Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Rowland Ward Guild of Field Sportsmen

Republished Courtesy of African Indaba Newsletter

The Rowland Ward Guild of Field Sportsmen
By Peter Flack, Chairman, Rowland Ward

“To hunt is a privilege not a right. The Rowland Ward Guild of Field Sportsmen brings together likeminded field sportsmen who believe in maintaining and upholding a Code of Ethics in Field Sports, who hope to encourage and actively guide and teach the youth, who regard as a priority the improvement of the environment and who want to conduct the sport with great care and consideration in order to preserve the sport for those that follow.”

Let me say at the outset, that I am not one of those people who can say, “If I had to live my life over, I would do it exactly the same”. Quite simply, I have made far too many mistakes (many of which I deeply regret) to make such a statement. The same goes for my hunting life and, I confess that I have both done things, sometimes in the heat of the moment which, in retrospect, I should not have done, and have also omitted to do things which I should have done. For example, especially when I was younger, I took shots at game that I should never have tried and I unnecessarily wounded some wonderful animals. I can also remember, I am ashamed to say, more than one wounded animal which escaped me. In the early pre-dawn darkness these animals sometimes march through my mind’s eye and, when they do, sleep is not something that follows. As such, I don’t want to appear holier than thou and as if I wash in cold water Omo each night. I don’t.

Nevertheless, I do want to ask you this, when you first watched the infamous “canned lion” video that those two ugly characters, Cooke and MacDonald, effectively combined to produce, what was your reaction? Anger? Embarrassment? Frustration that, as a hunter, you were, once again, unfairly tarred with the same brush as those in the video who were also described as hunters even though there was clearly no hunting of any kind involved? Killing, yes. Shooting, yes. But definitely no hunting! Certainly, my feelings changed to bewilderment as most of the hunting associations to which I belonged failed to deal with the matter swiftly and in a clear and unequivocal manner.

The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (“PHASA”) seemed to take forever to disassociate themselves, and then only half heartedly, from the incidents portrayed in the video, and the rumor quickly circulated that the reason behind their tardy and ineffectual conduct was that MacDonald was not the only member to have engaged in such conduct in the past. I did not know whether to believe the rumors or not.

What did you think when the news was first published in a national newspaper that a member of the executive committee of a national hunting association was alleged to have imported elephant tusks illegally into the country? Then there was the case of senior members of an international hunting organization being accused of “hunting” elephant from a helicopter in Mozambique. There’s that misuse of the word again.

I hunted with a senior African professional hunter who told me how he had recently refunded the safari costs to a member of the executive committee of a major international hunting organization to which I belong. After hunting for a grand total of three days without success, he insisted that the professional hunter hire local villagers to drive the game to him. When the professional hunter refused, the committee member threw a temper tantrum along with various items of crockery and cutlery.

I know it is guilt by association but I felt ashamed that I belonged to the same body as this spoilt, unethical, little brat. What makes the matter even worse, is that although the facts of the incident were widely known, the individual went on to hold even higher office in the organization. What sort of message did this send to other members, to youngsters, to beginners? Was there one set of rules for politically well connected members and another set for the rest?

Certain of our local hunting institutions are no better and I know of one where the political infighting became so severe that telephones were tapped, meeting rooms bugged and the funds of the body misused to provide sheltered and unnecessary employment for certain sad sacks who were unable to make a living in the private sector.

And what about those people who drive through the veld blazing away at animals from the back of a bakkie? Or those who sit in well concealed hides at waterholes or overlooking well established game paths? The whole sorry point of this sad diatribe is that all the people involved are called hunters by the outside world and, in particular, the media. I know that I think the same as many millions of genuine hunters out there. We know our passion, our pursuit, is under threat from animal rightists and others. We know that these organizations are working hard to win the hearts and minds of many urbanites, in particular, using horrible examples such as those described above to do so. We know that if they win here in South Africa it will be the death knell for the hunting and conservation efforts in our country which has seen land under wildlife in private hands grow to cover nearly three times the area of all provincial and national parks combined. And this area continues to grow at the rate of approximately 500,000 ha p a.

Since the 1950s, we have seen our population of Bontebok recover from as low as 19 in number to a healthy huntable population of over 3 500. Similarly, white rhino have recovered from as few as 28 to nearly 12 000, Cape mountain zebra from about 11 to some 1 100, black wildebeest from about 34 to over 22 000. It will not escape the reader that those animals that have been hunted most assiduously have recovered best! It has, in fact, been empirically established that hunting has been the primary cause behind these major conservation success stories. And yet, the unethical, disgusting behavior of a few shameless individuals chips away and damages the fabric of all this good work and many other conservation initiatives based on sustainable and consumptive utilization.

So what can we the ordinary hunters do about the threats to our sport and the conservation and other industries which it supports? I remember shortly after the “canned lion” video was first shown on T.V., discussing the matter with a member of PHASA’s executive committee. I said that I thought that the first genuinely ethical hunting organization to be established would suck members away from the organizations described at the beginning of this article like a hot and thirsty man drinking a cold drink through a straw.

Shortly afterwards, I learnt that Robin Halse, doyen of the Eastern Cape hunting fraternity, and Rodney Kretzschmar, one of South Africa’s leading taxidermists, had made an attempt to convert PHASA into such an institution. They failed. They based their attempts on a set of guidelines produced by Robin, the late Steve Smith (who in his lifetime was a well-respected professional hunter and originator of the Uncle Stevie Award for the professional hunter who produced the best trophy in South Africa), and Chappie Sparks, a well-known Eastern Cape hunter.

The aims and objectives which these four eminent sportsmen wanted to achieve were the following:
Aims and objectives
1. To maintain, uphold and propagate by example a Code of Ethics in Field Sports which has been handed down over many generations.
2. To actively encourage, guide and teach the youth interested in field sports in the knowledge that they, the sportsmen of the future, will carry on the tradition.
3. To regard as a priority the conservation and improvement of the environment by both fellow sportsmen and owners of the land and make every effort to influence both the public and the authorities in these matters.
4. To conduct the sport with great care and consideration in order to preserve the sport for those that follow.”

The Code of Conduct which they wanted to institute in order to help give effect to these aims is set out below:
Code of Conduct
1. That at all times a member will extend every courtesy, privilege and assistance to a fellow field sportsman.
2. All hunting be conducted only during the hours of daylight.
3. That no creature be hunted for sport in an enclosed area of such size that such creature is not self-sufficient.
4. That no shooting take place from, or within a short distance of a vehicle, nor the use of vehicles to drive game.
5. That only firearms of such power and caliber that are capable of killing game quickly and efficiently at practical ranges be employed.
6. That all forms of competition in the field between Sportsmen whilst hunting and fishing be avoided.
7. That no creature be killed for sport, that is deemed to be immature, breeding or dependant and cannot, by virtue of its trophy or flesh, be fully utilized.
8. That every effort is made to respect and safeguard the property of the landowner.
9. That a landowner-member extent every courtesy, comfort and assistance possible to a member who hunts or fishes on his property.
10. That a Professional Hunter/Guide-member makes sure that his clients understand, and are fully aware of the Guild’s code of Ethics and Standards that will be upheld during the course of any hunt.
11. That a Sportsman respects with understanding, the attitudes, feelings and principles of those that do not engage in activities of Field sport.
12. That a Sportsman should conduct his sport with due regard to his own physical capabilities, recognize his limitations and responsibility to his companions or assistants.
13. The Guild recognizes that ‘culling’, ‘cropping’, ‘trapping’, ‘capture’ and vermin control are a necessary part of game management as long as they are conducted with consideration and humane treatment of the wildlife involved. However, at no time can these activities be regarded in the context of Field Sports.”

But the Code is to be a living set of rules and as is stated in the membership application form:
“The interpretation and implementation of a Code of Conduct and the standards a Sportsman sets will depend on each individual Sportsman’s conscientious behavior, and whilst many traditional manners must be upheld, many present day practices should be examined and evaluated. Above all it must be accepted that it is a privilege to hunt, not a right. To this end, therefore, the Guild considers that certain broad rules governing the conduct of Field Sport should be observed, and that it is irrelevant whether some of these basic rules are, or are not legally applied by current laws of the land.”

After Steve Smith’s untimely death in a motor vehicle accident, the Halse family acquired from his estate the rights to the world famous Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, housed in Rowland Ward Publications. The business is currently managed by Robin’s daughter, Jane, from the company’s offices in Houghton, Johannesburg and, together, due to popular pressure, they have decided to lend the name and weight of the Rowland Ward organization to the establishment of just the type of hunting and conservation organization so urgently needed in South Africa, in particular, and Africa, in general.

In response to the appeal from many hunters, Rowland Ward has published membership application forms to Rowland Ward’s Guild of Field Sportsmen. Of course, the Guild is currently in its infancy and much will depend on how many serious, honest and ethical hunters are prepared to put their money where their mouths are. I have no doubt that the response will be overwhelming. The Guild starts life with a number of advantages. Unlike so many other hunting organizations, it is untainted by any scandal. It is committed to upholding the highest ethical standards. It has the world famous Rowland Ward brand name to help market membership in the Guild. It has the offices and permanent staff of Rowland Ward to initiate the administration of the organization and it has credible leadership in the form of Robin Halse.

The initial membership benefits include a Guild tie or cap, special offers on Rowland Ward books and a bi-annual magazine which, knowing Rowland Ward Publications as I do, is sure to be of a high standard, if for no other reason than it will start with a wide, international circulation which is sure to appeal to advertisers. In due course, once the Record Book is made available via the internet, which is scheduled for later this year, Guild members will have access to it at much reduced rates.

The Guild is clearly not for everyone. In my discussions with Robin Halse he made it crystal clear that the Code of Conduct is central to and contains the pillars upon which the Guild is to be built. Unlike many ethical codes, which appear to be honored more in their breach than in obedience thereto, the Code of Conduct is to be firmly policed and upheld and the Guild will not shy away from terminating memberships where there are material breaches of the Code. In fact, each member is obliged to sign a form indemnifying the Guild from legal proceedings in the event he is sanctioned for misbehavior.

What it is not, as yet, is an accredited hunting association which South African hunters and sports shooters are now obliged to join in terms of the Firearms Control Act. As such, the Guild membership must be seen as a necessary adjunct to membership of such a body.
In my opinion however, the formation of something like a Guild of Field Sportsman is long overdue. Genuine hunters want and need an association based on honest, ethical and fair rules and regulations, impartially and fairly policed by a decent body of men, openly and democratically elected by their peers. Built on this foundation - and there are few if any organizations which can grow and prosper over the long term if they are built on any other type of foundation – the Guild can offer a home to those who genuinely have hunting at heart and who want to be able to hold their heads up high and proudly proclaim that they are not only hunters but hunters who belong to an organization with impeccable, authentic and traditional hunting roots, which not only upholds our ancient sport and profession but which stands for all that is good and right in this regard. And if this sounds idealistic, well, then so be it.

The vision is there. It is for those like minded individuals who have been hankering for such a body and who share these views to step forward. It will be for those individuals to provide the flesh and blood and funds to clothe the bare bones set out by Robin, Steve and Chappie. To my mind, all new ideas have a proper time and place in which they should be launched and the time and place for the Guild is now. If you are a genuine, ethical hunter who shares the aims and objectives of the Guild, please join - the African continent needs you.

For a membership application form for the Rowland Ward’s Guild of Field Sportsmen please contact Jane Halse