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Canadian Hotel Lacks Knowledge About Conservation in Africa

This article and Ms. Stark’s petition to shut down the Saskatoon hunting show reflect a lack of knowledge about conservation in Africa--and in Canada, for that matter.

Licensed, regulated hunting is the basis of conservation in many Eastern and Southern African countries. It protects the most habitat, underwrites the most anti-poaching and wildlife management, and benefits the most people living next to wildlife, incentivizing protection instead of retaliation.

Saskatoon Hotel Cancels Trade Show That Was To Promote African Trophy HuntsYou’ve probably heard the saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money.” Conservation hunting is the same idea--by hunting a few animals, you safeguard the species. Someone has to pay for wildlife management and anti-poaching. Licensed, regulated hunting is a “user pay” strategy to do just that, and more.

​​Ms. Stark suggests that “there must be less destructive ways to save the species.” But there aren’t any other ways to protect as much habitat and as many populations. Kenya is often cited for having a successful photo-tourism industry that protects wildlife in approximately 45,000 km2 of national parks and reserves. Left out is the fact that since Kenya closed hunting in 1977, it lost 70-80% of its wildlife and its protected areas shrank. Private and communal lands once used for hunting have been converted to less efficient grazing, agricultural, and other uses. Kenya is 1.5 times larger than Zimbabwe, and yet maintains half as many elephant. The Eastern and Southern African nations that allow licensed, regulated hunting, like Zimbabwe, maintain the most habitat for the most wildlife. In that alone, hunting provides a net benefit to wildlife.

But that’s not all. According to Ms. Stark, “Trophy hunters say they are conservationists helping local communities. I don’t think you are if you pay money to shoot an animal.” But hunting revenue--paying for the chance to shoot--is exactly what is so valuable to local communities and African range nations.

Most rural communities fear and dislike big game like lion and elephant. Lion eat cattle (and over 250 people per year in Tanzania). Elephant raid crops and also kill people and livestock. Hippo and rhino are dangerous if crossed. During the birthing and cropping seasons especially, rural communities are at war with wildlife. And they are legally allowed to kill problem animals.

But by paying rural communities for the privilege of hunting on their land, safari hunting gives wildlife economic value and gives people a proprietary interest in this resource. Communities use the payments for building schools and clinics, paying pensions and school fees, electrifying buildings, installing toilets and digging waterholes, securing food in case of drought, and more. Many safari hunting operators and clients also contribute funds or in-kind donations--including the meat from successful hunts--to rural villages.

This value of payments, donations, and game meat causes communities to think twice before retaliating against problem animals. It incentivizes communities to form anti-poaching units and monitor wildlife in their area. Licensed, regulated hunting benefits both animals and people. In its absence, both suffer. For example, since Botswana closed hunting in 2014, human-wildlife conflicts reportedly increased over 55%. Plumbing projects have been put on hold. And as one remote villager complained, “Now we don’t eat meat.”

Hunting revenue also underwrites most anti-poaching and provides the lion’s share of funding for the operating budgets of range nation wildlife authorities. In Tanzania, hunting revenue pays for 80% of anti-poaching expenditures. In Zimbabwe, it is the primary source of funds for the wildlife authority. And in Zambia, hunting was recently re-opened after a two-year suspension. Local communities complained about losing their benefits, and the wildlife authority had almost no operating revenue. Although these countries also have photo-tourism industries, hunting generates the greatest revenue specifically targeted at wildlife conservation.

Ms. Stark suggests, “Make it about eco-tourism. Have safaris, tours and photography. People want to see these majestic animals.” But the fact that “people want to see these animals” is a weakness of photo- tourism.

Safari hunters have no quarrel with photo-tourism. It is a valuable industry in most African countries. It employs many people, and it can and does co-exist with safari hunting. Wildlife needs all the help it can get.

In Namibia, for example, at least 18 communal conservancies benefit from both hunting and photographic operations. But at least 28 conservancies only benefit from hunting. This is because all wildlife areas are not created equal. Some habitat is beautiful, lush, and photogenic. Some habitat supports high densities of charismatic wildlife. And some habitat is neither beautiful nor teeming with abundant wildlife.

Photo-tourists require dense and photogenic conditions--that’s the point. They also generally require solid infrastructure and services and closer airports. Most photo-tourists are looking for short safaris with decent camps and other things to do. They want beauty, safety, and reliability. They are not looking for a 21-day hike across a dry savanna, seeing little wildlife and camping.

But that trip is exactly what hunting tourists seek out. They prefer remote areas. They take three-week safaris. They don’t require large camps and can sleep outside. They are more resilient to the political and economic unrest that frequently plagues sub-Saharan Africa. And they have a lower environmental impact but generate far more revenue per person than photo-tourists.

Photo-tourism is a good thing. But it is not a panacea. It cannot replace hunting.

This point was made clear in a recent study in which the authors evaluated the benefits of safari hunting and photo-tourism to Namibia’s communal conservancies. They found the value of benefits was fairly equal, but the benefits accrued differently: hunting benefitted the conservancy operations and the community as a whole, and photo-tourism benefitted individuals who worked for the lodge. The authors ran a simulation of what would happen to the conservancies if either photo-tourism or hunting was banned. And they discovered that the distribution of benefits made a difference.

The authors found that if photo-tourism income disappeared, approximately 80% of conservancies with a current positive cash flow would still be able to cover their operational costs (59% of 50 conservancies). However, if hunting revenue disappeared, the reverse became true--approximately 80% of conservancies with a current positive cash flow would have to shut down. Only eight out of 50 could maintain income greater than operational expenses. Approximately 50,000 km2 of habitat would be at risk of conversion to other uses besides wildlife.

In short, when you cut through the emotion to the facts, it becomes clear that licensed, regulated safari hunting has an essential role in African conservation and wildlife management.

This should be no surprise to Canadians. After all, the Canadian wood bison has recovered from a low of one herd in 1978 to a high of seven herds and 4,000 animals today. Conservation hunting has been used as a management tool and revenue generator throughout the wood bison’s recovery. If Canada can use conservation hunting to recover its wildlife, why can’t Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa? These countries should be supported in their efforts to sustainably and responsibly manage their wildlife.

Please see Conservation Force’s website at for references to support the facts and figures in this comment.


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