“Hunters Conserve Wildlife” – The Debate

Stephen Wiggins Article, Event 4 Comments

In a forthcoming intelligence2 Hunters Conserve Wildlife” – debate due 4 May 2016, the motion is:

 “In 2014, a permit to hunt a single endangered black rhino was sold for $350,000… as part of a program to support its conservation in Namibia. Counterintuitive? Through funds raised from legal hunting—the purchase of permits in Africa, licenses and taxes here in the U.S.—hunters contribute significantly to wildlife conservation efforts. Hunting has also become an important tool in the effort to control animal populations, to the benefit of humans and wildlife alike. But are big-game revenues really benefiting conservation and local communities? And is hunting a humane way to maintain equilibrium and habitats, or are there better alternatives?”

The debate page is open to comment and everyone can cast their vote:

Update: However, the on-line vote appears to be a farce, as multiple votes per individual are permitted following internet browser reload, rendering any ‘result’ relatively meaningless……..intelligence2 have been notified.

Where do you stand? For the Motion, or Against the Motion

Debate Vote_2 April 2016

Figure 1 – The ‘vote’ as of 3 April 2016 – Early GMT

Africa – background reference material reiterated from previous articles and papers

The premise of the motion is based upon big-game hunting (so really Africa where ‘the big five’ – African lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo are a hunting and ‘trophy’ must), which predominantly means trophy hunting income generated in Africa (but of course hunting is widespread, Florida black bears, wolves…….). The income generated in Africa is not in dispute, some $230m USD per annum across Africa.

It’s not about how much money is generated. The question is, how much of that hunting revenue can be directly attributed to either a given target species’ conservation in Africa, or directly providing funds to local communities in Africa? Is there a better alternative?

By conservation, we mean hunting income being proven to directly increase the target species’ population stability/growth and proof that the “harvested” trophy was obtained from a sustainable source with hunting quotas set by clear science.

Unscientifically proven culling (and the selling of hunting permits for the privilege of culling), or excessive hunting quotas set by hunters in authority for hunters, or hunting quotas set for income by range governments based on guesswork…….…none of this is proven conservation based on recognisable science” – Anon

The contribution hunting makes to conservation and local communities must be transparent, clearly identified by independent, verifiable science and accounting.

I have found evidence that supports how much income hunting generates (and these figures are often quoted as equal to conservation by many  pro-hunters). But the readily available evidence that there is a substantial portion of funds directly attributable to conservation, or funds directly passed to local communities lacks foundation.

The findings of Economists at Large(1), 2013 suggest local communities directly receive perhaps 3% of hunting income.  A recent study (2013) of pro-hunting Namibia’s audited accounts, suggests perhaps 2% of hunting income is ‘put aside’ into a fund to be distributed for conservation on an application only basis, with no direct on-going conservation funding. The funding of Namibia’s wildlife reserves (from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET)) is dominated (87%) by the MET’s general tourist admission ticket sales, not income from hunters.

The premise “In 2014, a permit to hunt a single endangered black rhino was sold for $350,000… as part of a program to support its conservation in Namibia” – Until Namibia makes genuine audited accounts available for 2014, there is ready acknowledgement of hunting permit auction income, but is there ready proof of where that  actual income went?  

The main beneficiaries of hunting income are hunting operators, outfitters and a given range government’s general accounts, with onward distribution across many sectors (not all to wildlife/conservation). Agreed, worthy human needs are funded such as schools, clinics etc – worthy, but the majority of hunting income does not benefit wildlife conservation as claimed.

When range governments set hunting quotas, are they set by proven science? The evidence suggests that particularly with endangered species, such as when lions are the hunting income, the hunting quotas are not based on any recently, independently verifiable data. If we take the example of Tanzania(3).

No one seems to have a scientific answer to the question of how many actual lions exist within Tanzania, but the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources wishes to be optimistic (or deluded?) that the 66% decline(3) observed in 2014 in lion populations in the five monitored sub-populations is not representative of the entire Tanzanian lion population. Hence, the Tanzanian Wildlife Division wishes to refer to a 2010 estimate of 16,800 (Mésocina et al., 2010) as today’s current Tanzanian lion population. How can any lion hunting quota be set that is reliable enough based on guessing the base populations in the first place? No matter if the quota/offtake will be an estimated “small %” based on a guess of the population available, every lion death counts (and so is the case with many other threatened species). Regardless of setting (and actually enforcing pre-“harvest”) any stipulation of male lions only greater than an arbitrary limit of 6 years, or older in an attempt to limit the “harvest’s” impact, the base data is missing and any ‘stipulations’ open to ‘misconduct.’

Tanzania is arguably the last wild lion stronghold. 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. Packer was banned from Tanzania 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(4)

In Katavi, Tanzania(3) the estimated lion numbers were recorded as zero in 2014, from a population of 1,118 in 1993. It should be noted, that from 2010, 41 adult males (less than five years old) had been “harvested” for trophies in Katavi. Could this excessive Trophy Hunting of young male lions have been the end of the Katavi sub-population?

Trophy Hunting was reported to have contributed to population declines outside of (and within some) protected areas of Tanzania (Lindset et al., 2013) and was considered by Packer et al., 2011 to pose the greatest threat to the populations in Trophy Hunting areas.”

So, I for one don’t trust the setting of hunting quotas in any country that is based on the same sort of guess work, but the hunting quotas are readily accepted by the hunters and must be conservation right? The hunting quotas are based more on income needs than any recognisable science or conservation.

What happens if trophy hunting income is removed from a range economy?

In terms of what happens to an economy bereft of hunting income, Kenya is often cited as the worse-case scenario of what happens if hunting income is withdrawn by the pro-hunting fraternity.

In Kenya, elephant hunting was made illegal in 1973, with a complete ban on all hunting (without permits) from 1979. However, illegal poaching is still a major issue, highlighted in March 2002 when a family of 10 elephants were killed.

Although Kenya has many national parks and reserves protecting wildlife, elephant populations are still at risk, a problem which is made worse by corruption and some officials supplementing their income by permitting poaching(5).

The Trophy Hunting enthusiast say “look what’s happened to Kenya since they banned hunting and the conservation that the hunting provided to the wildlife.” A BBC news article(6) entitled “Mara Wildlife in Serious Decline” from 2009 states clearly “numbers of giraffe, warthog, impala, and hartebeest fell by 50% or more between 1979 and 2002,” citing evidence from a British Journal of Zoology report(7).  The loss of grazing animals is already having an impact on lions, cheetahs and other predators according to the researchers.

However, the scientists who conducted the report(7) believe the surge in domestic livestock has been held largely accountable for the drop in wildlife population. The three main causes that have been cited for the drop in wildlife numbers are illegal poaching, larger numbers and ranges of domestic livestock, plus changing land use patterns on ranches. There is no mention of ‘trophy hunting’ cited as a cause/effect for the decline in Kenya’s wildlife since 1979 – the trophy hunter’s ‘claim’ appears unsubstantiated.

In terms of poaching in Kenya, the 2005 BBC article(8)Lifeline for Kenya’s ‘lost’ Wilderness” the poachers shot the last of the black rhino in Sera over a decade ago.  Elephant herds are now at levels of 20% compared with the 1970s. Lawlessness and armed poachers are still evident today, but heavily fortified wildlife areas are still managing to protect black rhino, lions and leopard also managing to ‘survive’ somehow.

So, is Kenya an example of what will happen if trophy hunting is banned in a country? No, it is not. Kenya would seem to be an example of poor land management, poaching and wanton over-grazing, based on a culture where a man’s wealth and social status is directly linked to owning large herds of cattle, which dominate the grazing available to the detriment of wildlife.

Botswana withdrew from Trophy Hunting in 2013 and has set a better example in the initial period.

In a poignant riposte to the hunters’ claims that general tourism can never replace hunting income in remote areas, 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, 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(4)

In Botswana, “photographic tourism delivered considerable benefits to Botswana than those same areas did under hunting” – Botswana Tourism Executive. The “transition from hunting concession to photographic concessions is being assisted by a Government Community Development Fund and is highly successful. Wildlife is being carefully protected and numbers are growing. Alarmist projections are nothing more than hunter’s propaganda and Botswana is on a careful, well thought out, and positive course to conserve wildlife resources” –   Rt. Hon. Tshekedi Khama, Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Botswana – Source: LionAid, 22 February 2016


So, from the data seen, the claim that all hunting must equal conservation (and there is no alternative to hunting income) is opaque and lacks credible foundation.

Is the current ‘model’ working, with hunting income supposedly helping conservation and species protection? Well no; poaching is increasing, habitat loss and prey loss for bush meat, plus more human and wildlife-conflict. Arguably hunting increases poaching activity because it provides a trade route for infiltration and sends the wrong message:

 “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

So, for the vast majority of hunting, the evidence from Africa clearly supports standing “Against the Motion.”


  1. The $200 Million Question Economists at Large, 2013
  2. Trophy Hunting and Conservation” IWB, 16 March 2016
  3. Review of Panther leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia,” UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Technical Report, August 2015
  4. Trophy hunting is not the saviour of African wildlife, experts say,” The Age, Environment, 27 March 2016
  5. Conservation in Africa: People, Policies and  Practices” – Anderson, David; Grove, Richard H. (25 May 1990), Cambridge University Press. p. 45
  6. Mara Wildlife in Serious Decline” – James Morgan, 23 April 2009
  7. British Journal of Zoology, “Effects of human – livestock – wildlife interactions on habitat in an eastern Kenyan rangeland” – John Otuoma, Jenesio Kingamario, Wellington Ekaya, Mirgesh Kshatriya, Meshak Nyabengi – Blackwell Publishing ltd., First published 14 September 2009
  8. Life in Kenya’s ‘Lost’ Wilderness” – Zoe Murphy, BBC News, 5 October 2005

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