The gimmick everyone keeps falling head over trophy for
At first glance, the numbers seem impressive: $426 million in contributions to GDP, $326 million in direct spending, and over 53,000 jobs. These are the totals touted by the Safari Club International Foundation as the annual benefits for the local communities in sub-Saharan Africa that host tourists for the purpose of trophy hunting. These numbers are disputed but are largely based on a study from 2012-2014 in eight countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
More relevant than the financial benefits, SCI Foundation also points to the 1.4 million square kilometers of land being conserved thanks to trophy hunting, in addition to the active measures taken to supposedly protect the animals being hunted and increase their populations. Those involved in trophy hunting are quick to credit the activity as critical for the conservation of both land and animals in the rural and cash-strapped areas of Africa. The argument is that, not only is trophy hunting a rewarding experience for those that participate, but it plays a significant role in the conservation of the areas in which it operates.
Sounds great, but is it true?
Well, it depends on who you ask. Trophy hunting is first and foremost a tourist activity; more specifically, for the "wealthy enough" tourist. Those that arrive in the local communities to hunt are coming from distant countries - typically the United States - and paying very large sums of money to do so. Trophy hunting brings in an estimated $217 million annually in Africa alone. Proponents of the practice are quick to say that it is the conservation of land and wildlife that justifies the activity. By essentially making the lives of these exotic animals financially rewarding, they are decreasing the chances they will be killed by poachers or have their habitats further destroyed with expanding human development. In other words, if a species pays, it stays.
Why you should care
The population numbers for wild, African lions have dropped 42% in just the past two decades alone; in the next few decades to come, this species could easily grow extinct in the wild
However, this argument is viewed as quite the reach in the eyes of many. As with most things, when large amounts of money are involved, exploitation follows. While some animal populations may increase in areas with established trophy hunting, in many cases this is a result of animals being bred and raised in enclosed areas. Captive-bred animals are raised for the sole purpose of being killed by trophy hunters. This is known as canned hunting; sadly, these animals are unable to be released into the wild because they are accustomed only to captive life. So, while animal populations are (in some cases) increasing in areas with trophy hunting, the number of wild, non-captive animals are decreasing. This is not conservation.
Additionally, studies have shown that the vast majority of the money from trophy hunting fees doesn’t make it to the local communities that host the activity. Roughly 3% of the revenue trophy hunting companies bring in is distributed to those communities, with the majority being distributed at the national and international levels. Further, while the over $200 million brought in each year sounds significant, it is actually less than 2% of the annual revenue from tourism for the countries that were studied. In South Africa, for example, trophy hunting represents merely 1.2% of tourism revenue. It appears that the financial impact of trophy hunting is far less than proponents would have us believe.
In response to this practice of captive-bred animals, and the view that trophy hunting is doing far more harm than good, governments are getting more seriously involved. France and Australia have banned the import of all lion trophies and, recently, the United States banned the import of trophies from captive-bred lions. This is in addition to the actual banning of trophy hunting in African countries such as Botswana and Kenya. Even some airlines have agreed to ban the transport of hunting trophies on their flights. These are important steps and signify an international effort to discourage this activity.
Trophy hunting is clearly a controversial topic that inspires passionate opinions. Objective viewers of the issue can acknowledge legitimate arguments both in support of the activity and against. There is no doubt that the revenue from trophy hunting can be used to limit habitat destruction and to ensure that the animals are protected and that their populations grow. Habitat loss is one of the most impactful reasons for species decline in many cases. However, one could wonder that, if all conservation requires is money, could there not be other ways to raise these funds without killing the animals? Perhaps other methods of fundraising could put the money directly into the hands of those that need it and not foreign hunting organizations with limited oversight. Saving wild animal populations by charging fees to kill them is a peculiar and unsustainable strategy. Surely, we can come up with a better one.