Year in the Wild Blog

Trading rhino horn, and hunting – Interview with Ted Reilly – Part 2

For part 1 of my interview with Ted Reilly, head of Big Game Parks in Swaziland, click here.


What’s your opinion on the proposed trading of rhino horn?


Nothing will ever stop the poaching. There is no magic wand that will absolutely solve the problem.

But if trade is to be tried, then it must be done very soon, so we can cushion the losses that surely will come. If trade doesn’t work, then we have enough rhinos left to pull the plug on trade and save what’s left. If we wait until there are only a few thousand rhino left, then they will become extinct. Already, though, we have just a few thousand rhinos left, so our window of opportunity to trade is running out quickly. Everything else has been tried and we will never know until we make the effort of doing it.


What’s your opinion on trophy hunting?


Personally I have no stomach for killing wild life and less so killing wildlife for sport or fun, but hunting has to be accommodated in the conservation matrix. That’s the reality.

As a boy I hunted, but as an adult I lost interest in it. However, I’m the first to say that the need has to be accommodated.

It’s very lucrative. And that persuades private landowners to save habitat, to provide for the hunting of wild animals, instead of converting that habitat to agriculture or livestock. Without habitat, the wildlife can’t exist. The protection and expansion of areas under natural habitat must be conservation’s first and most important goal.

I have no problem if someone shoots an endangered animal like a rhino if they bought it and own it. I don’t think ownership should be interfered with, because ownership is the reason habitat is being privately protected. It is easy to replace game to natural habitat if it is available, but once you have destroyed habitat, it cannot easily be replaced, so everything that helps to conserve habitat – including hunting – has to be considered, validated and accommodated.

Look at South Africa. In the 1960s, game was very scarce. Since private ownership of wildlife was allowed in SA, there is now more game on private land in South Africa than in all the of the national and provincial parks combined, and there is three times more natural habitat being conserved on private than public land.

Compare this with Kenya, where they stopped hunting, and since then there has been a 80% decline in natural habitat. Wildlife in Kenya is totally dependent on government and NGO funds, and it doesn’t nearly cover the costs of conservation.

As an aside, there are lots of good people who support Kenya’s approach, but lots of those people are not conversant with the realities on the ground.

Ownership is key. If you allow private ownership of animals, and allow the owner to manage his own animals, there is inevitably a remarkable expansion of habitat. If you’re sitting on a piece of ground, and you can’t make money out of it from wildlife, and you can make money out of it from farming and livestock…then of course you’re going to do the latter. Money is the source of all evil, but you can’t eat without it, and you can’t conserve without it.

We’ve got to be pragmatic, and unless we are, we have far less chance of success. So financial independence is essential. It is the only window to withstanding corruptive influences in the face of threats to survival. And hunting is one way to achieve that financial independence.

Big Game Parks is fortunate to be self-sufficient without hunting. Over my dead body will we ever start hunting here. All our costs are met from funding from tourism, live game sales and harvesting surplus game for protein affordable to the lower end of the market.

Finally, hunting and game viewing areas cannot mix and ideally should not border each other. It just doesn’t work. Animals soon catch on and become very shy and skittish, making for poor viewing for tourists.


What would you say to those who claim that trophy hunting removes the best and biggest genes, because hunters always target the biggest and most impressive of the species?


Big Game Parks, in its harvesting, selects against trophy removal – it is the only selection we do, but it is more for aesthetic purposes than for genetic purposes because trophy animals often leave their genes behind before being taken.

If an owner of a property decides to destroy or hunt his prize trophy, then let him do it, because he alone will bear the cost. He has to conserve his own gene pool and ensure that he has more trophies for more hunters to hunt. We believe in not interfering with the sovereignty of ownership or the management integrity of game ranchers. So we have to be careful about too much regulation.

Let’s leave it up to the owners of wildlife to decide how best to use it. There’s nothing like ownership to inspire effective management of your wildlife assets. Let those who fail fall by the wayside and support those who are successful. The latter will provide for those who fail with jobs and other benefits within economic parameters. It is something akin to triage. It’s futile supporting basket cases!


What about Botswana’s recent decision to ban all hunting?


It’s Botswana’s choice. Only Botswana can make that choice, and only Botswana will pay for it if it fails.

As noble as that idea may seem, ownership as a concept must be linked to reward. And if the owners of wildlife aren’t allowed to decide for themselves what they do with that wildlife, then there is no reward, and no incentive to conserve wildlife. Conservation land use will then give way for something that will pay.

For part 3 of my interview with Ted Reilly – click here. He talks about his own life in conservation, and the future of protected areas in Africa.

According to Ted Reilly, the preservation of natural habitat that results from the lucrative hunting industry has allowed wild megafauna like lions and elephants - which need large areas - to survive.

Lion cub in Hlane Royal National Park

On the prowl...a lioness leads the way on a hunt in Hlane Royal National Park

A male lion in Hlane Royal National Park

Ranger Sdumo Ndzinisa outside Hlane Royal National Park's entrance, where thousands of snares are on display. All of these snares were collected from the veld over several years...without independent financial sustainability, parks in Africa are increasingly threatened by a lack of public money subsidies, and there is increasing pressure to convert natural habitat into land that pays for itself. Eco tourisma and hunting are the only two ways to make money from natural habitat.

Would you be able to get this close to white rhinos if hunting was allowed? Although hunting is important in conservation, says Ted Reilly, eco-tourism and hunting areas can not be mixed, as wild animals soon become fearful of humans in hunting areas, and will run away quickly. Where there is no hunting, wild animals are often remarkably trusting of humans.

Guide Bongani Mbatha with black rhino at Mkhaya Game Reserve

Buffalo and red-billed oxpeckers at Mkhaya Game Reserve...

Chilling by the pool...white rhinos laze about near the waterhole at Hlane Royal National Park

A beautiful male nyala antelope in Mkhaya Game Reserve

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as WildCardEeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

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