Hunting and conservation are awkward bedfellows - we discuss briefly the ins and outs
Operations & Marketing Development
28 Sep 2020
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Before we delve into the elephant in the room let’s first briefly talk about how modern-day safaris evolved.
Originally from the Arabic language and then adopted in to Swahili, the word ‘safari’ has always been associated with going on a journey of adventure and exploration. Early naturalists, explorers and big game hunters redefined the context of the word giving it a more romanticised definition of grand tales of adventure, with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Roosevelt doing much to glamorise the traditional hunting safari in Africa. These early explorers and naturalists where also responsible for hunting with the purpose of learning and studying newly discovered wildlife.
Today, safaris are much more accessible with a myriad of experiences available for those seeking exposure to the African wilderness. But without hunting would there be as much land set aside for wildlife, conservation and tourism? Perhaps not.
Before tourism evolved to the levels it has in African, significant areas of land were set aside where hunting took place. These areas, sometimes also known as concessions, were usually privately owned, catering for those who wanted to hunt various species. As tourism and public mindsets turned more towards conservation, many of these areas were transformed into the game reserves and lodges we know today. In short, what we now know as a photographic safari evolved from the hunting safari industry.
How does a hunting safari work?
While it might seem paradoxical, there is an argument for trophy hunting as part of conservation – so how does it work?
One cannot simply travel to Africa and shoot an antelope, lion or an elephant. If a visitor wants to legally hunt in Africa they need to employ the service of a Professional Hunter (PH). The PH applies for and acquires the appropriate permits to enable the hunt to take place, including what species will be hunted and where. Costs of a hunt are made up of PH fees, accommodation and transport, a hunting licence and finally ‘Trophy Fees’ for the specific species being hunted – meaning that most two-week safaris can cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per person. Huge sums by anyone’s standards – a high proportion of which are government fees that are put directly into conservation.
In 2014 the Namibian government auctioned a licence to hunt one black rhino – bear in mind there are less than 6,000 individuals left in the world – with the winning bid fetching $350,000, of which all was fed back into conservation. The irony is too obvious to need pointing out and it is complex too, in the four years following the auction 300 people in Namibia were charged with rhino-poaching offences.
Hunting in Africa is now properly regulated with strict rules and regulations governing which species can be hunted, where and when. Typically, a trophy animal will be an older male no longer naturally contributing to the gene pool, or a problematic animal such as a rogue elephant. And when relocating species is not an option – hunting may also be used to avoid overpopulation where there would otherwise be a negative impact on local ecology, or risk causing human/wildlife conflict.
Human and Wildlife Conflict
This conflict has grown increasingly common as our population grows and with that the desire for more resources. We’re a hungry species and our technology gives us an advantage over wildlife.
As a result, we are expanding more into wild spaces, utilising more resources and land. We’re encroaching on areas which have been traditionally wild to help satisfy the needs of modern living. Wildlife has an ever-decreasing amount of space from which to support itself and those living on the fringes come into conflict with people as thy vie for what little space is available to them. Such as elephants raiding crops or lions and other predators killing livestock - usually with the wildlife suffering attacks of retribution.
Historically natural selection has acted as a culler, but as wildlife is increasingly affected by human populations, there needs to be an alternative ways of managing it. Culling is often positioned as a solution which is done for the 'greater good'.
As soon as people put up a border, whether it’s physical or a line on a map – we interfere with the ecology, creating an issue with the amount of wildlife that area of land can sustain. If there is an over population of a species in an area it can have a detrimental knock-on effect not only on itself but also others. So as a result, populations need to be managed very delicately with relocation, culling and hunting being some of the methods used.
Culling is process of population reduction of a species within an area with the main aim of balancing an ecology where relocation has been ruled out as an effective method. Over-population puts a huge strain on resources, which over time would have a knock-on effect on not only the particular species but also everything else which shares the same space, including trees, other vegetation and even the ground from which it grows.
Example: Elephants have voracious appetites, with a fully grown adult easily being able to consume up to 130kg of vegetation a day and have a fondness for ‘habitat re-engineering’ by reducing forests to flatlands by uprooting trees and trampling plants as they feed. This in turn can decimate the food supply for other herbivores and then subsequently effects predator populations as well - which could then lead to human/wildlife conflict as the wildlife looks for resources to sustain itself.
This is something which is becoming more popular with traditional hunters who see it as an opportunity to enjoy the sport they love whist contributing more directly to conservation. Rather than hunting a trophy animal with a rifle, dart guns are used under the strict supervision of a PH and a vet.
Client will pay thousands of dollars to have the privilege of darting a white rhino so that a wildlife vet can carry out necessary medical checks. It’s worth noting that animals are selected for scientific, research or medical purposes, never for commercial with the premise that animal would be darted anyway – but the difference is the hunter is paying for the experience in a more conservational manner rather than taking home a trophy.
Does hunting still have a place in today’s safari ecology?
Whilst a very emotive and divisive topic, there are arguments for both sides, and whether it’s for or against, there is perhaps no simple answer. While some countries have banned hunting completely – Kenya did so as far back as 1977 – it’s clear that in many others, such as Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia, hunting is here to stay.
It may surprise some, and be distasteful to many, but the hunting of rare and endangered species does still take place. At present, it is still legal to hunt an endangered species if it is on private land and the government has given permission, i.e. a hunting permit has been applied and approved. However, this is tightly regulated and managed. An example of how this works: between 2016 and 2018, there was a zero hunt quota for leopards in South Africa. Subsequently, in 2018, when population numbers were higher, a hunting quota of seven was released with strict measures in place to ensure that the correct animals were targeted after robust scientific evidence had been produced to ascertain a stable population.
There is no doubt that the debate is complex and for many people has grey areas with their being situation where they feel more or less comfortable with the idea of hunting for conservation, but whichever side you fall on, the reality is that at present, hunting goes on and whether you agree with it or not, it bring money into both the economy and for conservation.
The perennial debate for and against hunting will continue amongst friends at dinner parties and between politicians in the halls of power, so I’ll conclude this article with a short summary of the case for and against hunting safaris in Africa– and let you, the reader, decide.
The arguments FOR hunting...
Hunting has always been around in some form.
Brings economic benefit to local communities in remote areas and creates employment.
Helps to manage wildlife populations.
Way to generate valuable income when culling is required to manage wildlife populations.
Huge earner for conservation (Tanzania generates approximately 50 times more income from a hunting safari visitor than a photographic safari visitor).
‘If it pays, it stays.’ Hunting conserves wilderness areas – without it, large parts of African wilderness would be lost.
The cases AGAINST hunting...
Ethical arguments against killing for sport.
It can feed demand wildlife crimes such as poaching.
Sets a bad example for conservation messages. (local low income communities told not to hunt animals, while affluent visitors are allowed to).
The money could be used in a more ethical way.
There are more sustainable methods to generate money to protect wildlife.
Questions around how much hunting revenues reach local communities.
Plenty of alternative ways to manage wildlife populations – translocation of animals, fertility treatments.