“Trophy Hunting is Not the Saviour for African Wildlife”

Stephen Wiggins Article 1 Comment

It’s time for a ‘disruptive innovation,’ to wean range Governments’ dependency away from the Trophy Hunting income used to help ‘balance the books.’

The premise is should/could the ‘international community’ devise transparent (‘corruption’ proof) ways to subsidise key wildlife reserves to save iconic species?

Hunting Income

Evidence suggests that much of the hunting income (estimated at more than $200m USD per annum across Africa) benefits range Governments’ coffers, with a minimum directly funding conservation of target wildlife species. Of course, Government funds (of any source) finance schools, clinics, community projects and/or Presidential ‘needs’ etc., but the wildlife is paying the ultimate price for these human ‘needs.’

So, the funding hunting provides is not disputed, just the opaqueness of the conservation claims made alongside it. Recently, a study of Namibia’s wildlife conservation funding provisions indicated that only some 2% of hunting income actually goes directly into wildlife conservation funding. Namibia is a strong advocate of the ‘benefits’ of Trophy Hunting, but these ‘benefits’ do not seem to stretch to generous wildlife conservation funding derived from the hunting income gladly taken.

Hunting income’s direct beneficiaries are dominated by human ‘needs.’ This ‘pay-back’ sets the wildlife (the argument goes) in higher esteem and therefore, provides ‘protection’ of the wildlife within local communities (where it is estimated, just some 3% of hunting income trickles down to local communities’ own funds – Economists at Large).


“The $200 Million Question” – Economists at Large, 2013

Without the hunting income derived (the argument goes) from lion hunting for example, lions become reduced back to vermin to be eradicated by herdsmen. However, that argument, model and ‘protection’ is clearly failing, because retaliatory killing, plus poaching, habitat loss and hunters’ “harvesting” is combining to species’ decimation no matter what the arguments are.

There might be some exceptions perhaps, where hunting reserves derive income and sustain habitat/species, such as Bubye Valley Conservancy (B.V.C.). But these ‘examples’ are very few indeed and even at B.V.C., the ‘model’ appears fragile and unable to live up to expectations of ‘sustainability’ under its own management with the recently reported ‘problem’ of 200 ‘surplus’ lions.

Dr Pieter Kat (LionAid) says the 3 400 km² conservancy has about 15 lions per 100 km². The natural density of lions, for example, in the Kruger Park is about 5-6 per 100 km² in the north, which is similar in habitat to Bubye, and 7-8/100 km² in the south. Bubye therefore is more than double the natural density for lions – Annamiticus, 31 March 2016 

Hunting trophy import restrictions across the major hunting demand bases of the United States and Europe (not forgetting Australia’s lion trophy import ban and France’s complete trophy import ban) now insist on a case-by case proof the hunter’s lion “harvesting” is from a sustainable source, where the hunting can be transparently seen to directly contribute to the advantage of the target species’ conservation. What is the response from range Governments?

Range Governments and Trophy Hunting

Namibia has taken a defiant stance spoken of above (Trophy Hunting and Conservation,” IWB, 16 March 2016).

If we concentrate on the plight of the African lion, Tanzania is a potential strong hold (Serengeti in Tanzania, plus the Okavango Delta in Botswana and South Africa’s Kruger National Park), with some estimated 16,800 (2010) total lion population within Tanzania’s borders.

However, no one seems to have a ‘scientific’ answer to the question of how many lions actually exist in Tanzania today. The Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources wishes to be optimistic (or deluded?) that the 66% decline (noted in 2014) in lion populations in the five monitored sub-populations is not representative of the entire Tanzanian population.

Hence, the Tanzanian Wildlife Division wishes to ‘accept’ the 2010 estimate of 16,800 (Mésocina et al., 2010) as today’s current Tanzanian lion population. Has the Trophy Hunting issues of biased incentives and excessive hunting quotas been addressed in Tanzania? There will be new age-based quotas (apparently). But of course, the age of any lion can be hard to accurately detect (reference para 11.5) in the field until the hunter has shot it. It’s hard to be that accurate in regards to the target’s age before-hand, particularly when the hunter’s finger is poised on the trigger and the image of that trophy looms large in the hunter’s imagination. It’s often hard to even detect that the target lion is wearing a collar for some ‘hunters’ (ie. Walter Palmer), let alone the target lion’s nose pigmentation pattern as a key age indicator.

Walter Palmer with Cecil

Walter Palmer (left) poses with the corpse of Cecil the lion after hunting him with his bow, wounding the leader of the pride, and shooting him 40 hours later. Photo: Courtesy of The Age

Dr Craig Packer who ran the Serengeti Lion Project in Tanzania for 36 years (under the previous Tanzanian Presidency), was ousted for displaying the audacity to encourage reform in the hunting industry (renowned for its corrupt and murky relationship with the then Tanzanian government). Packer was banned from the country in 2014:

“The fox is guarding the henhouse. It’s the tobacco company checking for lung cancer. We can’t see what they’re doing, but we’re supposed to trust them. That’s the deal in Tanzania.” – Source: Dr Craig Packer – “Trophy Hunting is not the saviour of African wildlife, experts say,” The Age, Environment, 27 March 2016

Plus the alleged approach Tanzania had in 2014 is not reassuring, with the issuing of additional hunting permits to those favoured by the former President of Tanzania. Thomas Friedkin started a game hunting company in Botswana in 1972:

Thomas Friedkin seemed close enough to the former President of Tanzania to have allegedly been issued a “Presidential Permit” to hunt a total of 704 animals for Friedkin’s friends and family in 2014. A Presidential Permit is issued in excess of any quotas assigned to hunters by the wildlife authorities, comes without the necessity of any trophy fee payments, and can only be issued under highly controlled circumstances including scientific research, educational purposes, and feeding starving people. The animals on the Friedkin family permit include 8 elephants as well as lions, leopards, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, jackals, impalas, wildebeests, porcupines, roan antelopes and klipspringers.” Does this sound like conservation in action? –  LionAid, 18 March 2016

It is also stated that in the case of the African lion:

80 per cent of the lions left in the world are in the hunters’ hands” (ie. held with hunting concessions) – Source: “Lions in the Balance – Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns,” Dr Craig Packer, The University of Chicago Pres 2015, ISBN: 9780226092959.

Therefore, any transition to ‘safer’ hands for the future preservation of lions (and other so threatened species) is key. In a poignant riposte to the hunters’ claims that general tourism can never replace hunting income in remote areas, then take heart………over the past seven years, Dereck Joubert (National Geographic documentary maker) has transformed Selinda Conservancy in Botswana’s Okavango Delta into a luxury private reserve and safari camp.

In a previous ‘life’ based on hunting concession ‘death,’ this same Okavango Delta concession derived income from trophy hunting. Since its transformation by Joubert, wildlife populations within the reserve have rebounded and Botswana (which renounced Trophy Hunting in 2013) and its local communities are, he says, receiving 2,500 per cent more in revenue from the area than derived under a regime based on hunting:

Show me a piece of hunting land and give me the balance sheet of what it really earns for that nation (not just the hunting company), and I will present a more viable economic model” – Source: Derek Joubert – “Trophy Hunting is not the saviour of African wildlife, experts say,” The Age, Environment, 27 March 2016


At the moment, range Governments that derive income from Trophy Hunting seem intent on maintaining that income to the detriment of wildlife, whilst also failing to effectively tackle the crimes of poaching and retaliatory wildlife destruction. Both of these latter scourges arguably stem from a visible lack of respect for wildlife displayed by accepting hunting dollars:

Value generated by hunting is value created by killing and that sends an even more destructive message, one that states and embeds in cultures that if you want value you kill things” – Source: Derek Joubert, “Trophy Hunting is not the saviour of African wildlife, experts say,” The Age, Environment, 27 March 2016

The answer to the initial premise is ‘yes,’ the ‘international community’ can/should do more to subsidise key wildlife reserves to save iconic species?

“I think the world is a better place because there is a Serengeti. Because there is an Okavango. Unless the international community is ready to subsidise these places, they’re all doomed” – Source: Dr Craig Packer – “Trophy Hunting is not the saviour of African wildlife, experts say,” The Age, Environment, 27 March 2016

Who are the ‘international community’ and where is the funding going to come from? Well, one could argue, the ‘international community’ is you and me. Where we choose to spend our own money is as important as any authority’s allocation of funds isn’t it? That’s why I’ll be looking into a trip to Botswana where Trophy Hunting is a relic of the past in former hunting concessions.

With the listing of the African lion to the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA), there is also potential for increased funding provision:

Under ESA protection, lions and the programs that protect them will gain access to more financial assistance, as well as more help on the ground. This part of the Act is vague, but because of the ESA mandate to protect critical habitat of listed species, conservation groups may be able to levy this for government funding. In the very least, it increases the funding potential for environmental non-profits, which often struggle to make small budgets stretch across programs” –  Source: “What Does The Endangered Species Listing Mean for Lions?” Deirdre Leowinata (African People and Wildlife Fund), National Geographic, 27 March 2016

Could similar funding provisions (which could take the form of commercial based loans or shareholder stakes etc.) be sought via the European Union and other Government bodies and agencies to seek finance to “subsidise key wildlife reserves to save iconic species?

Let’s hope that wildlife reserves can be subsidised and freed from the shackles of Trophy Hunting income once and for all.


Note: Dr Craig Packer is professor of ecology, evolution and behaviour and director of The Lions Research Centre at the University of Minnesota.

Dr Craig Packer is an advocate of ‘sustainable’ lion hunting – “When carefully regulated, hunting is restricted to older males who are past their reproductive best [greater than 6 years old], thereby ‘minimising’ the impact upon lion society of their deaths. Hunting also provides much-needed revenue for governments and local communities…...” Of course, identifying any lion’s age in the field is very difficult (Reference para 11.5) and there is no upper age limit that a male lion can be confidently “harvested” without unknown impacts and repercussion for a pride/lion dynamics in the vicinity. The recommended “harvesting” of ‘6 year old or older male lions’ minimising impact can be easily dismissed – Cecil the lion was 13 years old, head of his pride and had recently fathered cubs. So, how can anyone say when “harvesting” a male lion of some arbitrary age has “minimal” impact?

  1. Review of Panthera leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia,” UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Technical Report, August 2015
  2. Trophy Hunting is not the saviour of African wildlife, experts say,” The Age, Environment, 27 March 2016
  3. What Does The Endangered Species Listing Mean for Lions?” Deirdre Leowinata (African People and Wildlife Fund), National Geographic, 27 March 2016
  4. Review of Panthera leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia,” UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Technical Report, August 2015

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