This weeks topic may be a little controversial as I am about to take a firm stand on an issue which often divides wildlife lovers. On the one side we find the preservationists, those like John Muir and the Sierra Club, who believe wildlife and nature should be left alone. Then on the other side you find conservationists, like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and myself, who believe in a hands-on approach to wildlife management. This approach is the main method used by wildlife agencies around the world and involves the concept of sustainable use: this being ecotourism activities, the biggest of which is hunting/fishing.

The truth is, the original conservation movement was started by hunters. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of this great nation, was an avid hunter and naturalist. During his term as President he created a little over 50 wildlife refuges in America including Pelican Island in Florida and Tongass in Alaska (PBS). He was also a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club as well as a member of the New York Zoological Society which is now known as the Wildlife Conservation Society.

However there is one other great American hero of conservation that may out shine even Roosevelt. Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, was an avid conservationist, hunter, and political cartoonists (one of which is posted below this paragraph). In 1934 he was asked by Franklin D. Roosevelt, as an effort to stifle his criticism of FDR’s administration, to head the U.S. Biological Survey, which would one day become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Ding). One of his biggest actions as such was the hosting of a massive meeting of conservationists, firearms manufacturers, and hunters. Out of this great meeting came conservation landmarks such as the duck stamp and the Pittman Robertson Act. These two actions are essentially self imposed taxes on hunters and hunting equipment set aside to pay for conservation efforts. These two pieces of legislation can very well take credit for the amazing restoration of North America’s wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Outside of  the U.S. we find this same phenomena of hunters being the root of conservation. No other place is this more evident than in Africa. Like North America hunters were originally the bad guys. By 1900 unrestricted hunting had already caused the extinction of two species: the blue buck, Hippotragus leucophæus, and the quagga, Equus quagga quagga. However, just like in the U.S. hunters were the first to realize the damage they were causing and changed their ways. Many hunters, ranchers and conservationists started converting land from agriculture to wildlife and worked to create national reserves such as the Kruger National Park. Now in Africa the mentality is “if it pays it stays”. While this may not be as altruistic as the North American version of conservation it is effective none the less.

Currently wildlife and hunting can bring large sums of money to otherwise poor areas as well as a constant flow of red meat. As can be seen in the picture below nothing goes to waste. This provides incentive for both land owners and local people to tolerate wild animals and the damage they can do to crops and property, as well as livestock predation from carnivores. In Sub-Saharan Africa the major trend for wildlife species has been increases in numbers. This is due in large part to the massive trophy hunting industry since as I stated before the trophy hunting industry provides monetary incentives to tolerate wildlife as well as providing funds to pay for anti-poaching efforts. However, as an alternative the country of Kenya closed to hunting in the mid ’70s and his since then seen drastic decreases in its wildlife populations. Probably the biggest contributor to this decline is rampant poaching and a lack of anti-poaching efforts.

It is thanks to conservation minded hunters that we all enjoy the amazing abundance of wildlife  which we have today. If not for them there would not have been enough funding or motivation to protect our treasured wildlife or to protect and restore habitat. This has been a very general overview of the topic however you can trust that over the next couple of weeks I will dive deeper into this subject.


Ding Darling Society.