Jewell Crossberg had been appointed as an acting Parks and Wildlife district manager.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which calls itself “the global authority on the status of the natural world”, supports well-managed trophy hunting.
In parts of Africa, including South Africa, trophy hunting is actively promoted by government.
Ed Couzens, an associate professor in environmental law at the University of Sydney, who until five years ago worked in South Africa, said perceptions around trophy hunting were rapidly changing.
“I think that this particular conservation manager in Western Australia, I think he has found himself caught between different viewpoints at a particular moment in history,” he said.
Professor Grahame Webb, a Northern Territory crocodile farmer who chairs the IUCN’s specialist crocodile working group, called the demotion “scandalous”.
“There’s nothing wrong with trophy hunting if it’s carried out in a proper, sustainable way,” he said.
“They’ve got to become more understanding of the diversity of approaches needed to conserve animals in different contexts.
“What works in Esperance is sure not going to work in Botswana or up in the hills in Afghanistan.”
‘You’ve got to be a pragmatist’
The camp in favour of trophy hunting argues that, when well-managed, it provides an incentive for poor communities, which often have few economic opportunities, to conserve wildlife.
“Well-managed trophy hunting, which takes place in many parts of the world, can and does generate critically needed incentives and revenue for government, private and community landowners to maintain and restore wildlife as a land use and to carry out conservation actions,”
a 2019 IUCN briefing paper states.
“It can return much-needed income, jobs and other important economic and social benefits to indigenous and local communities in places where these benefits are often scarce.
“In many parts of the world, indigenous and local communities have themselves chosen to use trophy hunting as a strategy for conservation of their wildlife and to improve sustainable livelihoods.”
Dr Webb pointed out that
Australia helped to pioneer a program that had similarities to modern-day trophy hunting to save its saltwater crocodiles.
Crocodiles were hunted to the brink of extinction in the Territory.
(Supplied: Crocodile Hunt)
By the early 1970s, Northern Territory crocodile populations had been decimated by an uncontrolled skins trade, and although they were protected in 1971, many people would have rather seen the reptile wiped out.
That was when an “incentive-driven conservation strategy” was introduced, allowing people to earn money by harvesting wild crocodile eggs to raise for their skins on farms.
Crocodile populations in the Territory are now believed to have recovered completely, and the model has been replicated in other countries.
Dr Webb said one another example saw the markhor — a wild goat in Afghanistan — saved from extinction through a trophy-hunting program.
“It’s very, very successful because the local people are the ones that now give the stewardship and look after the animals,” he said.
“Then, various outfitters bring in trophy hunters and they pay a lot of money for one animal; most of that goes to the local communities, so it’s a win-win-win situation.”
Hunters haul in crocodiles along the Daly River in 1934.
(Supplied: Territory Stories)
The treatment of Mr Crossberg seemed to be unfair, Dr Webb said.
“If he’s lost his job in a developed country like Australia over something like this, that to me would be so inappropriate and so symptomatic of the lack of objective education about what’s happening in the world,” he said.
“Conservation can’t work with a bunch of arrogant people going around telling everyone else what to do, trying to impose their standards.
“The real world works with a lot of people who are incredibly hungry. You’ve got billions of people who are surviving from wildlife, and they’ve got to learn to use it sustainably — that’s the challenge. Not to stop use.
Grahame Webb says context is important in conservation.
(ABC News: Steven Schubert) ‘A very complicated issue’
Associate Professor Couzens, who lectured for 14 years at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban before moving to Sydney, said South Africa had a long history of encouraging hunting.
The Most Powerful Sale & Affiliate Platform Available!
There's no credit card required! No fees ever.
Create Your Free Account Now!
But he said perceptions were starting to change, which he thought was partly fuelled by a global movement and the fact that more than 98 per cent of trophy hunters were white men.
“What we’re seeing is a general reaction in society, certainly in the Anglo-American Western world, against many institutions … dominated by white men,” he said.
But the associate professor also believed the change came from a heighted understanding of animals’ place in the world and the inherent rights of nature more broadly, pointing to the
granting of legal rights equal to that of a person to New Zealand’s Whanganui River as an example.
He pointed to the
outrage sparked by dentist Walter Palmer’s hunting of Cecil the Lion and over Donald Trump Jr’s trophy-hunting expeditions as signalling a possible transition in people’s attitudes to hunting.
Cecil the Lion was allegedly skinned and beheaded.
(YouTube: Bryan Orford)
Asked whether he believed trophy hunting led to positive conservation outcomes in well-managed cases, he said “that is the multi-million-dollar question”.
He said Kenya outlawed trophy hunting in the 1970s, even on private land.
Where communities were benefitting from hunting, Associate Professor Couzens said, the alternative opportunities needed to be considered, such as tourism, before a determination could be made on whether the hunting was required or not.
On the other hand, he said countries like South Africa still promoted it, with many people, whether hunters or not, believing it was an important part of the economy.
But he said it led to many problems, such as “canned hunting” — a type of legal hunting abhorred by animal rights groups likened to shooting fish in a barrel.
Donald Trump Jr and his brother Eric during a hunting expedition in Zimbabwe in 2010.
Yet he said the case of Mr Crossberg surprised him.
“Not the outrage on social media, but I was surprised by the reaction that actually saw him demoted,” Associate Professor Couzens said.
But he said it was symptomatic of a hard-line approach Australia was taking towards hunting in recent years, deciding in 2015, for example, to treat the trade of African lions more strictly than required by international standards.
“I think it does show that we’re moving in a direction of greater appreciation for the sensitivities that animals have and the complexities of wildlife in their own societies, and that gives us a clue for where we might end up with our relationship with nature generally — which is a better place than we are now.”
‘Not at all surprised’
When Mr Crossberg was demoted, Mark Webb, the director-general of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, said the images did not align with its “values”.
The department has a code of conduct where it lists “environmental responsibility” as a required value for all personnel.
But it raised questions about where the line between a mismatch in values and discrimination could be drawn.
Hunting often divides community opinion.
(Supplied: Doug Gimesy)
University of WA Law School emeritus professor Bill Ford, who specialises in employment law, said it was acceptable to demote someone based on their conservation values.
“Only certain kinds of discriminatory conduct is prohibited. Most discriminatory conduct is not prohibited,” he said.
He said it was becoming increasingly common for people to run into trouble with their employer based on their social media activity.
In his opinion, Mr Crossberg’s fate was predictable.
“I’m not at all surprised that if Mr Crossberg had, even years ago, put up postings of game hunting that involved, for example as it did, elephants and giraffes, that it elicited a negative reaction both politically from the Premier and also from many citizens,” he said.
“This would be regarded as the kind of example that is very likely to get an employee into difficulties, especially if your employer happens to be the biodiversity, conservation department.”
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe