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The sport of kings

By Terry Anderson

I am planning a trip to Spain to archery hunt for Spanish ibex, a magnificent wild goat. The hunt will cost several thousand dollars, not counting the money for airfare, hotels, and food. I’m wondering, however, if I should still go or cancel the trip and follow the lead of Spain’s King Juan Carlos by recanting my sin of hunting.

King Juan Carlos recently went on safari to Botswana where he allegedly hunted elephant. While there he broke his hip and returned home for treatment. Spanish newspapers reported the story including a picture from a previous hunt showing the king standing in front of a dead elephant with a rifle.

The story sparked outrage from citizens who feel the king abdicated his responsibility by enjoying himself on safari while his subjects suffered under the Spain’s worsening financial crisis. Socialist Party leader, Tomas Gomez, said the king should choose between his “public responsibilities or an abdication.”

In response the king appeared on television as he left a Madrid hospital saying, “I’m very sorry, I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.”

The outrage goes beyond the economy to the environment. The king is the honorary president of the Spanish branch of WWF, one of the world’s largest environmental groups. Because of his hunting escapade, members have gathered 65,000 signatures on a petition calling for Juan Carlos to resign his honorary presidency.

Such outrage is not just aimed at royalty. Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy, was attacked in 2011 by the animal right group, PETA, when he hunted a rogue elephant in Zimbabwe. PETA worked with Parson’s competitor, NameCheap, to persuade more than 20,000 GoDaddy customers to switch their accounts, pledging to donate a portion of its revenue to the nonprofit, Save the Elephants. Similarly, when Dan Richards, director of the California Fish and Game Commission, legally shot a mountain lion in Idaho, 40 Democratic legislators signed a letter calling for his resignation. They “reasoned” that because it was illegal to hunt mountain lions in California, it was unethical for Richards to do so in Idaho where it is legal and necessary to control lion populations.

While such good-versus-evil narratives are useful for garnering financial for environmental groups and public support for politicians, they ignore the complexity of human-wildlife conflicts in Africa and in the U.S.

WWF understands this complexity and played an important role in linking hunting with community-based conservation in southern Africa when it helped create CAMPFIRE (the Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources) in 1989. This program empowers rural African communities to manage their wildlife and derive profits from trophy hunting. In Zimbabwe where CAMPFIRE is most active, elephant populations soared from 37,000 to 85,000 between 1989 and 2005. During the same period CAMPFIRE generated more than $20 million in direct income, benefitting an estimated 90,000 households. A paper on the WWF website concludes that “financial and economic benefits from wildlife management provide incentives for community-based organisations to manage wildlife and other natural resources.”

Though Botswana, where King Juan Carlos hunted, does not participate in CAMPFIRE, it does use community-based wildlife management. In addition to paying local people for services, hunting companies pay royalties to local governments. Annual revenue from trophy hunting in Botswana is $20 million, of which half is reinvested in local communities creating thousands of jobs.

Cancelling my hunt won’t show up in Spanish GDP, but it will cause the Spanish citizens who get paid for the services they provide to suffer a bit more. By canceling, I would also abdicate my responsibility as a conservationist. A hunting I will go.

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