Tackling Tradition for Royal Reputation
This week The Guardian slated HRH Prince William for taking part in a pheasant shooting in Spain, shortly before joining the World Wildlife Symposium hosted by the Zoological Society of London, where the Prince was representing his new conservation charity United for Wildlife.
Game hunting for species like wild boar and pheasant is both a traditional activity and a form of conservation; indeed some consider these species a rural pest. Though whether they are considered a ‘pest’ as a result of encroaching human activities such as agriculture, onto their home ranges, must be considered. In addition, whether the species is native or introduced should also be factored into the discussion.
Field sports (in particular shooting and fishing) can contribute substantially to the conservation of landscape, habitat and wildlife.
In some areas, as seen in the North of England, game birds like grouse and partridge are bred and released for organised hunts, bringing an additional form of income to many rural regions.
In the past, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have campaigned against royal shootings, writing a letter to the Duchess of Cambridge to persuade Prince William to stop the practice.
Though the hunting of rural game birds in the UK may seem disproportionate to the killing of Africa’s large mammals, perhaps neither may be justified in any case. Some believe that Prince William’s ‘hypocrisy’ is simply bad PR. However, princess Diana is known to have despised the royals shooting obsession. No matter the vulnerability of the species in question, the desire to hunt and kill an animal for no other gain than your reputation should be frowned upon.
The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), in a report about UK game hunting, stated that there is need for better management of game bird populations, as well as better communication between stakeholders of the game industry.
Old habits die hard, but the Symposium held last week called for stricter enforcements on the trade of horns and tusks, which are resulting in the fast demise of elephant and rhino populations, amongst others. Certainly the economic gain from game hunting in the UK versus Africa is very different.
Managing public attitudes towards animal management still faces challenges, seen recently with the debate on the fate of giraffe Marius. Questions remain about the science of culling, whilst both badgers and foxes have recently faced a controversy of opinions in the media. It is up to science communicators to better present the scientific facts in the face of public outcry, and relay the messages in an honest and meaningful fashion, if we are to look after our nation’s wildlife.