The debate on hunting on our Cleaning Up The Mess multimedia series continues this week with a column by Dr Christopher Starr, zoologist, senior lecturer, UWI, who supports a limited hunting season.
With the start of the legal hunting season, we will again hear the familiar sounds of hounds and gunfire.? Many take this for granted, but it should, in fact, be a subject of considerable public controversy.?
I am not against hunting in principle. However, as practised today, it is unnecessarily destructive.If any species of animal is hunted, year after year, in greater numbers than the population can replace, its very survival is at risk.
Such hunting is not sustainable, and this is the situation we see in T&T today.Agoutis are a good case in point. About 5,000 licences to hunt agouti (and a similar number for four other game animals together) have been issued for this season.Formerly, a licensed hunter took about four or five agouti, on average, but the (legal) catch this season will be below that, and next year it will be still less. Agoutis have become uncommon.
I often walk in the woods near my home in Caura, yet I commonly go a month without seeing even one.And in 18 years in Trinidad I have yet to see or hear a wild deer, lappe or quenk.This is not as it should be. Agoutis should be common in our woods, yet unsustainable hunting has reduced them to a fraction of what the habitat could support.
What has brought their numbers so low??
The hunters' associations will attempt to distract you by pointing to habitat loss. Habitat loss does make a difference, but to claim that it accounts for the increasing rarity of game animals is pure hypocrisy, like blaming the terrible death toll in Afghanistan on a bad harvest.?
There may have been bad harvests, but of course the real cause is bullets and bombs. The red brocket deer was exterminated from Tobago some years ago, and it wasn't due to habitat loss.?
Rather, it was hunted to extinction. The other game animals have not yet suffered the same end-fate, but they are on their way.?
Is it within our capability to reverse this situation, bringing agoutis and other hunted animals back to their natural abundance??
I believe it is, although it will require some serious rethinking. To begin with, our preposterous fetish for wild meat must be called into question. There is nothing magical about wild meat, and it is foolish to pretend otherwise.?
Once we realise this, we can start to think of wildlife as more valuable alive than dead. I hope the churches will take a lead in this. A trend toward eliminating wild meat from church socials would do much to diminish the profit from poaching, which in turn would be good for our wildlife.?
We must press the Government to get serious about existing environmental laws.? Tell your Member of Parliament that the present careless attitude toward the national patrimony is unacceptable.?
Beyond this, two new legal measures are urgently needed.?
First, shorten the hunting season. The present five-month season is far beyond what is reasonable. It serves to make hunting unsustainable by reducing the time when game animals can recover their numbers.?
It is disgraceful that the hunters' associations oppose this necessary measure on the pretext that the prolonged presence of licensed hunters in the woods somehow inhibits poaching.?
Second, ban the commercial sale of wild meat. If wild meat cannot be a legal article of trade, its sale will be inhibited, making poaching less profitable. Please ask your Member of Parliament to come out in support of these two measures.?
The future of our natural environment and its animals is uncertain, yet I am optimistic. As a long-time immigrant, I have learned to expect the people of Trinidad and Tobago to do the right things, once a problem is recognised. We needn't ban hunting outright, but the present unsustainable way does far more harm than good.?
This Sunday on Cleaning up the Mess, on CNC3 at 10.30 am and 6 pm, Ira Mathur looks for answers from former Minister of Environment Senator Penelope Beckles, and Dr Joth Singh, MD/CEO of Environmental Management Authority on the reason for the current mess, including overflowing dumps, flooding, non-enforcement of litter laws, and unchecked quarrying. Where did they go wrong? Send in your photos and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and join our facebook page on http://www.facebook.com/cleaningupthemess?ref=ts