We tip our hat to Steve Jones of El Dorado for his plaintive query -- published in Friday's Voices section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette -- about why we wrote an article about an African safari in the Sept. 8 edition of the newspaper.
Jones asked, "Why did your sports page publish an article with photos about 'big game hunting' of ever-endangered Africa's animals?
"Big man with big gun gets his photo taken crouched beside dead African mammals. Why? What's the point of this?"
The article in question was "Big-game majesty," which featured a local hunter's African safari.
First, we must rebut a false premise in Jones' letter. None of the animals that the featured hunter killed is endangered or threatened. The black wildebeest, impala, springbok, warthog and greater kudu are plentiful and commonly hunted.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as well as the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette, has featured hunting articles for more than 50 years. Joe Mosby, former outdoors editor for the Gazette, and my predecessor Steve Bowman wrote thousands of hunting articles. Both are enshrined in the Arkansas Outdoors Hall of Fame.
From a literary standpoint, safari hunting has a rich history. It was the background for some of Ernest Hemingway's most famous works, including Green Hills of Africa, The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, to name a few. Death in the Long Grass, by Peter Hathaway Capstick is a classic, as is African Game Trails, by Theodore Roosevelt.
Even Barack Obama alluded admiringly to lion hunters in his book, Dreams From My Father.
Sunday's safari was, above all, newsworthy.
It is the first such article I've written in nearly 15 years as outdoors editor, so the subject is fresh.
Many Arkansans hunt in Africa, but many others dream of hunting in Africa. The article covered all of the practical elements of hunting plains game in Africa, such as establishing a working rapport with the hunting guide, how to scout and evaluate the age of animals on the hoof, how to track game and the importance of practicing before traveling.
Also, the safari was unusual because it was inexpensive. Big game hunting is widely regarded as a luxury for the wealthy. The subject of this article won his safari in an auction for a comparatively small sum. After factoring in costs of travel and taxidermy costs, the entire cost of the safari was less than a guided elk hunt in the American West. The cost of the auction alone was less than half of what it would cost to fish in Canada for the same amount of time.
The "hook" is that an African safari can be within the means of a middle-class hunter on a budget.
The article overlooked one essential aspect that should be addressed. African nations do not have hunter-funded wildlife management agencies like those on the state and federal levels in the United States. Most game and fish agencies are funded entirely by the sales of hunting and fishing licenses, and for wildlife, a federal excise tax on guns, ammunition, hunting optics, hunting clothing and other hunting accessories. With this funding, they have brought many game and non-game species back from the brink of extinction.
In Africa, almost all wildlife conservation is funded by the trophy fees from safari hunters. It is an a la carte system in which hunters pay a set fee for the species they shoot. The fee is effective when a hunter pulls the trigger, even if he misses, and even if the animal is not recovered.
Animals in sub-Saharan Africa live largely on vast game ranches. The government grants hunting rights -- concessions -- to outfitters which manage respective species through strict management programs that balance herd numbers with the biological carrying capacity of the habitat. That involves culling older animals from the population whose reproductive capabilities are past prime.
Older animals are harder to hunt by virtue of age and genetics. Coincidentally, the oldest animals have the largest, most impressive horns.
Without the game ranches and the hunters that visit them, the animals would be highly vulnerable to poaching.
In summary, wildlife management is a science built on volumes of peer-reviewed data and conclusions. Hunting is a proven necessary component of the science. Aversion to hunting is an ideological expression. When dogma and science clash, we side with science.
We cover everything that pertains to hunting and fishing on this page, and we don't censor topics that might offend somebody. The point is to entertain, to inform and to educate.
We're honored that you stopped by, Mr. Jones. Please visit often.
Sports on 09/15/2019