by Dan Cabela
Some people think hunters are wiping out our endangered species. Others believe local tribespeople in Africa are exploited by the hunting community and therefore are indifferent to wildlife. This is often due to viral social media posts or provocative headlines that wildly misrepresent the truth. People are largely too far removed from the on-the-ground, highly complicated, issues facing wildlife to understand.
The fact is, widespread commercial poaching, as well as human encroachment on wildlife habitats and subsequent subsistence poaching are largely to blame for the continued endangerment of many species.
Hunting and hunters fund much of the world’s meaningful conservation.
Today is Wildlife Conservation Day, an international effort to raise awareness and help combat wildlife crime. As someone devoted to outdoorsmanship and the well-being of wild places, I understand how important it is to conserve habitat and ensure the long-term sustainability of wild animals.
Ethical hunters take one animal and in the process often save thousands more. Regulated and responsible hunting prioritizes mature animals, allowing most of the species to thrive. In contrast, illegal traps used for commercial poaching kill any animal that walks into them, causing great suffering and slow deaths. And the illegal trade in wildlife parts incentivizes the wholesale slaughter of entire herds. These wildlife crimes often kill thousands of animals and save none.
Monies generated from the $373 billion hunting industry are largely responsible for funding global wildlife conservation and preventing poaching. I have witnessed firsthand how this works in Mozambique.
The Cabela Family Foundation recently became involved in funding and overseeing the largest conservation transport of wild lions across international borders in history. The 2.5-million-acre habitat the lions were moved to in Mozambique had been previously restored to an area now thriving with wildlife thanks to safari revenues, local investment and education. This effort worked in parallel with the participation of ethical hunting partners to fund anti-poaching efforts, culminating in this wild lion reintroduction project we call “Twenty Four Lions.”
Hunting funds everything from the helicopters, motorcycles and jeeps used to patrol the Zambeze Delta to the zoologists, logistics and extensive permits for safely sedating and transporting the lions, to ongoing monitoring and veterinary support. It is just one example of how hunting provides the means, the effort and the desire to restore a natural ecosystem.
Another common question is why local and foreign governments don’t do their part to save the indigenous wildlife. Most often, they simply do not have the means to fund poaching prevention or meaningful conservation. From half a world away, this seems unconscionable.
However, if you aren’t living in poverty in a marginal land, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to live with dangerous animals. Could you imagine elephants or lions roaming through your backyard, killing your pets, or tearing up your crops? Hunting provides an added incentive for local people to not only co-exist with these wild creatures but to champion their long-term sustainability.
An expanding human population in much of the developing world has resulted in greater conflict between humans and wildlife, as well as encroachment on wildlife habitats and increased demand for commercial poaching. However, when a village can benefit through the food, humanitarian aid, schools, medical facilities and other kinds of support provided through ethical hunting dollars, there’s far less risk for local wildlife and greater opportunity for locals.
When you meet with villagers and talk with them about the spiritual and economic connection to lions and other species, real change begin.
Hunting creates moments that stay with you and become part of you. To hunt is to follow a path that every generation since the beginning of humankind has followed. It is primal. It is honest. It is instinctive. And it is definitely emotional. It gives you a fuller understanding of the circle of life — not as an observer, but as a participant. The hunter’s relationship with nature is strengthened by a reverence for and the ultimate protection of the wildlife he or she pursues.
I’m certainly not suggesting you must hunt to make a big difference. But I am saying that we should all stand together, hunters and non-hunters alike, to find real answers to the common goal of long-term, sustainable conservation today and every day.
Dan Cabela is director of Twenty Four Lions, serving on behalf of the Cabela Family Foundation. Learn more at www.24lions.org