Texas teenage cheerleader Kendall Jones, the hunter who became the hunted, shot back at critics recently, defending her controversial big game hunts as conservation efforts.
Jones made news by posting photos of her hunting trip to Zimbabwe on her Facebook page, posing and grinning next to her kills -- including a lion and other big cats. The pictures created an uproar among animal lovers and Jones was labeled the "most eminently hateable person on the Internet right now."
But the 19-year-old -- who counts more than 577,000 fans of her Facebook page -- says these outraged animal lovers are missing the point.
"Tanzania also has 15 photo-safari areas, which have been lauded as a non-consumptive alternative to traditional hunting tourism," Jones wrote in a July 2, 2014, Facebook post, quoting National Geographic magazine. "Unfortunately, only 4 of the 15 photo-safari areas are financially viable. The remaining 11 are subsidized by hunter-generated funds. So without the financial resources provided by hunters to protect habitat and stop poachers, there would be no infrastructure for wildlife management."
The point being, if people like Jones didn’t pay to hunt, then wildlife lovers wouldn’t have any animals to look at. We wondered: Is Jones really a misunderstood Artemis or just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Falling prey to false facts
A quick Google search confirmed that the quote Jones referenced is indeed from National Geographic, published Sept. 2, 2013. But it’s from an opinion piece titled "African Lions Should Not Be Listed as Endangered," submitted to the magazine by Melissa Simpson of Safari Club International, a conservation group composed of hunters.
Simpson wrote, "The regulated hunters in Africa make a vital contribution to conservation efforts, primarily through the revenues their hunting expeditions generate for local communities and wildlife resource agencies."
Historically, game reserves in Africa were set up by colonial sport hunters when animal populations began to disappear in the 19th and 20th centuries from over-hunting by early European settlers, according to environmental historian John MacKenzie. But today, sustainable trophy hunting alone is not enough to protect wildlife and stop poachers, said African Wildlife Foundation spokesperson Kathleen Garrigan. It’s just one of a set of "tools" used to protect wildlife and habitats. And that’s only under good governance, at a low volume, and with social and economic benefits to local people, according to guidelines set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one the world’s leading conservation groups.
Others share a similar view on game reserves.
Both the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and wildlife conservationists say that hunting tourism can do good for communities and wildlife, where alternatives are not possible. Photo tourism, which needs more capital and infrastructure to implement, won’t work for certain landscapes, says IUCN ecologist Rosie Cooney.
"There are areas with sufficiently low density of animals that no tourist is going to pay thousands of dollars a night to chase them around. In the Serengeti, people will line up two years in advance to see animals because there are scores of them but, in other parts, that’s just not the case," said mammal biologist Bruce Paterson.
In these areas, especially where human populations are growing, trophy hunting can foot the bill for keeping natural landscapes natural. But assuring healthy animal populations requires hunting operators to be knowledgeable about population dynamics and reasonable about trophy quotas, the age of the animals hunted, profit margins, etc., Paterson said. There are only about 500 West African lions left, which are considered fair game because they’re mistakenly grouped with other African lions instead of their real family, endangered Asian lions. And when trophy hunting is successful in maintaining large wildlife populations and diversity, it’s well-managed, well-regulated, and often paired with other efforts.
"South Africa, through an aggressive conservation initiative that involved ecotourism, hunting, breeding, translocations, and other conservation efforts, was largely responsible for bringing the southern white rhinoceros back from the brink of extinction," Garrigan said.
Trophy hunting doesn’t do it alone
So while experts say trophy hunting can help wildlife management, they agree that it’s just one way to do so.
As for which tool is the sharpest in the tool shed, the IUCN says it’s not trophy hunting. With the same level of management and regulation, the conservation results in hunting areas are lower than those obtained by the neighbouring national parks, the IUCN wrote in a 2009 report. In some places, without the proper oversight, the hunting industry is actually contributing to wildlife declines, Garrigan said. On top of that, there’s even less of a bite in the financial argument for trophy hunting.
"Sure, some element of (wildlife management) is happening with fees paid by hunters who go into fishbowls to shoot fish. But the major thrusts are governments and private managers of the photo tours," said environmental historian James McCann.
Contrary to Jones’ Facebook claim, the non-consumptive tourism sector -- meaning you can look but you can’t touch -- is overall more profitable than trophy hunting. Botswana recently banned hunting in favor of high-cost, low-density ecotourism. Tanzania’s national park system actually receives about $11 million annually from just one photographic tourism area, whereas hunting revenue altogether averages $10.5 million, according to wildlife conservationist Peter Lindsey.
"Photographic ecotourism undoubtedly generates greater gross revenues than trophy hunting in Africa, and where large numbers of tourists visit, employment opportunities for local peoples can be higher than just hunting," Lindsey wrote in a widely cited 2006 study that actually recommends trophy hunting.
Hunting groups including Safari International, NGOs and academics alike report that the entire trophy hunting industry generates about $200 million in annual revenue, $100 million in South Africa alone. But this figure, which comes from Lindsey’s study, is questionable, says the Economists at Large in their 2013 report. The $100 million figure, for example, was taken from an unpublished study by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa.
Whatever the number, trophy hunting revenue is a small slice of the pie. Altogether the IUCN reports that the hunters are contributing all of 1.3 percent of tourism revenue in the big game countries, and have created 0.0001 percent of the jobs (and most are part time). Averaged out over land used, hunting generates less than $2 per hectare -- about $1 if we exclude South Africa -- and moreover, local communities get just a dime of that. In Tanzania, where the financial contribution by game revenue is the highest, hunting contributes to about 0.3 percent of the national budget but uses about a quarter of land.
Jones, who has been criticized for posting photos of big game kills while visiting in Africa, claimed that, "Without the financial resources provided by hunters to protect habitat and stop poachers, there would be no infrastructure for wildlife management."
First, while the quote was published in National Geographic, it was written as part of a pro-hunting opinion piece.
Second, the claim is inaccurate. Experts agree that hunting reserves can help wildlife management in the right circumstances, but other efforts -- including ecotourism and photo tourism -- have a more significant impact. No matter the size of the contribution, it’s clear that wildlife management isn’t solely being supported by big game hunts.
We rate Jones’ claim False.
Correction: This report initially misspelled the name of African Wildlife Foundation spokeswoman Kathleen Garrigan.