Letter: 'Wise use' alternatives to culling for Africa's rhinos

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Sir: It is remarkable that Martin Booth did not mention in his radical plan to protect endangered species ('Armed with a rifle and a licence to cull', 31 August) that similar schemes have been operating in Zimbabwe for many years. Dubbed 'Operation Campfire' (Communal Area Management Plan For Indigenous Resources), district councils in wildlife areas directly benefit from revenue raised from hunting.

However, this sport hunting is nothing to do with culling, as suggested in Mr Booth's article. Culling is required to reduce harmfully large populations, whereas sport hunting removes a tiny fraction, usually of males, whose absence is immaterial to the reproductive rate of any game species.

Even if rhino populations make an improbable comeback, culling will not be required because of their economical method of feeding and the thin spreading of their numbers through the bush, as opposed to elephants. Sadly, elephants have to be culled in Zimbabwe, but this is done by the destruction of a whole family group to minimise disruption of their complex social structure, not the methods of trophy hunters who stalk and shoot single 'tuskers'.

'Campfire' schemes, with their aims properly controlled and understood, could indeed be the saviour of some of Africa's diminishing wilderness outside national parks. It already benefits Zimbabweans, which may explain why most poached rhinos are killed by Zambians.

I would also like to correct a factual error in the article, which reported the Masai Mara's 70 rhinoceroses as the world's largest unfenced population. Northern Zimbabwe has a few hundred more, although a decline to 70, and thence extinction, is not unforeseeable.

Yours faithfully,



31 August

The writer was a member of the Cambridge Black Rhino Expedition to Zimbabwe, 1990.