Facing biodiversity loss, hunting can be seen as not only cruel but also damaging to natural ecosystems. Yet hunters argue that their activity is a natural way to “replace” animal predators and a tradition that should be preserved. Can there be a happy hunting medium?
Gazing through binoculars, hunters and environmental activists might appear to be natural enemies.
Particularly as the world is facing challenges that include biodiversity loss and species extinction, hunting can be viewed in ecological terms as not only unnecessary but also cruel, barbaric and damaging to natural ecosystems. In March, for example, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg banned a traditional French bird-hunting practice that consisted of using “glue traps.”
Still, hunters argue that their activity is a natural way to “replace” animal predators by culling herds of prey species and re-establishing a balance in the ecosystem. Hunting is also seen by some as a tradition that should be preserved, having been embedded in natural human culture for thousands of years.
Increasingly, the idea is spreading that hunting practices and sustainable development are not incompatible at all. Indeed, hunters also need a thriving natural environment to continue tracking and catching prey and some are now pushing to integrate conservation and respect for the environment in their practice of this activity.
Ecological falconry in UAE
For thousands of years, Bedouin have practised falconry as a vital form of hunting to survive in a resource-scarce land. Today it is a popular sport in the United Arab Emirates and still very much a tradition that was even registered on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.
In a bid to preserve both this ancient tradition and protect wildlife, the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi has recently updated the emirates’ hunting laws to make sure falconry is in line with the country’s conservation and environmental policies, The National reports. This includes a ban on hunting inside or near protected areas, as well as regulations to avoid damage to vegetation, and the obligation to use only licensed falcons that are registered with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.
Respectful hunting and harvesting starts with education.
The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, which oversees the directives, has also asked hunters to abide by the specified hunting period and to target only Houbara birds as prey. Hunting any other kind of animal or causing a disturbance is prohibited. According to the EAD, the laws will now help “ensure effective protection of biodiversity while maintaining local culture and traditions."
Canadian and Trinidadian hunting education
In Canada, the Government of Northwest Territories is launching a Hunter Education course for high school students across the territory, for them to acquire “fundamental knowledge and basic skills to become responsible and safe hunters.”
Students will be taught safe hunting practices and techniques and study the Wildlife Act regulations as well as wildlife ecology and management and traditional harvesting values and practices. They will also be encouraged to exchange with local hunters in the area “to be guided by the wisdom of past generations.”
“Respectful hunting and harvesting starts with education. We’re pleased that young and aspiring hunters and harvesters will have this resource to make sure they’re ready to get out on-the-land and do it safely and respectfully,” said Shane Thompson, the Northwest Territories’ Minister of Environment and Natural Resources.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the hunting season started last October and will last until the end of February 2022. Gary Watche, President of the East Trinidad Hunters Association, told Trinidad and Tobago Newsday that his organization was making sure hunters were being educated on sustainable hunting practices. This includes an overview of the Wildlife Conservation Act and maps to show where hunting is authorized or banned, as is the case in protected areas.
“We try to educate our members to not litter in the forest and also not to shoot young or pregnant animals,” Watche told the daily.
Young workers from the fishing equipment store SGFishingRigz in Singapore
Ending use of lead bullets
Lead ammunition has been widely used for hunting and in fishing tackle for centuries, but scientists have proven that lead that is left to contaminate natural environments can be a toxic substance to both wildlife and people. In Europe, a study found that one million birds die every year through ingesting lead shot, while others have found that regularly eating game birds shot with the metal can be harmful in particular to children and pregnant women, with potential damages to the nervous system.
While lead ammunition is already banned in some countries, in others where it is still used, hunters and environmental activists have joined hands to tackle the issue. In California, some advocated for copper and other non-lead options after it was found that many species, including bald eagles, had been killed by ingesting the poisonous heavy metal. Since 2019, lead ammunition has been banned for hunting wildlife anywhere in the U.S. state.
In the UK, hunting organisations have also been calling to replace lead with non-toxic alternatives and for the ban on lead ammunition to be enshrined in law, The Guardian reports. “Continued development of non-lead shot and recyclable and biodegradable plastics means the time is right for a complete transition,’ said the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). At the end of 2020, the European Union voted to ban the use of the toxic metal in wetlands.
Social media & sustainable fishing
Six students, who are running a fishing equipment store called SGFishingRigz in Singapore, have made a point of spreading messages about sustainability by developing environmentally friendly fishing equipment and using social media. The young anglers use TikTok to raise awareness about sustainable fishing practices.
Many new wannabe fishermen are not aware of sustainable practices.
During the coronavirus pandemic, fishing became an increasingly popular hobby among young Singaporeans. Haikkel Firdhaus, one of the co-founders of SGFishingRigz, told Singapore news media TODAY that he noticed then that many new wannabe fishermen were not aware of sustainable practices such as releasing juvenile fish back in the sea.
Seeing Singaporean waters teeming with marine life after a two-month ban on fishing due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Benjamin Brighton told The Straits Times it made the students realize “that a healthy, diverse fish population can easily be maintained as long as there is no overfishing in Singapore.”
The students have since decided to develop “catch-and-release” rigs to make it easier to release the fish and to organize workshops this December in partnership with non-profit Marine Stewards, to teach young anglers how to fish sustainably.