In recent years there has been growing opposition towards trophy hunting. Historically, this opposition stemmed mainly from animal welfare groups, however, this changed in 2015 when the practice was thrust into the spotlight with the infamous killing of Cecil the Lion. This incident, which went viral on social media platforms around the world, involved the illegal hunting of a male lion from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, by a wealthy American hunter. The event sparked international outrage increasing pressure for the practice to be banned altogether.
Arguments raised against trophy hunting, particularly from foreign nations, often centre around concerns for animal welfare and ethics. Ultimately, trophy hunting opponents believe that a blanket ban will have positive outcomes for the conservation of wildlife, however, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest this may not be the case. In reality,
controlled trophy hunting presents an extremely effective conservation tool which is crucial to achieving sustainable conservation in Africa.
This article will outline some key reasons making the case for the use of trophy hunting in African conservation today.
1.) Funding for conservation
Sources of funding for conservation have always been limited, however the global pandemic has placed increased pressure on these resources as focus shifts to the global humanitarian crisis. Now more than ever, African conservation needs financial resources from as many sources as possible which means both non- consumptive (ecotourism, photographic tourism) and consumptive uses (trophy hunting, biltong hunting) of wildlife. Trophy hunting generates an estimated ~US$200 million annually, a large proportion of the total revenue generated by wildlife-based tourism. The high
profitability of this land-use means that it offers big incentives for conservation-based land uses on privately owned land and opportunities to support local livelihoods.
Local communities living in and around conservation areas often bear the brunt of living in close proximity to wild animals. Human-animal conflict occurs when wildlife compromise the safety and livelihoods of these communities. Without deriving direct benefits from conservation-based land uses local communities become disincentivized to support conservation efforts and turn to unsavoury activities like poaching or retaliatory killing instead. Trophy hunting also provides other important benefits like job opportunities and food sources. For example, bushmeat from hunts is often given to surrounding communities which is an important source of protein in cases where meat is either inaccessible or expensive.
3.) Marginal land
Large tracts of land in South Africa’s private conservation network are considered marginal and therefore not fit to practice certain types of wildlife-based land uses. These areas either have unsuitable terrain, are located far away from cities and airports or are considered scenically unattractive making them unfit for ecotourism. Trophy hunters have been found to be far less demanding of luxury, convenience and scenic beauty and so provide an opportunity for owners to remain economically viable through a conservation-based land-use, instead of transitioning to other types of land-uses like
4.) Better wildlife management
There is also the argument that trophy hunting promotes better wildlife management as it makes use of quotas and offtake rates and therefore encourages larger population numbers. Furthermore, there is the potential for the practice to encourage better gene flow in populations as hunters find certain traits relating to size and fitness desirable.
5.) Small carbon footprint
Finally, compared to other wildlife-based land uses like ecotourism, the trophy hunting industry produces a significantly smaller carbon footprint. It requires less infrastructure, staff and lower volume tourists to be profitable making it a more environmentally sustainable alternative land-use.
The view that trophy hunting does not have a place in saving Africa’s biodiversity is incredibly one-dimensional when understood within the broader context of African conservation.The reality is that the conservation economy is heavily reliant on the practice to provide crucial funding for conservation efforts, provide key benefits for local communities, improve wildlife management practices and reduce the overall footprint generated by wildlife-based land uses. As it stands, there are no viable alternatives to it that will generate the same benefits and for that reason alone African conservation cannot afford to lose such a valuable conservation tool.