We examined some of the most common arguments proponents of hunting use to justify the practice from an environmental perspective. To briefly summarize our conclusions, although hunters often claim that killing wildlife is often necessary to control animal populations and even conserve specific species, research has shown that these arguments are based on rather flawed assumptions.
Hunting actually contributes to many of the problems that it’s supposedly meant to fix, and it’s absolutely possible to address these issues through nonlethal means. And in a world where humans have more ways to obtain food than ever before, it’s not clear that hunting has any practical purpose anymore beyond making a profit.
So can we safely conclude that hunting is unjustifiable and warrants opposition on every level? Well, not quite yet.
Do African countries need hunting?
The conclusions we reached were mainly centered around a first-world perspective, which assumed that countries had the funding and resources necessary to protect and control animal populations without resorting to violence. Those who believe that hunting is, on some level, necessary often point to several countries in Africa, which house robust hunting industries that, in their view, are among the only practical ways for these nations to fund conservation efforts.
According to the Washington Post, when hunters spend money on permits that allow them to hunt certain animals, those funds are intended to go straight to various conservation efforts. One such effort includes the protection of animals against poaching, and money raised from hunting can go specifically to the rangers tasked with doing so. The Namibia Press Agency claims that over 80 Namibian wildlife conservatories need money from trophy hunting to fund their operations, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature suggests these conservatories would lack the funding necessary to hire sufficient numbers of field rangers if trophy hunting were to be banned. And even outside of funding concerns, some argue that since the hunting industry requires a constant supply of animals to keep itself afloat, hunters are incentivized to preserve certain species and their habitats.
Essentially, this perspective suggests that various African countries keep trophy hunting around not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to. And it’s easy to sympathize with this viewpoint; who are we to judge how these countries go about funding conservation when they may not have the means to do so in a way that we’d like them to? And if trophy hunting happens to be a major and reliable source of income for these countries as some claim, then it seems reasonable for them to use that funding for a worthy cause, as counterproductive as it may appear.
But this begs the question: just how integral is trophy hunting for the economies of these African nations? Well, as it turns out, research suggests that trophy hunting’s economic benefits for these countries are not as extensive as you might think.
The realities of trophy hunting in Africa
According to a report analyzing eight countries in the eastern and southern portions of Africa, trophy hunting only contributed to around 0.03% of their GDP. By contrast, revenues from tourism, an important aspect of these countries’ economies, made up around 5% of their GDP. And the benefits that trophy hunting provides to local communities are, in most cases, negligible. Specifically, some estimate that only around 3% of the proceeds from trophy hunting are allocated to the communities situated near where the hunting takes place, with most of the proceeds going toward middlemen as well as major companies and organizations.
For an industry that is supposedly crucial for ensuring the long-term survival of African wildlife, these numbers are staggeringly small. And this notion assumes that these African countries implement effective hunting regulations that adequately protect endangered species, but they absolutely do not. Even though African elephants have long been considered to be an endangered species, trophy hunters are still incentivized to kill them due to the risk of human-elephant contact. To be clear, elephants are naturally inclined to avoid human settlements, and the times in which they do encroach on these areas are often the result of elephants’ diminishing habitat. But that did not stop the Botswanan government from using human-elephant contact as an excuse to lift the hunting ban it imposed back in 2018.
Additionally, a 2016 report by the House Committee on Natural Resources concluded that corruption in certain sub-Saharan African governments has caused a significant portion of the funds raised by trophy hunting to be redirected from their stated purpose of conservation. And due to the weak hunting regulations enforced by many of these governments, the populations of species such as African lions have experienced a notable decline.
Has anyone found better alternatives?
Trophy hunting can’t even be considered the best of bad options, as certain groups and organizations have found viable methods of preserving wildlife without resorting to violence. Arguably the most significant of these groups is the African Wildlife Foundation, a conservation organization that aims to make wildlife conservation a core aspect of Africa’s development.
Having existed for over 60 years, the African Wildlife Foundation helps protect endangered African species by training both poachers and law enforcement officers to prevent illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking using the tools provided to them, such as sniffer dogs that can help detect and intercept poachers and smugglers. Additionally, the organization has conducted a variety of projects that help local communities protect their wildlife, which can involve “leas[ing] their land to develop conservancies or wildlife management areas.” The organization also pushes for governments to pass bans on international wildlife trafficking and to further deter poachers and smugglers by adopting harsher penalties.
This is all well and good, but the African Wildlife Foundation is a massive organization with a wealth of resources, so is it even possible for smaller, less well-off groups to preserve wildlife in an ethical, sustainable manner? Well, if the efforts of Tanzania and Kenya’s Maasai tribes are anything to go by, it absolutely is.
These tribes would historically kill lions either to protect their livestock or as a rite of passage, but more recently, groups of Maasai have worked with conservation groups such as the Lion Guardians to prevent other Maasai from targeting these creatures. The Maasai keep track of nearby lions to ensure their safety, and they negotiate with nearby communities to come up with nonviolent solutions for protecting their livestock. One such solution involves setting up “living walls,” bundles of African myrrh trees bonded together by chain-link fences that have proven more effective at warding off predators than the “boma” walls used previously.
And so far, the conservation efforts of the Maasai have seen an incredible degree of success. For instance, the Maasai working with the Lion Guardians managed to almost completely prevent lion killings in the areas they watched over soon after their conservation program kicked off in 2007. In 2018 alone, areas under watch by the Lion Guardians saw zero lion killings, contrasting with the 15 that occurred in nearby areas.
With this in mind, the notion that trophy hunting is necessary to fund conservation efforts in certain African countries no longer holds much water. Not only does trophy hunting create more problems than it purportedly solves, but the success of nonviolent means of conservation shows that it is more than possible to abandon trophy hunting altogether in favor of these more humane methods. It may not be easy to do so, but ingenuity and a willingness to stay true to our moral compasses can allow us to accomplish way more than we think.
What do you think should be done regarding conservation efforts in Africa? Do you believe that certain African countries can afford to explore more humane means of conservation, or do you think that funding these efforts through trophy hunting is necessary for the foreseeable future? Let us know in the comments below!