As a follow-up to our post “‘Green’ Hunting?” we got in touch with Luca Belpietro, a former hunter turned activist and the founder of Campi ya Kanzi and Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust to find out the real story behind big game hunting and wildlife conservation in Africa. Here’s what he had to say on the matter.
Wildlife conservation in the 21st century is all about its economics.
Can a continent with the highest birth rate in the world – and a significant economic growth – implement valid conservation policies which will preserve wilderness with thriving wildlife, for the generations to come? At the end of the day, with most African countries having to deal with arid or semiarid conditions, it is all about what pays off. Wilderness with wildlife need to compete with other uses of that land: agriculture, human expansion, intense ranching.
I did my thesis in economics on “Wildlife as a renewable resource: sustainable development and environment conservation in Kenya.” My thesis is now more than two decades old, but the topic is still very actual.
Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, it was considered that 75% of the Kenyan wildlife was living outside of National Parks and protected areas. In the ecosystem where I have been living since the mid 90’s – Maasailand between Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks – 90% of the plain game is known to live in private Maasai land, for the majority of the year. That’s why I created a community ecolodge, Campi ya Kanzi, www.maasai.com, owned by the Maasai landlords of the 280,000 acres Kuku Group Ranch, and operated with and for them.
Nearly 20 years later we have proven successfully to the Maasai community that wilderness with thriving wildlife is worth being protected, as it produces economic benefits. For each night that a guest spends at Campi ya Kanzi $100 conservation fee is given to the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust – www.maasaiwilderness.org – which now employs 250 local people, offering conservation, education and health services to the Maasai community.
Tourism is what can be defined as a “non consumptive” use of wildlife. There is a second use of wildlife: the “consumptive” one. You can “consume” wildlife in three different ways: hunting, game cropping, capturing. The first is self-explanatory: animals are hunted for their trophies, which can be exported at the home of the hunter. Game cropping is less intuitive: it consists of killing wildlife and trading in its products, meat and hide, but not its trophy. It is similar to cattle ranching, in a way. The third is capturing wildlife alive and sell it to operators who want to populate their ranches or areas of operation. As an economist I loved the concept and I believed it being the panacea against poaching and the perfect tool for sustainable conservation. In theory it is not debatable: add value to wildlife and it will be self-protected, as it pays off having it on the land.
Once you leave your economist desk and live in Africa, as I did for that last 25 years, you might have a reality check and see that an economist theory is just a theory and it needs to be tested in the field before it can be deemed successful. Yes, it makes a lot of economic sense to have big game hunting and game cropping, but this concept is based on good management, with the ultimate goal of sustainability.
In my quarter of a century experience this sustainability and good management have been the exception, a very rare one actually, and not the rule. Hunting has been managed more by corruption than with wisdom, and without much of the nearby communities benefitting; game cropping has been abused, with game census done to inflate the assumed population numbers and get allocations of unsustainable cropping quotas.
Yet there are conservationists who will still consider hunting and game cropping as the way to go for very rough places where tourism is not viable. I do understand their argument, but I will still remain very firmed in my belief that proper management is the key for a sustainable consumptive use of wildlife.
All the above can be argued without too much heat, but if you allow emotions coming in, than the debate becomes a very boiling one. And the heated disputes are not, ultimately, in the interest of conservation, of the wildlife, of the wilderness, of the local people.
But if I can leave for a moment the comfort zone of objectivity and venture into my own subjectivity, without my economist hat and simply with the hat of a human being on a spiritual growth path I could, and will, argue that in the 21st century we could expand ecotourism –the one where local communities are properly engaged – and guarantee our grandchildren wildernesses with thriving wildlife in Africa. Yes, I do personally believe that non consumptive use of wildlife can be implemented on a grand scale to protect African wilderness, wildlife and cultural heritage.
But non consumptive use of wildlife also needs good management and proper policies to be sustainable. Policies where forests and watershed are protected, for example…So we might be back to square one…wildlife, and the wilderness which is needed for the animals survival, need good leaders who are keen to leave this planet in good conditions to the generations to come.
Do you know any of this leader?
I actually do, and I could name an African one…
So, I believe, there is hope!
- Luca Belpietro,
Founder of Campi ya Kanzi and Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust