The hunting death of a lion sparked me to do some research on the economics of trophy hunting. You can still morally oppose trophy hunting (that’s your opinion), but there are objective economics of it. If the ultimate goal of conservation is to increase wildlife populations, then the trends of populations before and after trophy hunting are worth considering. My findings coincide with the economics of any valuable resource: for-profit privatization affects supply via a market price.
Conservation, like anything, has costs and requires resources. In order to cover those costs and acquire those resources, revenue must be generated. Without trophy hunting, African nations would be left with observational trips to generate revenue – especially considering the economic state of Africa.
Trophy hunting is currently permitted in 23 sub-Saharan African countries generating around $200 million total revenue. This money is used to provide infrastructure, food, water, and shelter for local communities as well as acquire resources for conservation.
These financial incentives also encourage the expansion of protected game land. According to the African Wildlife Conservation Fund, “Trophy hunting has a number of characteristics which enable the industry to play a potentially key role in conservation outside of national parks where alternative wildlife-based land uses (i.e. photography) may not be viable.”
AWCF also notes that privatized land used for trophy hunting resulted in enormous population level increases for both Zimbabwe and Nambia. In Zimbabwe, trophy hunting was largely responsible for the conversion of 27,000 km2 of livestock ranches to game ranching (prior to the land redistribution program) and a subsequent quadrupling of wildlife populations. In Namibia, the shift to game ranching resulted in an 80% increase in wildlife populations during 1972–1992.
In order to fully assess the outcomes of trophy hunting on wildlife populations, you need only to look at the trends in the populations of white rhinos and black rhinos. In a 2005 paper in the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, researchers determined that the legalized hunting of white rhinos in South Africa led to a population increase from fewer than one hundred to 11,000 despite trophy hunting during that time.
The black rhino, however, remained illegal and the population did not see anything close to these gains. To be clear, alternative conservation methods “work” in the sense that populations might not DECLINE, but, for the case of white rhinos, regulated hunting led to larger NET INCREASES in population.
Endangered species face much more substantial threats than trophy hunting. In light of these threats, conservationists must pursue different options if their ultimate goal is to increase wildlife populations. According to research published in the Conservation Biology Journal, the main threats to lion and leopard populations are agricultural growth and the resulting human conflict, including retaliatory killings.
As a result of agricultural expansion, humans are encroaching more and more on lion territory. There have, in fact, been cases where a lion will attack livestock or maim humans. In the process, lions end up getting killed. The combination of habitat loss and retaliatory killings have reduced lion population size.
Trophy hunting may appear detrimental to wildlife conservation efforts on the surface, but the resulting economic activity actually creates more incentives to increase population levels. Ample evidence exists regarding the net positive gains in wildlife populations when trophy hunting is used as a conservation measure – particularly due to the revenue generated.