By Rich Harris

Caprinae (wild sheep and goats) are among the taxa most prized by many trophy hunters for the magnificence of their horns, yet some species exist only in low numbers. Accordingly in 2009, SSC Chair Simon Stuart began discussions with Marco Festa-Bianchet, chair of the SSC Caprinae Specialist Group (CSG) about whether the SSC could become more engaged in assuring the conservation effectiveness of this form of hunting, noting that CSG had, in 2000, produced a position statement  (http://pages.usherbrooke.ca/mfesta/thunt.htm).

As Deputy-Chair of CSG I became interested in the possibility that SSC involvement could be particularly helpful in central Asia (including China), having worked there for many years with local biologists and managers in and around trophy hunting areas, and where most systems had yet to realize their full potential to link wildlife conservation with local people’s livelihoods.  Initial ideas centered on the potential that SSC might, in the future, provide some sort of public endorsement of programs that met biological and social criteria, thus providing backing for successful programs facing scrutiny or criticism, while also providing an incentive to improve for programs not yet incorporating generally-agreed upon elements. With the help of  SSC leadership ,  seed-funding was obtained from the Wild Sheep Foundation (in association with Grand Slam/OVIS), the Conklin Foundation, and Safari Club International in 2010 to initiate conversations with range-state wildlife managers about their trophy hunting programs. Because of funding constraints and to avoid overlap with existing initiatives sponsored by FAO and CIC, we elected to prioritize working with the People’s Republic of China. There, a trophy hunting program focused on Caprinae had been operating since 1986, but public concern had prompted its suspension in 2006.

In October 2011 in Cambridge, UK, SSC organized a workshop with senior officials from China’s State Forestry Administration, which oversees the various provinces’ trophy hunting programs. We shared our thoughts about how hunting has succeeded in motivating funding and support for habitat conservation in various places throughout the world, and how local participation has so often been shown to be crucial in programs’ success. Our Chinese colleagues shared information about their programs, and the difficulties they faced. Our small workshop ended without specific agreement on how, or indeed whether, we could move forward with some sort of SSC endorsement, although we agreed to continue our conversation, perhaps in China during 2012. It was pointed out, however, that despite the existence of various documents detailing best practices in trophy hunting (such as the European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity), and despite IUCN’s existing policies on sustainable use, SSC had no stand-alone statement regarding trophy hunting. From the SSC side it was agreed that a reasonable next step was to produce such a document, and further that it should be general enough to cover all terrestrial species where high-value, low-volume hunting was intended to produce tangible conservation incentives.

I was asked by the SSC Chair to produce an initial draft of such a statement, including principles or guidelines, as way of initiating the process of review and revision. Rosie Cooney became an active member of our core writing group almost immediately upon taking up her position as SULi Chair in early 2012. Since that time, we’ve circulated a number of drafts to the chairs of various specialist groups who deal with taxa that are hunted in these contexts and also received considerable useful input from members of SULi. We’ve also had some very useful discussions of what we are now calling “Guiding Principles” at the SSC Chairs meeting in Abu Dhabi in February 2012. Unsurprisingly for a topic that can elicit strong emotions, we’ve received various views, and have found it challenging to produce text that is general enough to cover a myriad of situations while specific enough to differentiate programs that truly create the desired incentives from those that do not.

As of early May 2012, we are preparing a draft for the SSC chair, Simon Stuart, to consider. This will be sent out to the whole SSC for a final round of input, before consideration by the SSC Steering Committee, which can accept, reject, or suggest revisions to the text. Our hope is that by more clearly articulating an SSC-wide set of guiding principles, range states, hunting groups, and other NGOs can work together more productively to ensure that trophy hunting can continue to produce incentives for conservation where it is currently doing so, and improve its ability to do so where that potential has not yet been achieved.

Rich Harris, University of Montana, Deputy Chair, IUCN/SSC Caprinae Specialist Group

Photo: Ibex at I Nart. Credit: Rich Harris