The World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities

Plenary Session  - 11 March 2004, Nuremberg, Germany


The New Cultural Imperialism:

How NGOs Threaten Sustainable


Reasonable Use of Natural Resources


By Eugène Lapointe
IWMC World Conservation Trust President
Former Secretary General of CITES (1982-1990)
1470 Heather Ridge Blvd, unit 104
Dunedin, Fl. 34698, USA
Tel/Fax: +1(727) 734-4949


Fellow hunters,

 Talking about NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) involved in the field of wildlife conservation is not an easy task. There are several versions of NGOs and it is therefore impossible to define them. A friend of mine, the late Felipe Benavides, used to say: "NGOs are like mushrooms, they grow up everywhere, all the time… But be careful, while some of them are good, most are poisonous". In the international field of conservation, we use the expression NGOs instead of "interested groups".

 In fact, you, the World Forum, constitute an NGO… but a good one.

 You have asked me if I were a hunter. Yes, I am and proud to be. In fact, I have hunted for seven decades, starting in the late forties as a young child, when I was hunting, fishing and trapping with my father for our family subsistence in the wilderness of the Canadian North-East. In my adulthood and because of too many business trips, I had no time to hunt.  However, three years ago, the opportunity arose and I successfully returned to my own spirituality: moose hunting.

 When did human beings first become “mankind”?  When did we cease to be beasts of the field and become, albeit in crude form… “society”?  These questions are, necessarily, rhetorical; they have no clear and indisputable answer.  Some would date the dawn of civilization from the day men started to band together in groups for mutual protection.  Others view civilization as being coterminous with man’s development of tools.  Some commentators of a more artistic bent emphasize man’s emergence from the brutishness of savagery with the origins of culture, with the day the world’s first artist dragged charcoal across his cave wall to depict the world around him.

             As I said in opening this talk, none of these answers is definitive.  They are all seminal moments in the development of mankind but we do not know which, if any, of them was the seminal moment.  However, one thing that I, personally, will state with the utmost conviction is that they all share one common focus, the hunt.  Men did not first come together for the polite conversation and company by the fireside.  They did so because they realized that only by doing so, and working together, could they bring down the large mammals that were to supply so much of their protein.  What tools did early man produce – bowls, dishes, musical instruments?  No – his first tools were those of the hunt and the butcher – spears, knives, axes and scraping stones.  And what did he draw on those early cave walls – family groups, self-portraits?  Of course he did not. His early forays into art have only one subject: the hunt – the animals that were its prey and the men who participated in it.  In short, ladies and gentlemen, one of the most seminal moments in the development of humanity, the moment when man ceased to be a beast of the field, may have been the moment when he realized that he could, systematically, exploit the other beasts of the field by hunting them.

 In other words, the hunt is core to our very nature as human beings and when we participate in the hunt, individually or collectively, we are expressing something that is truly basic to our humanity. Countless millennia ago, we perfected the hunt to a point where only an accomplished minority need participate in it, while their fellows could concentrate their efforts on other undertakings – stock rearing, arable cultivation and, ultimately, computer programming.

 Today, few of us in the West hunt of necessity.  Our skills in agriculture and husbandry have brought us to the point where we can supply virtually all of our protein requirements through the grim products of agribusiness.  Today, we of the hunting fraternity do not pursue our calling because of need – we hunt because we want to, because, in hunting, we re-establish contact with our vestigial selves, with the men and the women who first realized that they might conquer the world around them as opposed to simply being its victims.  We relish our interplay with wild nature and the wildlife that inhabits it, just as did that first man who drew on the cave walls to communicate to his fellows his joy and elation in the hunt.  The fact that, today, we do not hunt to eat does not make our hunting any the less moral. How could something that is so fundamental to our souls and our history be immoral?  If hunting is immoral, then we had better see to getting rid of the human race because, as I believe I have already demonstrated, hunting is fundamental to our very nature.

 Moreover, I believe that the worthiness and morality of our hunting is immediately evident in the hunter’s modus operandi.  Who is a better conservationist than the modern hunter? Imagine what a world we would live in today if most men practised the ethics of the hunter.  The hunter respects his bag limits.  Did any of the executives of Enron or Parmalat evince any similar restraint in the pillaging of their shareholders?  The hunter respects the seasons, taking only what he should take when he should take it.  Do we see any similar reticence in modern society?  I do not think so – seize what you can, when you can, and get as much of it as you can, may be a fundamentally American urban philosophy but it has found fertile soil as well, on the other side of the Atlantic.  In addition, I should point out, in this context, that the modern hunter does not play by the rules because he is afraid of getting caught in violation of those rules.  To the contrary, he plays by the rules because he knows that the rules are good for him and for his pursuit, and for the wildlife that he loves.

 The law-abiding hunter, we now know – and I stress that we know – is a positive force in the natural environment.  I can think of no example where hunters and regulators have worked together sincerely that has not been beneficial to wildlife. 

In an example close to my personal experience as Secretary General of CITES, the big game hunting fraternity has been of huge assistance in underwriting the health of the southern African elephant population.  National authorities in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have worked with hunters to guarantee the health and, indeed, the growth of their elephant populations.  The hunters have paid hefty fees for the privilege of hunting elephants.  Those fees, combined with the funds from the accompanying sales of ivory, have financed the conservation programs that, otherwise, these poor countries might not have been able to afford.  The Campfire Program is a wonderful example of this synergy.   

 Meanwhile, to the north, in Kenya hunting was banned in 1977 and, consequently, there is very limited funding for conservation in general or game wardens in particular.  The field is left clear for the poacher, who pays no fees and cares nothing for the health of the elephant population.  Therefore, we can conclude that no use or no trade endangers the elephant population in Kenya. I think that we should simplify this tale to the level of a child’s fable.  We could call it, “A Tale of Two Elephants” and explain how one elephant that could be legally hunted and shot stood an excellent chance of living a long and healthy life while his cousin, who was totally protected from hunting, had little chance of surviving his adolescence.  I understand that the World Forum, and one of its founding members, Safari Club International, has had some initial discussion about an effort to return hunting to Kenya.  If this could be done, this would be an incredible victory not just for those who wish to hunt in Africa, but those of us working worldwide for the ideal sustained and reasonable use of our natural resources.

 Hunters are moral beings and their activities have a positive impact on the environment.  So why have hunters been demonized?  So why would anyone want to prevent the hunter from practising his craft? – and let us face facts, there is a legion out there that wishes to rein in and, ultimately, forbid, our activities.  Here I detect two complementary, negative, developments.

 There are those among us who are more than willing to sign up to the belief in the so-called  “perfectability” of man, the removal of more and more of his animal nature, to be replaced by a new, “higher” sensibility. I think, in this context, we can safely equate “perfectability” with “more like me” – you will achieve a better character if only you will agree to the need for you to become more like me.  Probably the most notable exponent of this philosophy was Maximilian Robespierre, a dour vegetarian who sincerely believed that man was, and must, be capable of rising to the higher mental state that he had attained.  For those who demurred from this undertaking, he had a simple answer – decapitation. We now live in a world inhabited by a new generation of Robespierres, men and women who are convinced that they are the guardians of a new, higher morality and who do not hesitate to seize the tools of coercion to use against those who refuse to follow their path.  

Mr. Robespierre’s way with his critics brings me neatly to my second point – the ever more obvious emergence of cross cultural and personal intolerance often practised in the name of left-wing politics and supposed environmental concern.  In Europe, few countries, with the exceptions of Norway and Iceland, have a whaling culture.  The European stake in the question of whaling is minimal to non-existent.  And yet, every year, we see the pathetic spectacle of the US rounding up its circle of European puppets to parade into the halls of the International Whaling Commission to condemn Iceland, Japan and Norway for taking and eating whales as they have done for centuries.  Just who do we think we are – the international food police? 

Does a Japanese diner need to seek the permission of President Bush, Prime Minister Blair or Chancellor Schroeder before he determines what he may, and may not, put in his mouth?  What right have nations such as France, Spain and Germany to tell South Africa and Botswana how they may, or may not, care for their elephant populations?  Why have we suddenly become so eager and willing to fly around the world and wag the finger of disapproval in the faces of men and women whose history and cultures is nothing like our own and who have no desire to adopt our social or dietary mores. Even the British Empire did not make Indians convert to Anglicanism and eat fish and chips.  But now, intolerance is the order of the day.  Europe instructs Japan to alter its diet; the US demands that Europeans consume genetically modified foods that Europeans do not want.  Sooner or later, someone is going to tell Indians to start consuming those cows wandering around New Delhi. Yes, intolerance is the order of the day, but intolerance is strictly motivated by financial greed.

Species targeted by hunters of all origins such as elephants, whales, seals and felines are often projected as the prime representatives of the beauties of nature. In the eyes of the NGOs all are, as I said, benign, almost cuddly – something that you might want to snuggle up to on a cold and rainy night.  However, the emotions and feelings raised by the beauties of nature must not lead us to forget the cruel realities of nature. As Alfred Lord Tennyson so fearsomely reminded us, nature is, in reality, “red in tooth and claw”. The law of natural selection, as communicated to us by Charles Darwin, is steeped in violence, the dominance and ultimate annihilation of the weak by the strong.  Up close, nature can be truly horrifying.

 But for many of us, today, the sight of a butchered animal is so strange as to be offensive and, in line with our new spirit of intolerance, we are no longer satisfied simply to abjure hunting ourselves. We demand that others follow our example.  Do they not wish to arise to that “higher” level of Perfectability that we, ourselves, have attained?  If they do not wish to so arise, then they must be made to do so, to confront the error of their ways by having their prehistoric, indeed barbaric, pastime forbidden by the state.  Such is our modern practice.  Unused to the realities of nature, many citizens demand that we treat the wild flora and fauna around us as part of some great friendly park system or “sanctuary”.  They wish, above all else, to remove man from interaction with this wild environment because, not understanding nature itself, they equate all that they find distasteful in it with man – remove man from the equation and nature will return to some imagined utopia that, supposedly, existed many millennia ago.

 The tools in their hands are formidable. Until recently, they had almost exclusive access to the world media. They successfully raised huge sums of money for such frivolous undertakings as returning a domesticated killer whale to the wild where, naturally, it died. They demand that the strong nations place trade embargoes on those smaller nations who insist on abiding by the doctrine of sustainable use. Even as we are here today, they demand that the US close its market to beluga caviar because, supposedly, the beluga sturgeon is endangered.  Who is going to care for the beluga when the fish has no value?  Who will replenish the stocks if that activity brings no commercial reward? In the United States, the demands of the NGOs have become part and parcel of the Presidential election agenda, with Democratic and even some Republican candidates vying with each other as to who will devote him or herself most thoroughly to the implementation of the NGO agenda.

 We cannot afford to pretend that the situation is going to get better by itself.  Granted, our own organization, IWMC World Conservation Trust, has, over the past three years, enjoyed some notable successes in accessing major opinion leaders in the international media.  However, the momentum is still very much with the other side.  Why is this? We have morality and science on our side. Why are we not moving forward?

 I fear that the answer to this question is somewhat depressing – the extreme NGOs are active; they are cooperating and they are spending.  The forces of sustainable use are, by contrast, divided. Many share a lamentable tendency to procrastination, delaying necessary spending programs in the forlorn hope that somebody else will put his hand into his pocket and pay to resolve the problem at hand while benefiting from the free ride. 

 Those who feel this characterization to be too harsh should consider the regular meetings of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. Prior to each COP meeting, the NGOs meet extensively to determine who will push which issue – opposing the sustainable use of abundant species of whales; countering efforts to reopen the ivory trade and attempting to close as many elephant hunting grounds as possible; taking all opportunities to go after traditional trappers and fuindustries; blaming the commercial fishing operations for the demise of their dearest cetaceans.   Each NGO then focuses its human and financial resources on that issue while, simultaneously, using it to galvanize a fund raising campaign. When some fund raising campaigns succeed and others fail, they move financing about between them.  United they stand and, all too often, prevail.

 Do we see any similar level of cooperation between the world’s timber, hunting, fishing and trapping interests?  Is there an identical commitment to financing and pressing a broad-front sustainable use agenda?  We do not.  Typically, each interest delays confronting an NGO assault until the very last minute and, even then, each interest fights its own issue with relatively little assistance from others who, theoretically, support a broad sustainable use agenda.  Divided, we fall.

 All too often, we simply refuse to see the commonality of our interests until it is too late. 

 NGOs will not go away if we ignore them and THEY will not focus their attentions on the other guy if only we keep our heads down. Indeed, the NGOs cannot go away.  They are vast consumers and expenders of wealth who must perpetually move forward with new agendas and new targets in order to finance their vast infrastructures.  I often compare them to the mystical shark in the water that must go forward to eat and eat to go forward.  

 If we are to turn the tide, we are going to have to evince a similar commitment to cooperation between all sustainable use interests.  We are going to develop a similar commitment in communicating our message, in putting our troops into the field and providing them with the level of financing necessary to do the job.  If we do this, the public will listen and respond.  The only question we need to ask ourselves now is – do we have the intestinal fortitude to bring ourselves to address the task?



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