The mistaken shooting of a pygmy hippopotamus in the Northern Territory highlights the sheer dopiness of those advocating live game reserves in Australia. The animal in question was probably living alone in the wild for years before its demise, most likely left over following a game park failure. Advocates falsely claim a conservation benefit for African species from keeping breeding herds in order to shoot the offspring for fun. I don't buy it.
The key to conserving African animals is preserving African habitat. The argument that live game reserves outside Africa can contribute to conservation is nothing more than a thin veil to allow hunters the opportunity to hunt exotic wildlife nearer to home. Nothing more. I don't think the public is fooled by these silly claims, but let's have a look at them anyway:
- It's an exceptionally expensive way of conserving a species. Private game parks have a notorious habit of going broke. It's usually the animals that end up paying the price of the folly, but sometimes taxpayers pick up the scraps or the environment is left with a new invader. The business model of charging for shooting the surplus exotics never measures up - especially in Australia where lots of free ferals are available to shoot.
- It "conserves" the wrong species. It doesn't make sense to only conserve species that make good targets. Conservation is about much more than that. I'm always reminded of the Gary Larson cartoon of of the unfortunate deer with a target on him: "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal" says his mate.
- Animals escape and have an impact on the environment. Exotic animals have almost zero chance of repatriation to their native landscapes. But they do end up discarded or escaping and causing environmental problems in their new environment. In legislation before the NSW Parliament at the moment, there is not even any penalty for the live game reserve operator if (read "when") birds escape the reserve. This is a recipe for new invasive species establishing and has many precedents.
I'm neither anti-hunting or anti-gun. I think the hunting lobby is much better off to stop making outlandish claims about the possible conservation benefits of hunting and simply be more upfront. Hunting is a necessary part of managing a number of feral species, particularly herbivores where there are few, if any, alternatives. But spouting conservation outcomes from canned hunting operations erodes credibility very quickly.
Posted by Tony Peacock, founder of 'Feral Thoughts'