particular incentive gives me serious pause. Can it really be true that we can only save our wildlife by allowing it be shot in sport? A strange argument, that one. Consider this: if we uprooted our tea bushes and planted opium instead, we could make a fortune. Do we have a national policy to allow this because it would yield big bucks which we would then use for good causes? We would not even consider such a thing.

So why is it we would allow the rich to chase after our animals and shoot them down with high-powered rifles in an entirely one-sided contest? It shows the disdain with which we regard our animals that we are considering such activities in the name of sport, no matter what they might earn us.

As human beings we are granted things not available to the beasts. We can reason, for one thing, and feel remorse, for another. We have higher consciousness, and how we treat the species beneath us speaks volumes. They are in our care. Is setting them up to be hunted down as sport the best we can come up with – that too in the name of saving them?

Then our imagination has failed us in tandem with our compassion. Many more options are available to a people who want to protect their animals; many more options are available to incentivise that protection. Animals have intrinsic value – for our own education, as tourist attractions, in maintaining ecological balance. But we are being asked to see value only in hunting them. We are being asked to close our eyes and our minds.

We did the right thing when we banned hunting. Subsequently, we messed up the management of our wildlife, through ineptitude and corruption. That is not a reason to go back to something that is both silly and cruel.

This debate is being conducted by powerful lobbies on both sides, not by common Kenyans. I have no personal economic interest in wildlife, nor am I listening to arguments from abroad. My honestly stated position is that as a person who lives here I find the idea of reintroducing hunting in this country repugnant and unnecessary. We can do better, and should.

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