Open Letter the Hunting Report, a monthly letter for sport hunters
Reading through some of the literature on the conservation benefits of sport/trophy hunting one gets the impression that in Southern Africa a lot of lessons have been learnt. Benefits to the local communities and tax income for the state seem to justify the investment in hunting infrastructure and controls. However a few years ago when I watched the Cook Report on canned hunting in South Africa it become clear that even countries with good governance - by African standards - have problems in controlling some of the excesses of hunting. Interestingly this same documentary showed an undercover investigation having a Spanish hunting outfit offering some potential clients, gorilla hunts in South East Cameroon and ways to export the trophy. That brings us to Central Africa and a region of the continent which, according to many experts and Transparency International, has the biggest problem with corruption and governance on the African continent.
Let's now take this issue a step further and look at the Forestry and Wildlife Utilization tax code which the ministers of finance and environment signed on April 20th ,2002. I received a copy of this document from a European Zoo which in turn had been presented it by an animal dealer offering the species on the list available for capture and export. When I tracked down the animal dealer it turned out that he received the document from a CITES official in Kinshasa who was also a relative of the minister. When I presented the document in Kinshasa at the ministry to confirm its authenticity nobody knew about the existence of these new decree, not even the permanent secretary in the ministry. It took phone calls to Yokahama in Japan where the minister was attending an ITTO conference and to the World Bank (which had been involved in the drafting off this new tax code) to confirm that indeed the document was genuine.
Despite again asking a lot of knowledgeable players to confirm that indeed this same tax code is in force it was again no absolute confirmation that it is. However nobody I questioned has seen a new 'arrete interministeriel' since the one of 2002.
Now after this long introduction here the reason why this, at least to me, is a crucial issue in the context of the hunting debate. It offers all of the totally protected species for capture and hunting.
The Mountain Gorilla is U$ 1000 to capture and U$ 500 to hunt, the bonobo and chimpanzee are U$ 150 to catch and U$ 300 to hunt the two species of elephant are U$ 500 to capture and U$ 1000 to hunt the Northern White rhino (the most endangered large mammal in the world) is available for U$ 3000 to capture and U$ 3000 to hunt, the okapi goes for U$ 1200 to capture and U$ 500 to hunt.
Interestingly enough the Bongo is not listed at all and seems the only totally protected species.
Various parties have tried to figure out the logic, not only when it comes to what are officially classified as totally protected species for hunting and capture but also the dollar amounts involved for hunting and capture (there is additionally an official 'Holding Permit' on the same list. Nobody I know of has succeeded.
It should also be mentioned that at the time this laws were signed into force the DRC was suspended from CITES but was readmitted since.
During a trip to Kinshasa earlier this year we were confronted by the fact that hunting licenses were issued for various hunting reserves including an area in the Northern Congo where we have been running a conservation project which had been negotiated with the MLC rebel government. (The main reason we traveled to Kinshasa was to point out that in the rebel days there appeared to be a lot more political will coming from the Central Authority and certainly they had a lot more control in the outlaying areas then the present transition government.) We discussed this development with the German advisor to the ministry and were told that the Scientific authority had not been consulted in these allocations and that he personally was very very concerned with the lack of data concerning any numbers for the animals offered for hunting:
Some of the best estimates for some of the endemic Congo mega fauna seem to indicate a very drastic decline since during the war years:
- Eastern Lowland Gorillas down from 17 000 to 5000
- Northern White Rhino from 34 to 10 or less
- Elephants from 90 000 to 14 000
- Bonobo in two research sites down by 75%
- The number of zebra left is less then 20 and the same figure is estimated for the Derby Eland.
Clearly this is a country where wildlife poaching is pretty much totally out of control and the first step has to be to get some kind of control back over the National Parks and other protected areas - including hunting reserves.
While I do believe that sport/trophy hunting can contribute to the above goal and objective I consider the opening of hunting and the offering of any quotas as irresponsible until such time as either the scientific authority or an independent third party has done some census work to establish what populations exist and to what extend sustainable hunting can be considered a conservation tool.
In addition to these sentiments expressed by various experts in Kinshasa we had actually done some census work in the Bili Uere area where we also have a primate research project. This we were told had been allocated to a company called. Congo Safari and Expedition which were expecting to start hunting this dry season. Supposedly they had visited a small corner of their concession for a few days and seen some bongo tracks and that was the basis for declaring Bili Uere as the most suitable hunting area in the Congo. We had a problem with this analysis and asked to see the corresponding agreement in question to establish what income the state would derive from this arrangement and how the local communities would benefit and what would be done in terms of anti poaching activity (elephant poaching and has been for years totally out of control. The Bili Uere area was the one with the highest elephant population density of the DRC and based on our estimates there are now a few hundred left). We were given a quick look at the agreement in question which showed that none of the 2002 surface allocation tax of U$ 15 was mentioned, neither was the daily entry fee of U$ 35 for all members of a hunting party. There were some nice but very vague terms regarding improving the local infrastructure and helping with education and help facilities. No specific terms and conditions which could be considered legally binding. We then saw in Isiro another such agreement which was signed with another company in 2003 and was very similar to the one we had seen in Kinshasa and also included duty free privileges on all imports including alcohol.
I then did receive a phone call from a Mr. George Angelides who is meant to be the owner of the company in question. I pointed out that the agreement we had seen in my opinion encouraged poor governance and corruption and it could not possibly be in the interest of the DRC to hand out millions of hectares of hunting concession. Mr. Angelides confirmed that he had a 5 year tax holiday agreed on by the minister. (the negotiating and handing out of hunting concessions is supposedly the responsibility of ICCN the parastatel which manages all the protected areas).
The latest news release is that Congo Safari and Expeditions has secured some 3.1 million hectares of the Bili Uere concession without any kind of financial commitment. (3.1 million hectare at an allocation fee of US 15 per hectare would come to some U$ 45 million).
We are being told that the presence of a hunting party would stabilize things in terms of elephant poaching. We have attempted this for the last three years and have invested over U$ 500 000 to buy the coffee production of the region which most likely amounted to about half the economic product. In the MLC days we were provided with a platoon of soldiers which on two occasion confronted poaching gangs confiscating elephant meat, AKs and Kalashnikovs, plus some porters ended up with bullet wounds. As far as the intelligence as to who where how and why, concerning the still ongoing elephant poaching, this is all in place and if there was a government authority willing to act on it then all it would need is some political will.
The area allocated to Congo Safari and Expeditions is also the very area where in the last few years a huge influx of cattle people from Tchad has taken place. Whenever we overfly the area we see ten thousands of cows being grazed in what is a Wildlife Reserve and said Hunting area. Again this fact has been reported to Kinshasa without any real reaction.
As such some hunting parties coming in for a few months and taking a few of the more desirable species can clearly not be the answer to stabilize this area. This needs a large scale concerted effort with adequate resources and a commitment to be on the ground 12 months a year.
We doubt that even if this was the long term intention of Congo Safaris and Expeditions that this would be possible since the main partner in this venture seems to be the local chief which is at present a member of parliament in Kinshasa. The missionaries which used to live in Asa in the past report of tons and tons of elephant meat and ivory coming out on the this very road leading through Asa. We have documented the same and there is still elephant meat and ivory arriving on pretty much a weekly basis in Zemio which is the other side of the border. Being somewhat familiar with the Azande culture it is not possible that this level of trade could be going on without the traditional chief being party to it.
This is where things stand today. The hunting community which seems keen to see Congo opened up for their sport do not seem to believe in the basic level of transparency and accountability which should go with operating in this part of Africa. Several requests to be officially given a copy of the agreement in question have gone unanswered.
I do not believe that this is the approach to opening up hunting in the DRC. I believe it is not in the interest of the hunting community nor conservation. Statements like those contained in some of the hunting status bulletins circulated might qualify for an investigation ... which appear to be applicable to some of the owners of Congo Safari and Expeditions and might just be applicable to any US and European hunting party signing up to any of the packages this week on offer at the Reno convention of the Safari Club International.
In terms of potential conservation benefits arising from sport/trophy hunting the DRC laws seem to lag far behind the requirements of countries with a much longer sport hunting tradition; E.G. Poor quality governance is clearly the biggest problem to conservation in most of Central Africa - as well as many other domains. If there is to be any hope that things will change in future western donor and investor community clearly has to lead with examples. To me the above achieves the opposite....
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