What's Wrong With Sustainable Use?
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


Animal Rights Africa
December 2009

Sustainable use is a one-way ticket to extinction because bloodlust and greed, once accepted as legitimate conduct, cannot be appeased or restrained by mere regulation.

“The history of utilization in South Africa still has a particular bent to it, which is mainly focused on parties involved in tourism, trophy hunting, game ranching and harvesting and breeding of wildlife. They have been in a position to utilize the sustainable use policy to their advantage. It must be noted though that the hunting industry, which remains fairly out of sight from the public domain, has been tainted by incidences of canned lion and cheetah hunting.” (Saliem Fakir ex-director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Southern Africa)

The South African government claims that the sustainable use policy leads to improvements in conservation and that it is the only reasonable policy that is pragmatic for conserving wildlife in our region. But these assumptions cannot be supported or substantiated.

The use of animals in South Africa reflects larger debates within the global environmental arena, particularly issues of sustainable development and the ways in which the dominant discourse of development (within which the concept of ‘sustainable utilization’ is located) shapes environmental theory and practice. The key theoretical framework that has contributed towards shaping the discourse of sustainable development is market-driven Eurocentric conservation, which is anthropocentric and treats ecological systems, and the individuals that are part of that system, merely as a resource.

Development discourse reflects power relations. It is a form of power and domination over people, animals and geographical areas. It was within the context of sustainable development that the market as a means of addressing conservation concerns, took hold. While on the one hand, the market is being proposed as a way of bringing about ecological renewal, on the other hand, economic growth generates accelerated unsustainability. It is this commercial exploitation of nature that served as the cornerstone for the World Conservation Strategy (WCS), produced in 1980 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The WCS entrenched the commercial utilization of so-called ‘natural resources’ and the philosophy of ‘if it pays it stays’, while the World Commission on Environment and Development report (the Brundtland Report), Our Common Future (1987), inextricably linked environment and development, arguing that conservation is dependent on economic growth.

Sustainable development has also evolved into "sustainable use" - a euphemism invented by the "wise use" movement to hide activities which are the very reverse of wise. The formulation facilitates destructive use, and it has infiltrated key international events, including the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). So sustainable use of marine resources means killing whales and sustainable use of wildlife has created a multi-million dollar bushmeat industry, particularly in Africa. Those who believe in it hope to convince impoverished Africans and Asians not to kill wildlife for the equivalent of several years' wages, while rich European and American trophy hunters kill the same animals for fun.

"Sustainable use" is a one-way ticket to extinction because bloodlust and greed, once accepted as legitimate conduct, cannot be appeased or restrained by mere regulation. The political argument against "sustainable use" is equally rooted. "Sustainable users" hope to convince poor Africans and Asians that they should not kill wildlife to collect the equivalent of several years' wages, while rich Europeans and Americans kill the same animals for fun a new and dangerous idea to people whose own killing is mostly from need, especially when coupled with the idea that thrill-killing has a higher rationale” (Merrit Clifton, Editorial, Animal People, June 1994).

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