A crisis of too many, not too few (Part 4)


Perhaps the easiest way to increase space for elephants, and to pay for their conservation, is through trophy hunting.

Unfortunately, the current international narrative about safari hunting is deceptive, deceitful, and highly deleterious to African wildlife. Botswana is a case in point. Just before hunting was banned in Kenya in the 1977, big names in the hunting industry like John Lawrence, Harry Selby, Andrew Homberg, and Eric Rungrin relocated to Botswana.

Was the beginning of southern Africa’s hunting industry. By 1965, Botswana’s embryonic safari hunting industry was already contributing R54, 000 of the total R80, 000 earned from wildlife by government, with the costs of the Game Department being R60, 221. Controlled Hunting Areas also constituted a large and important share of Botswana’s conservation estate.  As with Teddy Roosevelt in America, hunters were often the real pioneers of conservation, becoming game rangers and establishing tourism companies. In southern African, hunting has paved the way for the recovery of wildlife and, even today, pays for about 80% of wildlife land. Because of its high requirements for scenery, wildlife and services, ecotourism is concentrated on about 5-10% of wildlife land. Moreover, photo-tourism and hunting can co-exist if carefully managed to land use, the well-being of communities, and the national economy.

Contrary to the misinformation spread in the press, wildlife numbers usually increase rapidly in areas set aside for hunting because of the protection provided by hunters and very low off-take rates. Botswana’s elephant population increased from less than 20, 000 to more than 130, 000, despite supporting a hunting industry for 60 years, major culling operations in Hwange National Park, and the dispersal of these elephants to repopulate parts of Angola and Namibia.

Hunting is a formidable conservation tool. The mathematics of trophy quota off-takes allow wildlife populations to grow rapidly while generating large amounts of money. With an off-take rate for trophy animals of 0.7% compared to elephant population growth rates of 5% or more, trophy hunting has an inconsequential impact on elephant populations, but provides a highly consequential contribution to the local economy, including anti-poaching and wildlife management. Furthermore, hunting itself needs limited regulation where hunters have long-term tenure over an area. The market is highly informed and strongly dis-incentivises over-utilisation, because any outfitter that sells sub-par trophies will quickly ruins the reputation of his outfitting company or area.

The media storm on canned lions, arrogant hunters, and so on, is a major distraction from the search for positive conservation outcomes. The critical issue is the flow and governance of revenues from hunting and, indeed, tourism. They key to successful conservation is to return 100% of the value of the animals (e.g. trophy fees) to the areas and communities that produce them. This provides a sound financial foundation to pay for wildlife and wildlife land, and sets off a booming wildlife sector in which outfitters make their profits from outfitting services, and governments benefit from economic growth and taxes. If conservationists were truly concerned about wildlife, they would achieve far more by promoting (not closing) markets and ensuring financial transparency so that landholders and communities get the best possible for their wildlife.

Special interest have tried to create alarm by claiming that ecotourists will boycott Botswana if trophy hunting or culling is introduced. This is not the case. The key is competent wildlife management. Tourism boomed in Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s at the same time as hunting and community wildlife utilisation was expanding, and thousands of elephants were culled. Indeed, tourism and hunting play a synergistic role in landscape conservation, with the tourism and hunting industries in the whole region expanding together. Interestingly, my only interview with a regular visitor to Botswana reveals that he no longer visits Botswana’s parks because he cannot stand to see so much environmental destruction.


Communities, governance and hunting bans

There is huge potential to promote community development and wildlife conservation together. The critical issue is community governance, so that wildlife income is used fairly and transparently, and so that e and every household that is expected to live with elephants and other wildlife benefit from them directly.

At the time of Botswana’s hunting ban, I was conducting experiential research with several communities and support organizations in Botswana. The USAID-funded NRMP Project had assisted communities to get 15-year leases for the wildlife on their land, and to sell hunting and tourism for good money. However, the issue of community governance had been neglected; a couple of the smaller communities were doing well, but in the majority of CBNRM communities the people claimed that while the “committees were eating” they were getting very little. Fingers were being pointed at ‘irresponsible’ communities, but the real culprit was the absence of clear governance compliance monitoring, guidelines or capacity-building.

The well-governed Sankuyo community was one of the exceptions. The community earned Pula 4 million annually, mainly from elephant hunting. It built houses for destitute members, and invested in water supplies and toilets for the community. Recognising the importance of individual cash benefits, elderly people were given cash allowances, while almost every family benefited from jobs financed by wildlife income. Hunting provided large quantities of meat and jobs, with some additional jobs in tourism.

Detailed income and expenditure data collected from every household showed that wildlife provided some 60% of the community economy, with the remainder from jobs in town, remittances, and government poverty grants. In this dry area, agriculture was a non-starter. Nonetheless, most families had food to eat every day, at least until the hunting ban. 

The hunting ban crashed the GDP of Sankuyo by more than 40%, which is more catastrophic than the economic collapses in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Sankuyo had climbed out of extreme poverty through the wildlife economy, and could reliably feed themselves. This community was beginning to model the effectiveness of a sustainable wildlife economy. The hunting ban flung them into destitution overnight.

*Dr Brian Child is an Associate Professor at the University of Florida where he focuses on wildlife economy and governance, and higher education in African leadership development. With a D.Phil from Oxford about the economics of wildlife and livestock, he grew up in Botswana, served private landholders and the CAMPFIRE programme for Zimbabwe Parks for 12 years, and established CBNRM and park management systems in Zambia for 10 years. His current interest is building a $30 billion wildlife economy in southern Africa by 2020.

This is the fourth part of a serialised article made available exclusively to Mmegi. Next week, we will publish the fifth and final part of the article

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