WRITTEN BY: Jared Kukura

Dare to criticize the opinions of those promoting the exploitation of wildlife for economic benefit, and you will likely find yourself engulfed in frivolous drama that takes away from the real issues facing conservation. Craig Packer, and many others, know this all too well.

Packer was once Tanzania’s leading lion conservationist with decades of research experience. That is until he was banned from the country for his outspoken criticism of the trophy hunting industry. His criticism was well supported though, his studies showed that trophy hunting was the leading cause of declining lion numbers in his areas of study.

Subsequent research confirmed Packer’s studies and noted lion numbers declined most in areas with short-term hunting leases. The short-term leases were both the most unsustainable and the most profitable for the government (surprise, surprise). Additional research also suggested Tanzania’s policies failed to adequately protect habitat and reduce illegal harvest of other species, leading to continual declines in wildlife numbers.

But, conveniently for Tanzania, trophy hunting is largely portrayed in a positive light when it comes to conserving the country’s wildlife. Trophy hunting, proponents state, protects more land than any other industry and creates economic benefits for rural communities. However, the difference in perspective has less to do with the promotion of trophy hunting’s positives and more to do with the silencing of trophy hunting’s negatives.

Criticism of the trophy hunting industry and Packer’s dismissal, while dramatic, failed to spur changes in Tanzania’s conservation policies. This happens all too often in conservation but it cannot happen now with the wildlife trade considering the implications of the COVID_19 pandemic. The debate over whether we should ban the wildlife trade can be dramatic. But we must ensure the debate goes not detract us from acting and transforming conservation to benefit humans and wildlife.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic likely caused by a virus jumping from wildlife to humans. To date, COVID-19 has killed more than 240,000 people and has ramifications beyond an increasing death toll. Global poverty is expected to rise for the first time in decades because of mandated shutdowns aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.



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