The Trophy Hunting Industry’s Latest Tone-Deaf Argument About Racial Inequality
Jared Kakura
11th August 2020

In their latest marketing ploy, the trophy hunting industry co-opted the Black Lives Matter movement to fight California’s proposed trophy hunting import ban. Apparently, discouraging rich white Americans from hunting African wildlife is racist against poor black communities (queue The Twilight Zone theme music).

Are we seriously expected to forget that the Barrack Obama, the first black president of the United States, passed legislation banning certain lion and elephant trophy hunting imports? Or that the administration under Donald Trump, the most racist president of the United States in recent years, reversed those bans?

We need to be honest here. Today’s version of African trophy hunting differs little from a century ago when colonial royalty would spend lavish holidays hunting native African wildlife with the help of black servants on land owned by white people. 

And many Africans certainly do not support trophy hunting as a conservation or community-benefiting tool. Alfred Sihwa, of the Sibanye Animal Welfare and Conservancy Trust, believes Zimbabwe’s communities only receive crumbs from the trophy hunting industry while the people in power receive the bulk of the benefits. 

Additionally, researchers are questioning the economic model of trophy hunting as a benefit and starting to view the practice through a social dynamics context where communities can be disenfranchised due to power relations. Research also shows that many Africans rightly view trophy hunting as a colonial relic.

To claim dismantling a system built on the oppression of Africans is racist towards Africans is completely backwards. What we are now seeing is a shift in how trophy hunting is being marketed from a necessary evil to a positive good. This was the same narrative pushed by pro-slavery advocates in the United States before abolition.

Up until the first few decades of the 19th century, slavery was widely regarded as a necessary evil for a healthy economy by southern states. But this narrative changed after abolitionists began arguing against slavery as a basic human rights problem that outweighed any positive economic benefits. From that point forward, pro-slavery advocates started describing slavery as a positive good.

It was argued that slaves in southern states were treated well by their white masters, receiving care far surpassing that of white workers in factories in northern states. Black slaves were detailed as being “lightly tasked, well clothed, well fed” in petitions against abolition. How dare those pesky Northerners try to take away such a wonderful life white Southerners provided for their black slaves?

Trophy hunting advocates will likely decry this is a false comparison because it is black African communities that are signing open letters and asking foreign governments to oppose trophy hunting import bans. This is technically true now that the hunting industry has changed its marketing tactics, but it certainly was not before.

When the UK looked to ban trophy hunting imports from Africa, many high-profile members of the scientific community, led by Amy Dickman, wrote an open letter in Science opposing blanket bans to trophy hunting. But this backfired. Dickman and other lead authors had conflicts of interest which caused controversy and resulted in updated disclosure practices and a series of rebuttals from researchers with contrary views.

Recently, Dickman appeared on Sky News where the news anchor prompted her with the topic of celebrities speaking out and influencing politics decisions to the detriment of conservation and rural communities. A few days later, an open letter surfaced directed towards the celebrity opposition of trophy hunting and was signed only by African community members. The next day, support for the open letter was posted on the Let Africa Live Facebook page.

Surely, this sequence of events is a coincidence and has nothing to do with an industry trying to capitalize on a racial equality movement after failing to establish scientific authority, right?

It is important to mention the support by Let Africa Live because it is run by wealthy American hunters and funded by prominent American hunting organizations like Safari Club International. Let Africa Live’s operators take words from the Safari Club International website and present them through a native African voice.

There is certainly a precedent for the trophy hunting industry trying to manipulate public opinion to demonstrate support from African communities. It should also come as no surprise that Let Africa Live posts content claiming Africa wants the same hunting practices as the United States (quite the generalization).

Also posted by Let Africa Live is a quote by Dickman saying, “People here don’t care if they never see a lion again – they are worried about where their next meal is coming from; lions are just another threat.” This quote can easily be construed as a sweeping generalization of Africans and hardly a glowing recommendation for the possibility of sustainable hunting practices. 

Ironically, Westerners opposing African trophy hunting are accused of generalizing the many cultures and countries on the African continent and implying Africans are too corrupt or incompetent to maintain sustainable trophy hunting.

Dickman asked why Westerners believe Africans are incapable of creating a well-regulated system of hunting, a system she believes exists in the United States. She points to the elk as an example of how well-regulated hunting can help species recover.

However, Dickman fails to grasp the fundamentals of American hunting on multiple levels. She neglects the fact that after elk were hunted to extirpation, reintroduction to native landscapes was successful because hunters and trappers exterminated predators like wolves and grizzlies.

Predators were largely wiped out in the 20th century but brought back from the brink thanks to the Endangered Species Act, legislation preventing threatened species from being hunted. If Dickman wants similar hunting practices in Africa, she better be prepared for the predators she studies to disappear.

As well, Dickman conflates domestic sport hunting with foreign trophy hunting, an accusation that has been made before. If Dickman and African communities wanted the same “well-regulated” hunting practices found in the United States, they would ask to ban foreign hunters and give hunting rights back to locals.

While it can be argued that many American hunters indirectly practice trophy hunting in the United States by targeting large and mature animals, there is hardly a precedent for wealthy foreigners coming and displacing local hunters. That is unless you count white Europeans supplanting Indigenous Americans centuries ago.

In fact, this battle still rages today with Safari Club International fighting against Indigenous Americans in the Supreme Court to break centuries old hunting treaties. Safari Club International argued that allowing Indigenous Americans to hunt on public lands would threaten wildlife populations and put restrictions on non-native (white) hunters to account for the negative ecological impacts. Who would have guessed the hunting industry is full of hypocrites only pretending to care about indigenous rights when it benefits their primarily white constituents?

It seems the only way to fairly continue trophy hunting from a racial equality standpoint is to bring the same practice to the United States. Hunting rights of poor white Americans should be restricted so wealthy black Africans can pay for the privilege of hunting elk to fill their trophy rooms. After all, many rural American cities lack infrastructure and services that trophy hunting can help fund.

Interestingly, this was parodied by one of the biggest Black Lives Matter advocates, South African Trevor Noah.

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