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CAN TROPHY HUNTING HELP SAVE AFRICAN WILDLIFE? The “killing for conservation” paradox

By Mya Gaby

There is much debate, scepticism and controversy surrounding the efficacy and ethics of trophy hunting for African wildlife conservation (Lindsay et al. 2007). Trophy hunting (sometimes referred to as “hunting tourism” or “conservation hunting”) is not a new concept. In fact, many African game parks were originally set up for this sole purpose (Chongwa, 2012; Lindsey, 2007). When envisioning big game trophy hunting in Africa, images of dead lions, rhinoceros, or African elephants spring to mind – iconic mega-fauna that have long been the poster animals for conservation and anti-poaching campaigns (Gittleman et al. 2001; Hutton & Dickson, 2000; Small, 2011).

The recent $350,000 (USD) sale of a Namibian black rhino hunting permit at the Dallas Safari Club in Texas (USA) was hugely publicised and led to a global outcry over the ethics and conservation value of trophy hunting, especially for endangered species. The debate over the economic significance and ecological impact of the trophy hunting industry has been re-kindled and leads to the driving question of this essay; can trophy hunting help save African wildlife?

Polarization amongst the conservation community

Killing wildlife to promote conservation objectives is an emotive topic which has divided conservationists as well as the general public (Hutton & Leader-Williams, 2003; Leader-Williams et al. 2005; Lindsey et al. 2007b; Loveridge et al. 2007) (see “Rhino Hunt Permit Auction Sets Off Conservation Debate“, “Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation?, “In Defence Of Animals – Trophy Hunting” and “Black Rhino Hunt Auction Won’t Help Conservation“). For some, trophy hunting is not just a conservation issue but a moral one.  When it comes to hunting wildlife, Leader-Williams et al. (2005) believe that many individuals have rigid perspectives, regardless of whether hunting is sustainable biologically or provides further conservation incentives.

Trophy hunting as a conservation tool

Despite sounding oxymoronic, when well managed, trophy hunting has the potential to promote species conservation (Lindsey et al.2007a; Loveridge et al.2007) and can be sustainable (Abensperg-Traun, 2009; Packer et al. 2009). When compared to poaching or problem animal control, regulated trophy hunting only accounts for a small proportion of wildlife deaths (Balme et al. 2010) and can generate large revenues (Lindsey et al. 2007a).

Driving conservation efforts outside of protected areas, where an animal has no, or limited, economic value, is extremely difficult (Abensperg-Traun, 2009; Lindsey et al. 2006). For most conservation programmes to succeed, there is a need for economic incentives (Abensperg-Traun, 2009; Lindsey et al. 2006). National economies as well as local communities can benefit from the income generated from trophy hunting as a form of land use (Booth, 2009; Frost & Bond, 2008; Taylor, 2009). In Africa approximately $200 million (U.S.) per year, across 23 countries, is paid by tourists to trophy hunt (Figure 1) (Lindsey et al. 2007a). Trophy hunting is a lucrative industry and is the most profitable form of legal consumptive wildlife utilisation in several parts of Africa (Child, 2000; Lindsay et al. 2006).

Figure 1: Annual income in 2007 that was brought into African national economies from trophy hunting (Lindsey et al. 2007). Map source: New Scientist; "Bag a trophy, save a species" - http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/archive/2585/25853001.jpg.

Figure 1: Annual income in 2007 that was brought into African national economies from trophy hunting (Lindsey et al. 2007). Map source: New Scientist; “Bag a trophy, save a species” – http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/archive/2585/25853001.jpg.

Tolerance of destructive or dangerous wildlife by local communities and private landowners may be cultivated if the revenue generated from trophy hunting supplements their livelihoods (Balme et al. 2009; Leader-Williams & Hutton, 2005; Selier et al. 2014) and mitigates the loss of revenue from such species (Lindsey et al. 2007a; Selier et al. 2014). Predatory animals, such as lions or leopards, pose a potential threat to livestock which has resulted in large numbers of these predators being killed illegally by landowners (Abensperg-Traun, 2009; Balme et al. 2009; Leader-Williams & Hutton, 2005). As Balme et al. (2010) discusses in their paper regarding trophy hunting of leopards, trophy hunting and conservation goals are compatible when the profits from harvesting a few individuals are enough of an incentive for people to tolerate larger populations.

Remote or undeveloped areas of land may not be suitable for general ecotourism but may be able to offer trophy hunting. This can generate revenue for conservation and help protect those areas of wilderness from alternative land-use, such as conversion for agriculture. (Leader-Williams & Hutton, 2005; Lindsey et al. 2006). In sub-Saharan Africa, 22% more land is used for trophy hunting than is protected by national parks (Figure 2) (Lindsey et al. 2007a). Whilst some may argue that the revenue generated by trophy hunting is less than the revenue brought in by ecotourism (Sims-Castley et al. 2005), the role hunting parks play in maintaining and protecting large areas of land for wildlife should not be overlooked (Lindsey et al. 2007a).

Trophy hunting safaris also have the potential to be less invasive than ecotourism as more revenue can be generated from less people, as hunter fees generally outweigh the average ecotourism fees (Chardonnet et al. 2002; Baker, 1997; Lewis & Alpert, 1997). This may result in reduced environmental impact as fewer people enter the parks and disturb the wildlife and habitat (Gössling, 2000; Lindsay et al. 2007a; Mayaka et al. 2005).

Figure 2: Percentage of land used for trophy hunting vs. parks in Eastern and Southern Africa, 2007. Adapted from Lindsey et al. (2007a) & New Scientist;  "Bag a trophy, save a species" - http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10899-bag-a-trophy-save-a-species.html#.U2HL1_mSyCk .

Figure 2: Percentage of land used for trophy hunting vs. parks in Eastern and Southern Africa, 2007. Adapted from Lindsey et al. (2007a) & New Scientist; “Bag a trophy, save a species” – http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10899-bag-a-trophy-save-a-species.html#.U2HL1_mSyCk .

– Case studies: White & Black rhinoceros

Sustainable trophy hunting, along with strict national conservation measures, has assisted in the recovery of southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in South Africa and Swaziland from >100 to over 20, 000 individuals today (Asenberg-Traun, 2009; Lindsey et al. 2007a). In 1994 the South African southern white rhinoceros population was down-listed from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendices I to II, which allowed for trophy hunting and live sales (Asenberg-Traun, 2009; Leader-Williams et al. 2005). This provided a financial incentive for private landowners to reintroduce the rhino onto their land where populations then recovered (Asenberg-Traun, 2009; Leader-Williams et al. 2005; Lindsey et al. 2007a; Milliken et al. 2009).

The Namibian government auctions off five black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) hunting permits (or tags) per year for conservation funding, as permitted under CITES. Black rhino populations are heavily monitored and only older male black rhinos that are no longer contributing to the gene pool are allowed to be hunted (Leader-Williams et al. 2005). Ageing and increasingly aggressive surplus black rhinoceros males have also become a problem for biological management (Leader-Williams et al. 2005). The sale of these trophy hunting permits are not only endorsed by CITES but also the International Union of the Conservation of Nature, World Wildlife Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

“We recognize that it is not immediately intuitive that trophy hunting– even for endangered species– can be a positive conservation tool that can be used to fight poaching and acquire more habitat for wildlife. We further understand that the very idea of hunting is abhorrent to many people. However, in a world that requires pragmatic conservation solutions, trophy hunting– where well-managed– is frequently one of the most effective conservation tools available.”

 Dr. Rosie Cooney, chair of the Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group.

Problems associated with trophy hunting

Most of the arguments made in favour of trophy hunting as a valid tool for conservation hinge on whether harvesting is appropriately managed and is sustainable. The conservation role of trophy hunting  in Africa can be restricted by a number of problems, some of which include; over-harvesting, biological implications and corruption (Baker, 1997; Lindsey et al. 2007b).

Uncontrolled trophy hunting in Africa has resulted in the extinction of the quagga (a sub-species of the zebra) and has contributed to large population declines of other species, such as the African elephant, lion and leopard (Lindsey et al. 2007a; Loveridge et al. 2007). Consequently, conservationists approach trophy hunting proposals with caution (Leader-Williams et al. 2005). Even if moderate trophy hunting quotas are allocated hunting may constitute additive mortality, in addition to the animals that would have died naturally, which can exert severe population pressure on small populations and threaten population survival (Balme et al. 2010).

The continuous harvesting of trophy animals can have major biological implications for species (Lindsey et al. 2006). According to Allendorf et al. (2008), three types of genetic change can be caused by harvesting wildlife: alteration of population subdivision, through local extirpation of one or more subpopulations; loss of genetic variation; and selective genetic changes. Trophy hunting selects animals from within a species with a particular desirable phenotype (e.g. large tusks or horns). Over time, this can result in imposed artificial selection pressure on that phenotype which, if heritable, can bring about genetic change (Allendorf et al. 2008). However, if there is gene flow from areas where no hunting occurs, such as a national park, then alleles associated with that desirable phenotype can be restored to the population. Therefore, in order to manage populations to achieve sustainability, potential genetic implications need to be addressed with the aim to minimize the exploitative effects of harvest (Allendorf et al. 2008).

Corruption limits the role trophy hunting plays in the conservation of African wildlife (Lindsey, 2008; Mayaka et al. 2004). Whether the revenue generated from trophy hunting escapades actually goes back into conservation, or to further local community development, is also debated (Campbell, 2013). There is also concern that trophies may end up on the black market, or that illegally obtained animal body parts may be hidden under the guise of being legally hunted (Milliken et al. 2009). Underage animals may also be harvested illegally which can have severe biological implications for populations (Lindsey et al. 2013).

– Case study: Lion

Excessive harvesting of lions (Panthera leo) and trophy hunting of underage individuals have contributed to lion population declines throughout Africa (Lindsey et al. 2013). The constant removal of male trophy animals from lion populations can also effect lion cub survival rates. Lion cub infanticide is associated with new male replacements taking over a pride (Packer et al. 2009; Packer et al. 2009; Whitman et al. 2004). If high levels of male lion trophy hunting occurs this can potentially indirectly effect the likelihood of cubs reaching maturity due to infanticide from new males continuously entering the population (Packer et al. 2009; Packer et al. 2010; Whitman et al. 2004).

“Needless killing of endangered species for trophies is inherently unsustainable, economically short-sighted, ecologically unsound, and morally wrong. The sooner it ends for lions and other imperilled animals, the better.”

Jeffrey Flocken, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Regional Director (North America).

Take home message

Active persecution, habitat loss/modification, competition with livestock or overutilization are considered to be the leading causes that are driving African animals towards extinction (Prins et al. 2000). The costs to try mitigate these negative effects are extortionate. Sustainable trophy hunting can be part of the solution to preventing African wildlife extinctions. By offering economic incentives for governments, local communities and individual land owners, trophy hunting becomes economically sustainable and encourages conservation efforts. Conservation programmes can also be directly funded from the revenue generated through hunting ventures. Problems such as the biological implications of selecting trophy individuals, over-hunting and corruption can limit the conservation benefits of trophy hunting and must be addressed. However, when carefully managed, trophy hunting can be a valid tool used to aid conservation and help save African wildlife.

For further information click links or logo below:

Can trophy hunting actually help conservation?

Killing for conservation – can hunting save the black rhino?

The debate about rhino hunting

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