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Trophy Hunting Conservation Claims

Trophy hunting

Born Free Programmes Manager, Mark Jones, answers some of the claims made by Olivia Opre on British TV.

Olivia Nalos Opre from Montana USA (International Big Game Huntress, Hunting Consultant and Safari Club International Diana Award Winner 2014 which is awarded to women who have ‘excelled in international big game hunting’), claims to have killed animals of 90 species across 6 continents.

During an interview with her on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ programme on 1/7/16, she made a number of claims:

“It’s evident in all the things that we do, that we [the hunting community] are conserving wildlife”

This is a very controversial claim, and there is a great deal of evidence and opinion to the contrary.

The recent report by the US Democratic staff of the House Committee¹ on Natural Resources entitled ‘Missing the Mark’ states: “Our analysis shows that trophy hunting cannot be assumed to have a conservation benefit on the strength  of  a  guarantee  that  hunters’  fees  will  flow  to  communities  or  wildlife  agencies. Additional oversight is necessary to ensure that importing trophies of ESA listed species is in fact helping those species survive in the wild.”

Palazy et al (2011)² argued that, for big cats at least: “Because humans value rarity, targeted species that are threatened are likely to be disproportionately hunted, thereby becoming even more vulnerable, which could eventually push them to extinction.”

“IUCN filed a briefing with the EU declaring that trophy hunting delivers benefits to both wildlife and the people alike”

She is presumably referring to the IUCN briefing document targeted at the EU from April 2016, entitled “Informing decisions on trophy hunting”³. This document was controversial, however it does state: “It is clear that there have been, and continue to be, cases of poorly conducted and poorly regulated hunting both beyond and within the European Union. While ‘Cecil the Lion’ is perhaps the most highly publicised controversial case, there are examples of weak governance, corruption, lack of transparency, excessive quotas, illegal hunting, poor monitoring and other problems in a number of countries. This poor practice requires urgent action and reform.“

In their 2015 Red List reassessment of the status of Panthera Leo4 , the IUCN recognised that poorly regulated trophy hunting contributes to population declines.

“The facts state, according to Southwick Associates that US$426 million annually is what’s spent by 18,000 hunters a year, creating 53,000 jobs”

This refers to the report ‘The Economic Contributions of Hunting‐Related Tourism in Eastern and Southern Africa’ by Southwick Associates, which was commissioned by Safari Club International, and published in November 2015.

On Southwick Associates’ website it states: ‘Southwick Associates is a market research, statistics, and economics firm, specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing, and outdoor recreation markets. For more than 25 years, Southwick Associates has delivered comprehensive insights that have advanced strategic decisions across the entire outdoor community; from resource agencies, industry associations and non-profit organizations, to utilities, outdoor manufacturers and businesses. We find solutions to problems others cannot solve.’ They are all about generating data and reports in support of hunting, shooting and fishing interests, mainly through claims relating to economic and livelihood benefits, and are not an independent consultant.

In the executive summary they claim: ‘hunting provides Africa with significant economic benefits to the countries and communities who host these travellers in total and per hunter’. The report seems to equate what hunters spend with their contribution to the GDP of the African countries in the study. I can’t really comment on the US$426 million they claim hunters spend, albeit it’s more than double the amount claimed (US$200 million) for the whole of Africa by the hunting industry back in 2011. In their 2013 report ‘The $200 million question’5 Ecolarge estimated that only 3% of revenues end up in local communities. They also asked the question: “Where does the $200m estimate come from?” And stated: “Rudolph and Hosmer (2011)’s $200m figure is based on Lindsey, Roulet and Romanach (2006), a study based on weak sources and methodology. $100m of this estimate is based on an unpublished study by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa. Estimates of expenditure in several other countries are based on personal communication with safari companies and other unverifiable sources. The $200m estimate should be used with caution.” So there is a big question mark hanging over the US$426 million claim, and evidence to show that whatever the total spend might be, very little of it benefits conservation or local communities.

No attempt has been made, as far as I can see, to account for the fact that a large proportion of the money spent flows outside the country in which the hunting takes place (as revealed in the Ecolarge report), nor for the large amount of money that likely disappears as a result of corruption. Also, the authors assume that, if hunting stopped, the GDP across the eight countries studied would fall by US$426 million. They make no attempt to account for any alternative activities that might mitigate some of this claimed reduction (such as increased photographic tourism). In their 2015 report ‘Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa’6 the UN World Tourism organisation stated that he total international tourism receipts for Africa in 2013 reached US$ 34.2 billion, the majority of which was wildlife watching oriented, and that international tourist arrivals in Africa are predicted to double in the next decade. The report also outlines many instances where non-consumptive wildlife tourism revenues benefit local communities.

The SCI report suggests that: “the estimated contribution to conservation through fees paid to landowners (private, community, and government) alone is estimated to be within the range of $26.7 million to $40.2 million each year.”, albeit they themselves recognise that this is ‘imprecise’. However, this only represents 6.3-9.4% of their claimed spend by trophy hunters, and given that ‘fees paid’ to private, community and government landowners won’t necessarily all go into conservation, it represents a very small contribution.

Claims relating to job creation seem to assume that all of the people who provide services to hunters would not be employed without the income those hunters bring. This might be true for the relatively small number of people who directly service the hunters’ hunting activities 100% of the time, but in the majority of cases the service industries will supply services to a wide range of clients, and will not rely entirely on the income from hunters for those jobs. So the estimates of jobs supported is likely to be a gross exaggeration.

“If there isn’t an intrinsic value on an animal, the indigenous people of Africa will have no incentive to protect them. They see them as a job.”

While local community ‘buy-in’ is widely recognised as being an important contributor in wildlife protection, there are many examples where local communities have been encouraged to protect wildlife. Examples are provided in the UNWTO report ‘Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa’, and include the development of birding tourism in South Africa which has been promoted by community projects supported by NGOs from the tourism sector and has encouraged the development of many small service businesses along birding routes; mountain gorilla viewing tourism in the Bwindi Forest National Park in Uganda; the Kichwa Tembo Masai Mara Tented Camp in Kenya; and turtle watching tourism in many coastal areas. There are many others.

“If hunting is taken away, they see creatures like lions as a huge threat to their livestock and to their children. Subsequently they’ll poison a waterhole or a carcass, which will ultimately affect not just the lion that was eating their livestock or their children, but every creature that comes in contact with it. And that’s something that the anti-hunting community doesn’t quite grasp”

Human-wildlife conflict is a considerable threat to many species of wild animal, particularly large species such as elephants and top predators such as big cats when they are perceived to pose a threat to crops or livestock. The presence of trophy hunting concessions does not mitigate this threat; indeed in some instances local villagers may falsely identify a ‘problem animal’ in order to benefit from the trophy fees that might be generated. There are numerous projects, many run by NGOs, which aim to address the complex issue of human-wildlife conflict.

“I have chosen a very old animal, which will feed either my family, or if I cannot import the meat, it will feed the indigenous people of the area. Nothing, absolutely nothing, goes to waste.”

There is a great deal of evidence to show that trophy hunters do not target ‘very old’ animals, but rather target animals in prime condition since they make the best ‘trophies’. In a recent paper, Creel et al7 note that ‘Trophy hunting has had negative effects on lion populations throughout Africa’, and that ‘Hunting resulted in population declines over a 25-year period for all continuous harvest strategies, with large declines for quotas greater than 1 lion/concession (~0.5 lion/1000 km2) and hunting of males younger than 7 years’. The authors concluded that ‘Age-restricted harvesting… is probably not sufficient to yield sustainability.’ The widely-used minimum age for lion trophies is 6 years.

There is no evidence to support the assertion that trophy hunting provides significant food for indigenous people, nor that international trophy hunters ship the meat from their victims home for consumption.

Trophy hunting does, however, make parts and products from animals available for international trade, which may stimulate demand and have negative consequences for individuals and populations. The increasing international trade in lion bones, identified as an emerging threat to lions in the Communique8 that emerged from the CMS/CITES lion range State meeting in Uganda in May 2016, is to a significant extent being fuelled by the supply of skeletal products from lions that have been killed in trophy hunts.

Trophy hunting has also been utilised as a mechanism for obtaining wildlife products from threatened species for the purpose of illegal trade. ‘Pseudo-hunting’ of rhinoceros in order to obtain horn for illegal trade purposes has been well documented.

“This is ultimately about preserving our world’s great wildlife.”

Trophy hunting is not about preserving wildlife. Trophy hunters covet the spectacular and rare, and the Safari Club International’s World Hunting Awards specifically reward hunters who have killed animals belonging to species or groups of species that are threatened, and some of which are critically endangered. In January 2014 wealthy American trophy hunter Cory Knowlton bid US$350,000 to shoot a critically endangered black rhinoceros in Namibia.

“I do have taxidermy in my home. For me, every time I look at them it’s God’s art. It’s the memory of being in that situation and appreciating that animal in the wild”

Thanks to the hunter, no-one else can appreciate the animal he/she has hunted.

“Let’s take the case of Cecil. You have an animal that was 13 years of age. He was legally killed…. [he was] past his prime. That’s what we want to select.”

The question over whether Cecil was ‘legally killed’ is subject to an ongoing legal process in Zimbabwe, with Walter Palmer’s hunting guide Theo Bronkhurst accused of ‘failing to prevent an unlawful hunt’.

There is no evidence to suggest Cecil was ‘past his prime’ – indeed he was reported to have been head of two prides of lions, alongside another lion called Jericho, and to have recently sired cubs, at the time he was shot. There was grave concern that the cubs would come under threat from younger male lions trying to take over the pride; while infanticide is a normal part of lion behaviour, trophy hunting artificially increases the risk to cubs in prides where the dominant male lions are killed by hunters, and by doing so risks severely disrupting lion societies.

“Furthermore, the money he [Walter Palmer] paid goes back into those local communities, and anti-poaching efforts”

The Ecolarge report referenced above identifies Zimbabwe as the African country (among those studied) where tourism revenue represents the largest proportion (6.4%) of GDP, but estimates that only 3.2% of total tourism revenue is derived from trophy hunting. The authors of this report estimated that as little as 3% of hunting revenues are directed back into local communities.

Zimbabwe’s Community-based conservation programme ‘CAMPFIRE’ is reported to have been in serious decline for more than a decade (see for example the assessment from 2006 by Balint and Mashinya9), and the ongoing benefits it brings to local communities is under question.

“There is a huge difference between poaching and hunting, and that’s where the disconnect is.”

There is of course a big difference between poaching and legal hunting. However, there are also similarities, in that both are affected by and can fuel corruption, and both provide wildlife products that can be introduced into both illegal and legal markets, stimulating demand and further incentivising the exploitation of threatened species.

“Kenya’s populations of wildlife plummeted by 60-70% - 15 years ago lions were at 15,000, now there are 2,000. In the ‘70’s elephants were at 167,000, now they’re at 30,000 – so, you take away hunting, you take away the incentive for the people to protect those animals. Look at neighbouring Tanzania – wildlife is flourishing, and hunting continues.”

Kenya’s wildlife has undoubtedly suffered serious declines in recent decades, as has that in many other African countries. There is no evidence to show that the presence trophy hunting, in and of itself, has prevented wildlife declines, nor that its absence has directly resulted in such declines.  Kenya, like many other African countries, is facing serious challenges largely resulting from human population growth; nevertheless it has championed some of the most progressive conservation initiatives in Africa.

Claims are often made that populations of some species in some countries that are specifically managed for trophy hunting have remained stable, or in some cases increased, bucking the wider trend (lions in some southern African countries, for example), and that this ‘proves the case’ that trophy hunting benefits conservation. However, the value of such populations, which are often intensively managed in fenced reserves,  to species conservation is highly questionable: in its 2015 Red List assessment of lions, the IUCN stated that ‘[these population increases have occurred in] fenced areas subject to intensive management practices include translocations, stocking, contraception and euthanasia, that such management is atypical, and that the Red List Guidelines are ambiguous as to the inclusion or exclusion of fenced areas’. The management of wildlife areas for certain species that have a high value as trophy animals can also result in damaging impacts to the ecological balance in such areas.

The demand for trophies has also resulted in the development of cruel and highly controversial intensive breeding and rearing operations specifically designed to service the trophy hunting industry, such as the canned lion industry in South Africa which is recognised to have no conservation value by the South African authorities and has seriously damaged South Africa’s reputation in terms of wildlife conservation.

“Trophy/Conservation hunting gives back so much to the preservation of wildlife, habitat and indigenous people”

1 the Mark.pdf

2 Palazy L, Bonenfant C, Gaillard J-M, Courchamp F (2011) Cat Dilemma: Too Protected To Escape Trophy Hunting? PLoS ONE 6(7): e22424. doi:10.1371




6 World Tourism Organization (2014), Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa – Briefing Paper, UNWTO, Madrid.

7 Creel et al (2016) Assessing the sustainability of African lion trophy hunting, with recommendations for policy. Ecological Applications. doi: 10.1002/eap.1377




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