Articles and campaigns decrying big game hunting in South Africa have been making their way around the internet lately. One, from a Buzzfeed staffer who visited a park in Botswana, highlighted how lions, unafraid of both humans and their vehicles, aren’t exactly hiding or stalking game drives. Another showed a Belgian model, who was subsequently dropped from her label for her hunting photos, posing in front of a dead Oryx.
However, as soon as these articles go up, the comments defending conservation hunting come roaring in. Their argument that big game hunting, legalized in a number of African countries, actually helps conservation, is a common one. Profits, they say, go back to the communities and help fund anti-poaching networks. Furthermore, local tribes are fed on the bush meat as it creates sustainable development.
Yet this rationalization could not be further from the truth. The fact is, the majority of hunting takes place in South Africa. The majority of poaching also takes place there, with the worst poaching numbers on the entire African continent. So clearly this contribution to anti-poaching is not working. Studies also show hunting gives so little back to the community that erasing it altogether would have no negative impact on local communities (but it would help conservation efforts).
Posed as the 200 million dollar question by Economists at Large, they tackle the idea that big game hunting, and lion hunting in particular, help African economies and local development. Citing a 2010 study, they conclude that 3% or less of revenue attained from these hunts ever makes it back to community development programs. Rather, most goes to camp maintenance and staff payments. Further investigations show that in terms of tourism revenue, overall it makes up less than 2% of the tourism dollars coming into any of the countries that allow big game hunting.
One study quoted a local tribesman as being far more allied with those that shoot wildlife photography than the hunters:
“We’re more closely allied with the photographic operators than the hunters. They are finishing off the wildlife before we’ve had a chance to realize a profit from it. Hunters don’t recognize us, they only recognize the government. 25 percent of hunting fees goes into the ‘hole’ at the district. We’re supposed to get 5 percent and we don’t even see that.”
Links have been widely established by numerous conservation groups that show poaching and big game hunting is a little too close for comfort. The lack of proper oversight and control of big game hunting in South Africa have created windows for organized crime and hunters to go off the rails, assisting in the smuggling of rhino horn and elephant tusk. Bribes are paid to local police to drop cases, and private hunting companies help smugglers, which has been a common reoccurrence in the private hunting community.
We should also look at how animal roles are established to understand why hunting large male lions simply cannot work to help conservation. When the leader of a pride is taken out as a trophy, the current pride must find itself a new male lion to fill this now empty role. When the new male lion comes in, he will systematically kill every lion cub that the old male lion produced, ensuring the future of the pride is his own lineage. If you are taking out male lions from prides even on a one per year basis, it’s not hard to imagine how cubs would have a hard time flourishing.
The study of big lion hunting concludes that:
“Trophy hunting advocates consistently portray the industry as a major contributor to African community development. Our research indicates that its contributions are in fact minimal. Authors from all sides of the hunting and conservation debate agree that local communities are key stakeholders for conservation initiatives, yet they generally receive minimal benefits from trophy hunting.”
Meaning that it’s time to stop the rhetoric and stop pretending that trophy hunting revolves around anything more than feeding precious egos. Big game hunting is clearly not helping poaching, it’s not helping community development and it actually often contributes to illegal smuggling. With all this in mind, it’s time to say no to the idea of private trophy hunting in Africa, and start working towards conservation methods that have actually been proven to work.