Indigenous organizations around the globe petition world leaders to recognize their right to hunt.
The "United for Wildlife" conference held in Kasane, Botswana, opened earlier this week. The conference is an international event with numerous countries in attendance, and whose primary theme is the Illegal Trade in Wildlife. It's also supported and championed by some high profile animal welfare luminaries, including the United Kingdom's princes Charles and William.
But while the focus of the conference is mainly the international trade in endangered species and their parts (ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts, etc.), reportedly thousands of people and numerous indigenous rights organizations have signed a formal letter to the conference attendees on behalf of marginalized indigenous peoples around the world.
The movement, which is spearheaded by the international tribal and indigenous defense organization Survival International (SI), intends to make a formal announcement and request to the assembled world leaders and/or their representatives to recognize and support the contention that tribal peoples have a right to engage in subsistence hunting.
The letter states, in part (emphasis mine):
"We are asking you to stress to participants that there is a difference between peoples hunting sustainably for subsistence, and illegal poaching which endangers wildlife. Our efforts to press the organizations in United For Wildlife to make public declarations acknowledging this have met with little success."
Additionally, Survival International and its supporters condemn actions by countries that claim to subscribe to laws and bans that protect wildlife but disregard the native humans who live in concert with that wildlife. Survival International reports that in some places tribal peoples face arrest and beatings, torture and even death for hunting to feed their families.
Baka "Pygmies" in Cameroon and Bayaka "Pygmies" in the Republic of Congo have been beaten and tortured by anti-poaching squads, and fear going into the forest to hunt. And despite winning a major legal victory which confirmed their right to hunt inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Bushmen in Botswana are routinely arrested and beaten when found hunting. The letter adds,
"A ban incorporating subsistence or tribal hunting, such as President Khama has declared in Botswana, is a gross violation of human rights. It is in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the ILO Convention 169 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
"Several conservation organizations in United For Wildlife have played a role in the illegal eviction of tribal peoples from their lands, as has the government of Botswana. For the Botswana conference to be calling for 'law enforcement' about poaching while being complicit in gross human rights violations, does no service to conservation."
This is heavy stuff, with layers of issues that should be of special concern to hunters, conservationists and human rights advocates. SI is implying that sound wildlife conservation is by its nature vitally important and necessary to the indigenous peoples that hunt animals for subsistence.
Rather than being linked by intention with poachers, tribal hunters insist that they are the antithesis of what poaching is about, and could be considered allies in conservation efforts to protect game species. After all, who has more to lose by the loss of game animal species than the people who rely on them to feed their families?
The tribal peoples represented by Survival International and other indigenous support organizations are also claiming subsistence hunting as a human right. That is certainly a profound declaration in this modern age, where many people, in particular those who oppose hunting, would vehemently deny such an assertion. This is, however, an idea that hunter conservationists can, I think, relate to.
Certainly no one wants to see any game animal populations reach a critical point, and if subsistence hunting truly presented a danger to those species, most people, including tribal hunters, would surely agree that their right to hunt should follow the same sound game management strategies that sport hunters must subscribe to. And that may be the salient point of this petition by SI and supporters of indigenous peoples: Should not those people who hunt for subsistence be given at least the same consideration as those who hunt for sport?