Is Trophy Hunting Sustainable?

Trophy hunting in Africa is not an activity of the past, as many tourists on African photographic wildlife safaris may think. Trophy hunting is still as alive as it was 100 years ago with the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and buffalo) still being the most popular and most expensive to hunt. However, species such as kudu, puku, zebra, hippo, giraffe and other plain game are also commonly hunted.

Economic Revenue?

In most African countries, except Kenya that outlawed hunting completely in the late 1970s, trophy hunting is allowed in special hunting concessions, commonly referred to as hunting blocks, within national parks and game reserves, or on private game farm. Prices paid for individual trophies vary considerably across Africa and often depend on the size and age of the animal (see table below for some examples).

Trophy hunting is believed to raise about US$200 million annually across 23 African countries with South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe being the top destinations in terms of trophy hunting revenue. These economic benefits are often used by the pro-hunting lobby as the key reasons for supporting the industry.

Tanzania has the 2nd largest share of trophy hunting, after South Africa, with an income in 2001 estimated somewhere between US$27.1 million and US$36.1 million. The trophy hunting industry employs approximately 3,700 people annually of which about 60% are permanently employed and the remainder is seasonal labour during the 6 months hunting season. In comparison, the more conventional tourist industry employs about 30,000 people in Tanzania on a year round basis.

Trophy species Approximate price per trophy (in US$)
Lion 7,500 – 9,000 for lioness and 17,500 – 22,000 for lion
Leopard 4,000 – 6,500
Elephant 15,000 – 34,000
Buffalo 3,000 – 5,500 for female and up to 18,000 for male
Cheetah 2,900 – 3,800
Kudu 1,090 – 4,160
Roan antelope 10,000 – 19,500

Conservation Payback?

Trophy hunting is often considered by the pro-hunting lobby of key importance to conservation in Africa by creating financial incentives to promote and retain wildlife as a land use over vast areas. In addition, part of the revenue from the hunting industry is invested back into nature conservation. In Tanzania for example, revenue retention schemes have said to have been devised where 50% of income is retained by the reserve, for management and infrastructure investment, 25% goes to the Tanzanian Wildlife Protection Fund and 25% to the central treasury. However at the same time it has been reported that the Tanzanian government receives inadequate revenue from hunting companies to even pay the salaries of their game scouts.

In 2009, the IUCN published a report entitled La grande chasse en Afrique de l’Ouest : quelle contribution à la conservation? Some of its findings do not paint such a rosy story in terms of economic returns and conservation benefits, as the trophy hunting industry claims:

Where management levels are similar, wildlife is much better conserved in protected areas than in hunting areas, especially as hunting areas seem to be less resistant to outside pressures, such as poaching, than protected areas.

Hunting contributions to GDP and national budgets are insignificant, especially in light of the large areas of land set aside for hunting.  In Tanzania, the contribution of trophy hunting to its GDP is 0.22% with 26.4% of its land area set aside for hunting! The contribution of tourism to Tanzania’s GDP on the other hand is 14%. On average, trophy hunting generates US$1.1/ha/yr compared with at least US$2/ha/yr for protected areas.

Returns for local communities, even when administered by community-based natural resource management projects, are insignificant. Community income is on average US$0.1/ha/yr and as low as US$0.04/ha/yr in Tanzania for land set aside for hunting. Obviously is presents very little incentive for communities to stop poaching or to reduce agricultural encroachment.

(With thanks to Dr Pieter Kat, Lion Aid Blog for the translations)

Role of CITES

Although rhino, leopard and elephant are all listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Appendix I and hence as the most endangered, hunting of these species is still allowed with a CITES permit. CITES sets annual national export quotas for these species, thereby restricting the numbers that can be hunted for trophies. For example, the CITES export quota for Tanzania for 2011 is 500 leopards and 400 tusks as trophies from 200 elephants.

Lion is listed as a CITES Appendix II species and therefore does not fall under the CITES national export quotas. In addition, in the EU Council Regulation 338/97 (Wildlife Trade Regulation), lions are currently listed in Annex B, which means that the import of lion trophies is allowed with the allocation of permits. The combination of both listings does not provide lions in Africa with much protection at all, especially considering that trophy hunting quotas for lion are currently set by the various national bodies. It is therefore not surprising that e.g. Tanzania at present allows 500 lions to be killed as trophies, however only exported an average of 254 lions per year between 1992 and 2002 (as reported by CITES).

Is the Trophy Hunting Industry Sustainable?

The lack of protection of CITES Appendix II species and the, in my view, very high annual national export quota for CITES Appendix I species, begs the question whether the trophy hunting industry is sustainable.

A peer reviewed paper “Effects of trophy hunting on lion and leopard populations in Tanzania” by Prof Craig Packer et al. (2010) highlights the fact that trophy hunting indeed appears to have caused large-scale declines in African lion and leopard populations.

Lions have complex social systems in which males play an important role to ensure survival of cubs. The hunting industry specifically targets the adult males in their prime and each male replacement has in return a profound impact on the reproduction of multiple females and therefore can dramatically affect a whole lion population.

Prof Craig Packer et al. conclude that there is a need in Tanzania to limit the annual hunting quotas in most areas from 1.67 lions and 1.33 leopard/1000 km2 of hunting area to at least 0.5 lions and 1.0 leopard/1000 km2 of hunting area. They also suggest a minimum age restriction for male lions of 6 years and older in order for the trophy hunting industry to become more sustainable.

Is Trophy Hunting Ethical?

The trophy hunting industry does provide additional employment and supplements countries’ GDP, although both are pretty minimal compared to the more conventional tourist industry that promotes photographic wildlife safaris.

Whether the trophy hunting industry is sustainable is highly debatable, as the study by Prof Craig Packer has already shown. However the number of scientific, large scale studies seems to be limited to substantiate the unsustainability claim more widely on other species and in different locations, and the potential impacts of trophy hunting on animal social systems.

Is trophy hunting ethical? This is a rather emotive and personal question, but in my opinion there are some serious issues that we need to consider.

Is it ethically and morally right to allow trophy hunting of CITES Appendix I listed endangered species?

Are we still measuring with colonial double standards by allowing rich foreign (mostly white) hunters to go home with a rhino horn trophy, but not the traditional healer and dagger handle carvers? (Yes, controversially CITES allows both the white and black rhino to be hunted in South Africa and Namibia, albeit in very small numbers.)

Can we trust the trophy hunting industry to regulate their own affairs, as most African governments lack the resources to enforce and regulate the industry?

Is it ethical and natural to take the strongest & healthiest specimen in its prime out of an ecosystem, not even for food, but to decorate your home or office?

I am under no illusion that this blog is anywhere near comprehensive, but I hope that this will give you some serious food for thought. As long as we collectively condone trophy hunting, the current situation is not likely to change and we may have to face the grim reality of extinction of certain iconic animal species from the African savannah.


One thought on “Is Trophy Hunting Sustainable?

  1. No way is the killing of innocent animals by trophy hunters justified. Trophy hunting is and will always remain a contentious issue for both animal lovers and trophy hunters. But, its not the question of creating a worldwide animal rights movement to stop trophy hunting. This is a time when most, if not all animals including some of the largest mammals such as elephants, giraffes, lions and bears are in greater need of government protection. It is therefore the role of our selfish governments to understand that these beautiful animals play in our biosphere and how much they contribute to the survival of their own species. To sum up, I’d say that it is the role of both developed and developing nations to understand the plight of their respective animal species and to make trophy hunting a punishable act, leading to stricter jail terms of the perpetrators. We all love animals, but for taking pictures and enjoying the fact that our children will get to see more and more of the endangered species. Trophy hunting is in no way a sustainable tourism industry!

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