Sir Ranulph Feinnes visited Ludlow to deliver a lecture when I was a young teenager. I wasn't able to go but I got his book 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know', which I found both amusing and inspiring. Feinnes is a heroic figure, unique and awe-inspiring, to anyone at all adventurous in spirit, writes Diggory Hadoke.
That being the case, it is somewhat distressing to be on the opposing side of a debate in which he has come forward as the misguided advocate of a trophy import ban.
However, the great man is simply wrong in every point he makes in his advocacy of the banning of the import of legally-hunted animals from countries where well-managed sport hunting is part of the national strategy for conservation.
“It was amazing some years ago to see the gazelle and oryx in the wild, but sadly rich people turned up and shot them, and their population plummeted. The scimtar oryx almost became extinct." Sir Ranulph claimed, yet the truth is the animals were in decline due to human encroachment into their habitat and unregulated poaching.
The reason there are any wild scimitar horned oryx on the planet today is because they were bred and nurtured by game ranches, allowing older males to be hunted for significant fees, in order to finance the entire programme. It is a success story entirely made possible by the responsible hunting model of conservation. Indeed, South African game ranching has made use of the indiginous flora and fauna to 're-wild' huge areas of what used to be dusty cattle stations.
Fifty years ago, South Africa had under 500,00 native game animals. Today, because of game ranching, the number is over 20 million. The anti-hunters would rather see them all disappear than accept that hunting is the solution, not the problem.
Another example is the Markhor in Tajikistan, facing unregulated poaching for meat, it was on the brink of extinction until the authorities introduced sport hunting as a conservation model, in 2008. Populations have since increased three-fold and continue to increase, as the animals are protected by the local people, who now see them as a valuable resource to be protected, since they get a large proportion of the $100,00 hunting fees that a few hunters per year pay to try and hunt an old male in this inhospitable terrain.
The trap Sir Ranulph falls into is not being able to separate his personal distaste for hunters and hunting (a distaste based on easily swallowed mis-information from animal rights pressure groups) with the, objectively observable, benefits that managed sport hunting has on wild animal populations.
Eduardo Gonçalves of the opportunistic Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting said: “People will be absolutely astonished that Defra has issued multiple permits for hunters to bring back trophies of animals they have shot which are not only critically endangered, but in some cases are extinct in the wild and only survive in a few private game reserves" He entirely misses the point that without those private reserves and their successful breeding and conservation programmes, there would be none of these animals outside zoos.
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond, claimed: "We cannot continue to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers if we continue to allow trophy hunting, which is not only cruel but fuels an illegal wildlife trade." Again, totally disingenuous. Legal, controlled sport hunting is tightly regulated and actually funds anti poaching initiatives in areas where there is no other money available to do so.
Claiming this 'fuels illegal trade' is like claiming responsible drivers, who are fully legally compliant are 'fuelling the epidemic of car theft and drink-driving'. It is simply nonsense.
The media is full of misrepresentations of hunting and hunters - Piers Morgan claimed on live TV that 'Cecil' the lion was 'skinned alive'. If he can produce any compelling evidence, I'll pay £2,000 to the charity of his choice, If he can't he'll have to reciprocate - that is my challenge to him. He won't accept it because he made the lie up knowing it would be absorbed by the audience as true and then passed-over without any consequence to Morgan.
Responsibly managed sport hunting is a proven benefit to conservation efforts from Ethiopia to Namibia, South Africa to Pakistan - and, of course in the UK, where our red deer poulations on the Scottish hills have been managed by sport hunters so well that you can visit Blair Athol and see a set of antlers shot in 1813, yet the populations on the hill are as healthy and numerous as ever.
Sorry Sir Ranulph, you are a great adventureer but on this subject you are out of your depth and have been hood-winked by a campaign of mis-information. You need to do some proper research on the subject. I hope you do. Your actions to date actually endanger the animals you claim to love.
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