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  • Tiago Costa

Africa, the paradise is becoming extinct

When last January I traveled to Park City, Utah, to watch TROPHY at the Sundance Film Festival, I never expected I would be surprised the way I was. I expected to learn from hunters about their ideology and their ideas for conservation. However, TROPHY showed me something different; something deeper. It showed me that the hunting industry is powerful. It is more powerful that many international agencies with responsibilities for legislating according to our world's necessities. TROPHY is strong in its production, content and impact.

My relation with the African savannas is old, even if I never been there. I remember since my early age in Portugal, my routines on every Sunday were all the same. Before the lunch time, between noon and 1 pm, I watched documentaries produced by the BBC Wildlife. There, I could learn more about something that I recognized as a paradise. I remember, everything was romantic and beauty. I could dream with that place while getting a tremendous respect for that animals. Even when the story included scenes with blood and suffer, the movie ended showing that after the storm, will always come the sun. However, today I know my naivety played a big roll.

TROPHY, a documentary directed by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, tells the story of endangered species being killed in Africa. It also follows the process of hunting from the permit, through the action in Africa, and the selling in Las Vegas auctions. Watch TROPHY's trailer and find out if this documentary will be soon in a screen close to your location. If you don't find your town available, you can host a screen in your town's theater.

TROPHY is different on that. When compared to BBC documentaries, TROPHY is raw and approaches the reality in a darker way. TROPHY addresses a dramatic message: if humans don't change their habits, these animals that we love and respect will be extinct.

Although this trophy hunting is being executed only by a small portion of humans, we are all going to suffer the consequences of these habits. For example, in several African countries--not only, but mostly--it's possible to get a legal permit to hunt an animal that is considered an endangered species. This is how the process works: the hunter chooses an animal from the list--can be a rhino, a lion, an elephant, a giraffe, a zebra, among others--and apply for a permit to hunt the chosen animal. If the animal is considered endangered, the hunter has to have the approval of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. A permit to hunt an animal like a lion can costs almost $30,000 and an elephant starts at $40,000. After getting the permit, the hunter goes out in the savanna and look for the beast. When he gets the animal down, the hunter normally pays to embalm and transport the piece to his country where he keeps it as a decorative piece or sell it in hunting conventions and auctions. In America, most of these conventions happen in Las Vegas, as the TROPHY shows.

TROPHY became popular at the beginning of this year for two main reasons. First, it was selected and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, considered one of the biggest independent film festivals worldwide. Second, right after the opening screen at the Sundance, TROPHY's rights were bought by The Orchard and CNN Films for $2 million. A deal that gave to The Orchard all the North American rights, while CNN got the broadcast rights. TROPHY was then being talked by the masses; mostly because this movies exposes contemporary concerns of the animal conservation and the eminent extinction of several important species. It makes the viewer re-think about habits. It made me think.

A study by the Outdoor Industry Association refers that Americans spend over $27 billion yearly in hunting recreation, while this industry generates yearly around $3.5 billion in federal, state and local taxes. The study "The Outdoor Recreation Economy" also refers that almost 200,000 jobs are directly generated by the hunting recreation, placing this industry above the oil and gas extraction industry that generates around 180,000 jobs in the United States. © photograph by Oscar Keys

© photograph by Jereme Rauckman

Trophy hunting it's all about the prize. It's all about the pleasure. It's all about accomplishment and conquer. It's the man thinking, the lion is the king of the African jungle? No, I killed the lion. I'm the king of the African jungle! For other words, it's called anthropocentrism.

This philosophical theory evaluates the human relation with other animals and the rest of the ecosystem in general. The anthropocentrism is simply a perspective of the world that considers humans as the most important and natural existent being. It also considers all forms of life as natural products to sustain the humans' life. In my opinion, anthropocentrism reveals a disrespect for the world as a whole.

Trophy hunters are highly anthropocentric. Humans' habits are pushing this society to one of the biggest mass extinctions since the dinosaurs era. But, the extinction of species always existed. As a consequence of asteroids strikes, volcanos, or natural climate shifts, it always happened. However, today is happening faster and with more evidence. Around 99% of the current's threatened species worldwide are a result of human activities. There are even scientists referring that at this mid-century, half of today's species can be extinct.

Although this is controversial, there are pros and cons about trophy hunting. I believe trophy hunting it's mostly a negative practice, but I try to understand the pros too. The vision that evaluates trophy hunting as a benefit for the ecosystem is simple to explain: when the hunter pays a high amount of money to kill a single animal, this money should be used to re-invest in the ecosystem. It is mainly used to protect humans from the natural wild predators who go to the villages, as well as it's used to combat illegal hunting, or for other word, the poachers. Poachers can kill more than one animal per day, they are fast and have no mercy. Most of the times, when poachers kill elephants, they remove the ivory and leave the animal. Everything happened in just a few minutes and it's hard to governmental forces to stop this illegal hunt.

I never been in Africa, so I can't proof if Africa is the romantic, beautiful and healthy place like the BBC documentaries showed to me, or if it's the dramatic, sad and unhealthy sustainability seen in TROPHY. I just can't prove it. However, what I can do is to research and obtain answers. My constant curiosity about the world, makes me investigate different topics in order to get the knowledge and take my conclusion.

In a speech for The National Geographic Live!, photographer Michael Nichols--one of the most well-known wildlife photographers--talks about his experience in Africa, while documenting the life of elephants and lions during last decades. He presents his book "Earth to Sky" and addresses different concerns about the conservation of these species. He says the natural structures are being destroyed, as the populations of these animals are becoming extinct by the human being.

As far as the culture of trophy hunting goes, my conclusion is simple: trophy hunting needs to be stopped or highly controlled by the governments. If legal, this type of hunting should be allowed in special conditions. Besides that, international agencies should verify if local governments are using the permits' profit to re-invest in the population and conservation. Recent reports by the House Natural Resources Committee show that the investments made by some African countries, in wildlife programs, are really small compared to the profits made with permits. It's common sense that corruption in Africa is big and it's clear for me that most of that money is not used to benefit the ecosystem's conservation or the population, but it's used by an elite who is leading those countries. The same report says, “In assessing the flow of trophy hunting revenue to conservation efforts, we found many troubling examples of funds’ either being diverted from their purpose or not being dedicated to conservation in the first place.” It's also clear that legal trophy hunting is not stopping poaching and those suffering are always the same, the animals. In Zimbabwe, the elephant population decreased from around 110,000 in 2009 to 43,000 at the end of 2014.

These numbers make you think? Watch TROPHY and take your conclusion. You're part of this world's change. Take an action. Do something.


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.

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