Sunday, May 17, 2009

Zimbabwe: Weigh potential benefits of green hunting

Sifelani Tsiko
14 May 2009

The Herald
Published by the government of Zimbabwe

Harare — ZIMBABWE will introduce green hunting this season, a new and growing concept that allows hunters a chance to enjoy their sport while contributing to conservation and management of wildlife.

This decision demonstrates the country's commitment to constantly explore new ways of strengthening wildlife conservation and management.

Unveiling the plans, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Francis Nhema says the new concept will be introduced on an experimental basis. He says although Zimbabwe has many animals placed on the consumptive hunting quota, there is need to experiment with the new concept to explore the potential benefits of this hunting concept that offers a unique synergy between sport hunting and conservation.

"We are doing it because it is on offer internationally but we need to establish certain facts through this experiment. Are there hunters who want to do just that? What happens to the animal's psychology after being resuscitated? What happens to an animal that has been darted, say, twice or thrice? All these questions need to be answered through this experiment before we can proceed go full scale on it," he was quoted saying in the Herald Business.

Proponents of this new concept describe Green hunting -- or dart safaris -- as an encouraging development that offers a unique synergy between sport hunting and conservation.

They say it allows trophy wildlife to be shot and wildlife research and management to be conducted at the same time.

It was pioneered in South Africa and is the brainchild of Dr Paul Bartels, head of the Wildlife Biological Resource Centre of the National Zoological Gardens.

Ever since it was introduced, green hunting is now in use in Europe, parts of the US and in South Africa.

Conservationists say green hunting requires more skill and precision than hunting with a rifle.
Not only must the animal be shot from close range, but darted animals are also highly unpredictable -- sometimes charging or bolting.

The practicalities of green hunting have not been studied extensively but most conservationists see it as a unique opportunity to balance the needs and ego of traditionalist hunters and the demands to conserve animal populations especially now when there is growing pressure to fight poaching and to preserve the remaining game numbers.

It's a controversial subject that still requires more debate and concrete examples that show the profitable and rewarding experience of green hunting as well as the impact on the welfare of animals.

Animal experts say green hunting requires careful planning before each dart safari, taking note of the species, terrain and time of year. They say it must be done early in the morning when it is cooler for animals.

"At the end of the day," says a South African-based animal expert, "we want the animal to jump up and run into the sunset, with the hunter having experienced the thrill of the hunt while also having played an important role in conservation.

"So from an ethics point of view, it's important that the hunter has the same goals."

Green hunting also demands that hunters practise with the dart gun until they are proficient and confident because animal experts say, the dynamics of the gun are somewhat different to those of a traditional rifle.

They say darts are heavier than bullets, so the hunter has to be very close to the animal before firing, while anticipating where and how the dart is going to fly. It's something of a combination of archery and shooting, the experts say.

After darting and immobilising the animal, the professional hunter takes the required trophy measurements and photographs.

But there are downsides to this. The joy of daring bravery and adventure- picking up a gun and going into the bush and hunt is eroded away and replaced with a much more managed hunting experience. Green hunting requires more planning, many people and precise coordination for a successful dart safari to take place.

Despite this, conservation-conscious hunters are coming to terms with demands of this concept. They are seeing a lot of sense in conservation.

Critics charge that this "Catch-and-release' hunting is merely replacing a high-powered rifle with a tranquiliser dart gun which can have serious implications on the health of animals when repeated on the same animals especially now when some animal species have been wiped out in most parts of the world.

"With so much attention on canned hunting, it is not surprising that "green" hunting may seem like a viable and responsible alternative. Not surprising either that media and public attention haven't been on green hunting when the spotlight is well and truly on the dreadful, despicable and unethical practice of canned hunting," said the International Animal Welfare Education.

This animal welfare organisation said green hunting which is being promoted as "the thrill without the kill" or the big-game hunting experience without killing an animal could have damaging effects on the animals.

The Game Rangers Association of Africa warns that: "The effect of repeated tranquilising on any animal is unknown in that the levels of trauma and effect on social behaviour cannot be effectively measured.

The possibility of the animal killing or injuring itself during the period in which the drugs are taking effect are real as the animal cannot effectively be moved away from danger.

"The position in which the animal goes down can also cause death by asphyxiation or damage to internal organs. The threat of injury or death is therefore significant.

"The practice of green hunting can only be considered abhorrent by members of the Game Rangers Association of Africa who spend their lives protecting these animals for posterity. The ethics of clients who participate in this practice must be questioned as much as those of the people who offer the service."

Animals may react differently causing loss of lives to hunters which may in the end lead to the shooting of the animals.

However, proponents say a battery of measures and a strict code of green hunting addresses some of the fears and concerns from animal lovers. For example, darting must be done early in the morning when its cooler for animals and that it must not be repeated on the same animal at least for a year.

In the end, Green Hunting is a tough balancing act that Zimbabwe has to determine the potential benefits. If it does not work, it will not do much to allay the fears of animal welfare organisations that are against it.

Zimbabwe needs the dollars from the hunters to finance wildlife management and conservation. Will the die-hard hunters buy into this green concept?

Only time will tell whether green hunting will become the mainstream enterprise or not.
For now, lets see how green hunting will go.

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