Wild Frontiers

The link between hunting & tourism in Namibia

Written by Dr Chris Brown, Namibian Chamber of Environment 

I am not a hunter. Nor have I ever been. I am a vegetarian (since the age of about 11), I am part of the environmental NGO sector and I have interests in the tourism industry in Namibia.

So, it might surprise you that I am a strong supporter of the hunting industry in Namibia, and indeed, throughout Africa. Having said that, I should qualify my support. I am a strong supporter of legal, ethical hunting of indigenous wildlife within sustainably managed populations, in large open landscapes.

The reason is simple: Well-managed hunting is extremely good for conservation. In many areas, it is essential for conservation.

©Colin Bell

There is much confusion and misconception, particularly in the urban industrialised world and thus by most western tourists that visit Namibia, about the role of hunting in conservation. Urban industrialised societies – and I include many biologists and recognised conservation organisations in this grouping – see hunting as undermining conservation, or the anathema of conservation. And they see protecting wildlife and removing all incentives for its consumptive use as promoting and achieving good conservation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Much of the hunting and sustainable utilisation debate within conservation has been taken over by the animal rights movement. I have sympathy for people who stand up for animal rights – I think we all should. None of us want to see animals suffering or being treated badly by members of our species. But the problem arises when animal rights agendas are passed off as conservation agendas. Animal rights agendas are not conservation agendas.

Conservation works at the population, species and ecosystem levels. Animal rights works at the individual level. And what might be good for an individual or a collection of individuals might not be good for the long-term survival of populations, species and biodiversity.

Take a simple domestic example. When the farm carthorse was replaced by the tractor, carthorses no longer had to work long hours in the fields. But they also no longer had a value to farmers. Once common, they are now extremely rare. Indeed, carthorse associations have been established to keep these breeds from dying out. The truth is, if animals do not have a value, or if that value is not competitive with other options, then those animals will not have a place, except in a few small isolated islands of protection. And island protection in a sea of other land uses is a disaster for long-term conservation.

Animal rights are important. But for wildlife they must be placed within a sound conservation and animal welfare setting, where conservation decisions on behalf of populations, species and ecosystems take priority over the rights of individual animals, but with due consideration of their welfare. Ethical and humane practices are an integral part of good conservation management and science.

The wildlife situation in Namibia provides a very good example of this. When the first western explorers, hunters and traders entered what is now Namibia in the late 1700s, crossing the Orange/Gariep River from the Cape, the national wildlife population was probably in the order of 8-10 million animals.

Over the following centuries wildlife was decimated and numbers collapsed, first by uncontrolled and wasteful hunting by traders and explorers, then by local people who had acquired guns and horses from the traders, then by early farmers, veterinary policies and fencing, and finally by modern-day farmers on both freehold and communal land who saw wildlife as having little value and competing with their domestic stock for scarce grazing. Traditional wildlife management under customary laws administered by chiefs had broken down under successive colonial regimes. By the 1960s wildlife numbers were at an all-time low in Namibia, with perhaps fewer than half a million animals surviving (Figure 1).

Wildlife numbers in Namibia, graph

Figure 1: Wildlife numbers in Namibia, from about 1770 to 2015

At that time wildlife was “owned” by the state. Land owners and custodians were expected to support the wildlife on their land, but they had no rights to use the wildlife and to derive any benefits from wildlife. In response to declining numbers and growing dissatisfaction from farmers, a new approach to wildlife management was introduced.

In the 1960s and 1990s, conditional rights over the consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife were devolved to freehold and communal farmers respectively, the latter under Namibia’s well known conservancy programme. The laws give the same rights to farmers in both land tenure systems. This policy change led to a total change in attitude towards wildlife by land owners and custodians. Wildlife suddenly had value. It could be used to support a multi-faceted business model, including trophy hunting, meat production, live sale of surplus animals and tourism. It could be part of a conventional livestock farming operation, or be a dedicated business on its own. As the sector developed, so farmers discovered that they could do better from their wildlife than from domestic stock. Both small – and large – stock numbers declined on freehold farmland while wildlife numbers increased.

Today there is more wildlife in Namibia than at any time in the past 150 years, with latest estimates putting the national wildlife herd at just over 3 million animals. And the reason is simple – wildlife is an economically more attractive, competitive form of land use than conventional farming in our arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid landscapes. Markets are driving more and more farmers towards the management of wildlife.

This is good for conservation, not just from the perspective of wildlife, but also from the broader perspective of collateral habitat protection and biodiversity conservation. The greater the benefits that land owners and custodians derive from wildlife, the more secure it is as a land-use form and the more land there is under conservation management. Therefore, all the component uses of wildlife, including and especially trophy hunting, must be available to wildlife businesses. These uses include the full range of tourism options, live sale of surplus wildlife, and the various forms of consumptive use – trophy and venison hunting and wildlife harvesting for meat sale, value addition and own use.

It is this combination of uses that makes wildlife outcompete conventional farming. And it is the “service” component of tourism and hunting that elevate wildlife values above that of primary production and the simple financial value of protein. As the impacts of climate change become ever more severe, so will primary production decline in value, but not so for the “service” values derived from arid-adapted wildlife. And why especially trophy hunting? Because there are large areas of Namibia comprising remote, flat terrain with monotonous vegetation that are unsuited to tourism, but very important for conservation.

Namibia map

Figure 2: Contiguous land under wildlife management, including state protected areas, private nature reserves, communal and freehold conservancies and communal forests (Source: State of Conservancy Report 2015, NACSO)

There are some people in the tourism sector in Namibia and in our neighbouring countries who oppose trophy hunting because it is perceived to conflict with tourism and is thus not good for conservation. Some suggest that the land and its wildlife should be used for eco-tourism and not hunting. In most areas, eco-tourism cannot substitute for hunting. The loss of hunting revenue cannot be made up by eco-tourism revenue.

Indeed, we need to optimise all streams of wildlife-derived revenue to make land under wildlife as competitive as possible.If Namibia had adopted an animal-rights based, protectionist, anti-sustainable use approach to wildlife management, we would probably today have fewer than 250,000 head of wildlife (just 8% of our present wildlife herd) in a few isolated large parks and a few small private nature reserves. We would have lost the connectivity between land under wildlife, and we would have lost the collateral conservation benefits to broader biodiversity, natural habitats and ecosystem services.

Today, Namibia has well over 50% of its land under some form of formally recognised wildlife management (but probably over 70% if informal wildlife management is considered), including one of the largest contiguous areas of land under conservation in the world – its entire coast, linking to Etosha National Park and to conservation areas in both South Africa (Richtersveld) and Angola (Iona National Park) – over 25 million ha (Figure 2).

Some tourism operators and tour guides attack the hunting sector to their guests. These tourism operators and guides are undermining an important part of conservation, an important contributor to making land under wildlife competitive and, in the final analysis, they are undermining the viability of conservation as a land-use form. The greatest threat to wildlife conservation, in Namibia and globally, is land transformation. Once land is transformed, often for agricultural purposes, it has lost its natural habitats, it has lost most of its biodiversity and it can no longer support wildlife. Hunters and tourism operators should and must be on the same side – to make land under wildlife more productive than under other forms of land use. They are natural allies. They need to work together to ensure that land under wildlife derives the greatest possible returns, through a multitude of income earning activities. And where it is necessary for both hunting and tourism to take place on the same piece of land, they need to plan, collaborate and communicate so that all aspects of wildlife management and utilisation – both consumptive and non-consumptive – can take place without one impacting negatively on the other.

Conflicts between hunting and tourism are simply failures of management and communication, nothing more profound than that. But the onus should be on the hunting outfitters to ensure that there are ongoing, good communications. The onus is also on hunting outfitters, professional hunters, and the hunting sector to always maintain the highest ethical and professional standards, and to be mindful of the sensitivities of many people to the issue of hunting.

It is also the vital task and duty of tourism operators and guides to educate visitors from the urban industrialised countries about conservation in this part of the world. Visitors need to understand what drives conservation, the role of incentives, markets and what is meant by sustainable wildlife management. The tourism sector should not skirt around an uncomfortable discussion on hunting, but face it head-on and explain its importance to conservation. This is what good education is all about. Tourists come to Namibia to be enlightened, to be exposed to new ideas and to better understand the issues in this part of the world. They come here to take back new and interesting stories. What better story than Namibia’s conservation successes. But visitors need to understand it properly – its incentives, its market alignment, its strong links to the local and national economy, and its role in addressing rural poverty. It is the task of the tourism industry to help visitors understand why Namibia has one of the most successful conservation track records of any country in the world.

If we look for a moment at the conservation trajectory of a country such as the United Kingdom (an urban industrialised example) through its agrarian and industrial development, the indigenous wildlife at that time had no value. Thus, it lost the elk, wild boar, bear, wolf, lynx, beaver and sea eagle – essentially its most charismatic and important species. While small-scale attempts to re-introduce a few of the less threatening species are underway, it is unlikely that it will ever reintroduce the bear and wolf into the wild as free-ranging populations. And yet that country and others like it, with poor historic conservation track records, are keen to influence how Namibia should manage its wildlife. Its own farmers are not prepared to live with wolves, but many of their politicians and conservation agencies, both public and non-governmental, expect Namibian farmers to live with elephant, hippo, buffalo, lion, leopard, hyaena, crocodile and many other wildlife species that are far more problematic from a human-wildlife conflict perspective than a wolf. And they try to remove the very tools available to conservation to keep these animals on the land – the tools of economics, markets and sustainable use, to create value for these animals within a well-regulated, sustainably management wildlife landscape.

I believe that the problem is essentially one of ignorance. People think that they are doing what is best for conservation, but they simply do not understand the economic drivers for wildlife and biodiversity conservation in biodiversity-rich and rainfall-poor developing countries. And many African countries are sadly falling into the same trap. Kenya, for example, with its Eurocentric protectionist conservation approaches, has less wildlife today than at any time in its history. We need to share the message. And the message is, I believe, most powerfully explained using the simple graphic in Figure 3 below.

figure

Figure 3: Economic returns to conventional farming (yellow line) and to wildlife management (green line) in areas of different land productivity, with rainfall being a good proxy for productivity

A second insight from the graphic above is that the greater the value earned from wildlife, not only is the gap widened on the left side of the graph over conventional farming, but the cross-over point is pushed further to the right. This means that higher rainfall areas become competitive under wildlife management, opening more of Africa to this form of land use.The yellow line represents the return to land use under conventional farming, e.g. domestic stock and crops, across a rainfall gradient – rainfall being a proxy for land productivity. The green line shows the returns to land under wildlife. On the left side of the graph, in areas of rainfall below about 800 mm per year, returns from “indigenous production systems” – i.e. wildlife, are greater than the returns from “exotic production systems” – i.e. farming.

However, this only applies if the rights to use wildlife are devolved to land owners and custodians. Markets then create a win-win situation for optimal returns from land and for wildlife conservation in these more arid areas. If utilisation rights are not devolved, then wildlife has little value to the land owner and custodian, and people will use the land for other activities. On the right side of the graph, above about 800 mm, the lines cross over and here conventional farming outperforms wildlife management. If land owners and custodians are given rights over the wildlife and other indigenous species on their land, they will get rid of these species and transform the land for farming in response to market forces. Most of the western, industrialised world falls into the right side of the graph.

Conservation agencies and organisations from countries on the right side of the graph, and areas where rights over wildlife are not devolved to land owners, are so conditioned to resist and fight against market forces having negative conservation impacts in their countries, that they automatically carry the fight across to those countries falling into the left side of the graph and which have devolved wildlife rights, not realising that the lines have switched over and that markets here are working for conservation. This is the important message that we must get across to policy makers, conservation organisations and the broader public in the urbanised and industrialised countries. And in some other parts of Africa. People need to understand the conservation drivers, incentives and markets, as well as the role of sustainable use within good conservation policy and practice. Well-intentioned but poorly informed efforts to influence conservation in this region seriously undermine good conservation policies and practices.

Namibia’s record of environmental accomplishment speaks for itself. Through the implementation of appropriate policies, it has created incentives for wildlife conservation, unmatched anywhere in the world. But wildlife must have value otherwise land owners and custodians will move to other forms of land use. And it must have the greatest possible value to be as secure a land use as possible, over the largest possible landscape. And that is why I strongly support well-managed and ethical hunting. It is good, and in some cases essential, for the conservation of wildlife, of habitats and of biological diversity. And that is why hunting and tourism must work together, in mutually supportive ways, to optimise returns from wildlife for the land. Well managed and ethical hunting should in fact be called “conservation hunting”. And conservation hunting is essentially an integral part of tourism.

Bibliography

Barnes JI 1998. Wildlife conservation and utilisation as complements to agriculture in southern African development. Research Discussion Paper No 27, Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia. http://www.the-eis.com/data/RDPs/RDP27.pdf

Barnes JI 2001. Economic returns and allocation of resources in the wildlife sector of Botswana. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 31(3/4): 141-153.

Barnes J, et al. 2004. Preliminary valuation of the wildlife stocks in Namibia: wildlife asset accounts. Internal report, MET. Windhoek. 9 pp. http://www.the-eis.com/data/literature/Preliminary%20valuation%20of%20the%20wildlife%20stocks%20in%20Namibia_%20wildlife%20asset%20accounts.pdf

Barnes JI & de Jager JLV 1995. Economic and financial incentives for wildlife use on private land in Namibia and the implications for policy. Research Discussion Paper No 8, Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism. http://www.the-eis.com/data/RDPs/RDP08.pdf

Di Minin E, Leader-Williams N & Bradshaw CJA 2016. Banning trophy hunting will exacerbate biodiversity loss. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 31(2): 99-102.

IUCN 2016. Informing decisions on trophy hunting. IUCN Briefing Paper April 2016, 19 pp.

Lindsey P 2011. Analysis of game meat production and wildlife-based land uses on freehold land in Namibia: Links with food security. A Traffic East/Southern Africa Report. 81 pp.

Lindsey PA, Havemann CP, Lines RM, Price AE, Retief TA, Rhebergen T, van der Waal C. & Romanach S 2013. Benefits of wildlife-based land uses on private lands in Namibia and limitations affecting their development. Fauna & Flora International, Oryx 47(1): 41–53.

Munthali SM 2007. Transfrontier conservation areas: Integrating biodiversity and poverty alleviation in Southern Africa. Natural Resources Forum 31: 51-60.

NACSO 2015. The state of community conservation in Namibia. NACSO, Windhoek. 80 pp. http://www.nacso.org.na/sites/default/files/The%20State%20of%20Community%20Conservation%20book%202015.pdf

Naidoo R, Weaver LC, Diggle RW, Matongo G, Stuart-Hill G & Thouless C 2015. Complementary benefits of tourism and hunting to communal conservancies in Namibia. Conservation Biology. Published online October  13, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12643

Norton-Griffiths M 2010. The growing involvement of foreign NGOs in setting policy agendas and political decision-making in Africa. First published by Blackwell Publishing, Oxford Institute of Economic Affairs 2010. 5pp.

Ogutu JO, Piepho H-P, Said MY, Ojwang GO, Njino LW, Kifugo SC, et al. 2016. Extreme Wildlife Declines and Concurrent Increase in Livestock Numbers in Kenya: What Are the Causes? PLoS ONE 11(9): e0163249. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163249.

Stemmet E 2017. The ban on hunting in Botswana’s concession areas. African Outfitter Jan/Feb 2017: 38-42.

Wilson GR, Hayward MW & Wilson C (in press). Market-based incentives and private ownership of wildlife to remedy shortfalls in government funding for conservation. doi: 10.1111/conl.12313.

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  • Guido

    «Well-managed hunting is extremely good for conservation.»

    That’s true. In theory. But in practise there is almost no well-managed hunting existent. Also not in Namibia.

    The US Fish and Wildlife service has generally no problem, to issue permits for rhino horns, elephant tusks and much more. They are not against trophy hunting. They made a large meta study regarding trophy hunting on lions. They have evaluated all available studies on this topic. The conclusion was: Trophy hunting could be good for conservation. In theory. In Reality it’s not. Too much corruption. No reliable wildlife counts. No scientific and sustainable hunting quotas. No hunting ethics. And so on.

    Regarding the “success story” Namibia: According to official Namibian statistics (yearly conservancy reports for 2013-2015, published by NACSO/MET): All
    89 conservancies with about 190.000 people together generate only about 3
    million EUR per year from trophy hunting. And this number includes already
    the value of the meat available trough trophy hunting. Trophy hunting has created only 134 full time and
    108 part time jobs for 190.000 people in the 89 conservancies. It would
    be so easy to compensate these very tiny amounts of money and jobs
    with more sustainable measures. I acknowledge that today in some conservancies trophy hunting is a contributor to the income. But the absolute numbers are so tiny. All in all trophy hunting is not an important factor for conservation and has no future.

    And also Namibia: They had the opportunity to get an elephant count from the air at the highest standard for FREE (like all other African countries, sponsored by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen). Namibia did not want that independet count. They want to publish their unscientific elephant numbers. Why?

    Do you know something about the (desert) lion hunting in Northwest Namibia? Failure after failure. And so on.

    • Gail Potgieter

      Overall, hunting is well-managed in Namibia, if it wasn’t then the wildlife numbers graphs presented above would all show opposite trends. Yes, the quotas are not always perfectly accurate, but those are adjusted from year to year. The greatest challenge is hunting management in communal areas, as there are many stakeholders that need to be considered, and the income needs to be shared amongst a large number of people (as per the NACSO stats you quote). That is challenging, but no reason to give up altogether. On private commercial farms hunting is the only reason there is any wildlife left. Before the change in wildlife ownership laws, farms were sold as “wildlife free” – this was a key selling point that increased the value of those farms. Today, you can find farms for sale that are specifically called “game farms”, i.e. they are “livestock free”!

      As for the ‘paltry’ EU 3 million, 134 full- and 108 part-time jobs generated by conservancies. To a rural Namibian, these figures are not to be sniffed at. A person growing up in a rural area has very limited job opportunities, and many are left to subsistence farming as their only means of survival. Any job will boost the economy of their households and the welfare of their children significantly. Remember that the argument is not that hunting should replace tourism, but the two should operate together. In other words, that EU 3 million and attendant jobs is either provided through hunting, or not at all. There already is a vibrant photographic tourism industry in the country, but to expect it to produce the amount of money and the number of jobs in the same places that are currently occupied by hunters is unrealistic.

      The other option to replace the money from hunting is to donate it in a form of aid – because all these “poor Africans” can do is sit around and wait for handouts from the West. Perish the thought that they might want to be independent and actually want to work for a living, thus strengthening their own economy. How could we possibly allow a country in ‘deepest, darkest Africa’ to actually stand on its own two feet and decide what to do with its own natural resources? That is a terrible Western attitude that is one of the things pulling Africa’s development backwards. Namibia is a success story, and although a few million Euros may seem like nothing to you, the fact that they have charted their own path and earned that money from the wise use of their wildlife is cause for great national pride. As non-Namibians, we can either stand with them and be part of the solution to the ongoing challenges of reducing corruption and increasing long-term sustainability, or we can sit in judgement and denigrate their best efforts whilst trying to force our own values on them. I know which option I choose.

      • Guido

        «As for the ‘paltry’ EU 3 million, 134 full- and 108 part-time jobs generated by conservancies. To a rural Namibian, these figures are not to be sniffed at.»

        That’s the equivalent of about just 10 lodges in the conservancies. Just 10 lodges to compensate all the financial benefits and all the jobs from the hunting industry for all conservancies in Namibia. You can’t argue, it’s impossible to build 10 more lodges and that’s why we need trophy hunting forever. It’s absolutely possible. The problem is, that the failing Namibian government is not interested to replace trophy hunting. I listed the reasons already above. The MET minister regularly echoes unjustified and unscientific statements from NAPHA (The professional hunting association of Namibia).

        And look at Botswana: Everybody knows, all the wildlife is gone there. The trusts and conservancies there are devastated. There are no more visitors to National Parks. Because in Botswana trophy hunting is forbidden in all national parks, trusts and conservancies areas. And clearly it’s impossible to have conservation success without trophy hunting. Right? That’s your argumentation. And it’s clearly wrong.

        «Remember that the argument is not that hunting should replace tourism, but the two should operate together.»
        It’s impossible to have trophy hunting and photo tourism in the same area. Trophy hunting always destroys the most iconic animals. A trophy hunter, who pays 50.000 USD for a lion hunt (3,000 for the conservancy. 40,000 for the outfitter, …) does not want to shoot an old, rattling, shaggy lion. They want to shoot always the most magnificent lion, because it’s the most magnificent trophy. That’s usually the lion with the most important role in nature and most important for photo tourism.

        And hunting pressure changes the behaviour of wildlife. There was a nice herd of elephants. Always accessible on game drives for the surrounding lodges. One elephant of the herd was shot by trophy hunters. Now the whole herd reacts anxious to aggressive to humans/cars and is no longer accessible for photo tourism. And the older cows will probably “teach” the anxious to aggressive reaction on cars to younger generations for a long time. That must be the sustainable effect of trophy hunting.

        «The other option to replace the money from hunting is to donate it in a form of aid – because all these “poor Africans” can do is sit around and wait for handouts from the West.»
        I never said that. It seems this is your attitude. I don’t want to give aid and to make them to beggars for all time. We should help to educate them and to start sustainable businesses.

        Trophy hunting is not sustainable. If you don’t agree, than please bring the prove, that the large meta study of the trophy hunting friendly US Fish and Wildlife service is wrong. Please prove, that Botswana is doing worse regarding conservation than Namibia.

        To make a compromise: I have no problem with trophy hunting on private farms. The shooting of lions, elephants and other key species is usually not possible on these hunting farms. And the hunting farms are usually fenced. The shooting there does not affect photo tourism in the surroundings. For a transitional period I could also accept shooting of antelopes, zebra, buffalos in some conservancies without photo tourism, but it should have an end date. Maybe in 10 years.

        • Jamie Smith

          Interesting solution you propose at the end. It makes sense to me.

        • Gail Potgieter

          One needs to look at the issue on a much finer scale, hence my bringing in individuals and their households. I agree entirely that photographic tourism is a better option, where it is viable. The problem is, it isn’t financially viable in every conservancy, or other part of Africa. People come to see abundant wildlife in photogenic locations. Not all of Africa is like that in its natural state. There are many areas of Namibia and Botswana that are flat thornveld with few permanent water sources. Animals may move through these areas during certain seasons, but few herds are resident, and predators are rare. A photographic safari in such a location would involve a lodge without a view, and a game drive for several hours with one or two sightings. Will tourists spend their hard-earned money on such an experience? If not, what do you do with this land? The local people have a good use for it – livestock, lots of it. This leads to overgrazing, reduced natural prey populations, increased human-predator conflict, and finally an area that is a no-go zone for all wildlife. But what if this rather unattractive area is actually an important corridor between two protected areas? Who will fund its protection, and will that funding be sustainable into the indefinite future?

          Maybe one day there will be a market for people to pay top dollar to come and view a few thorn trees, but until that time, we need another way to keep at least some wildlife moving through these areas. One option, as unpalatable as it may be, is to designate these less desirable chunks of land as hunting areas. Perhaps there may be an ‘end date’ for hunting some time in the future, but banning hunting now would cause more harm than good. If people can come up with innovative ways of adding value to places that are currently undervalued, without pulling a trigger, then all conservationists would welcome that innovation.

          Finally, the core of the debate, for me, is wildlife ownership. That is the critical point for Namibia’s success story. I have sat in community meetings where the people reduced the hunting quota of a species of antelope that occurred in their area, because they wanted to boost its population. They realised that that animal belonged to them, and their decisions regarding its management would have repercussions for the future. Another conservancy decided that they did not need hunting in their area, and they rely entirely on income from photographic tourism. No one forced them into these decisions, they took them of their own initiative.

          In short, Africans need to have a real stake in Africa’s wildlife. Once they have that, they can choose the best way to manage it, and with education and effort spent on the ground, we can help guide their decisions using good information. If we trample over their rights to govern their own countries and conservancies, particularly in the name of “conservation”, then we merely shoot ourselves in the foot.

          • Guido

            That’s so funny.

            «People come to see abundant wildlife in photogenic locations. Not all of Africa is like that in its natural state. There are many areas of
            Namibia and Botswana that are flat thornveld with few permanent water sources.»
            Well, that’s exactly the description for the Etosha Nationalpark. Very boring flat landscape. Flat thornveld/bushveld with few permanent water sources. No natural rivers or seas. No mountains. Just 2 tiny hills in the west and a pan. And you are telling me photo tourism is not possible there? It’s by far the biggest tourism hot spot in Namibia!

            «Will tourists spend their hard-earned money on such an experience?»
            Yes they do. Hundred thousands each year in Etosha. And you know it. And it’s possible to repeat the success in other regions. What Namibia needs:
            – better tourism marketing. So far the NTB is a total fail.
            – tourism related education in the conservancies
            – funding for tourism related investments.

            The MET has recently started the Tourism Development Bank. If the do it the right way, then this bank could have a big impact to enable much more photo tourism in the conservancies.

            Namibia is nearly as large as South Africa. Etosha NP is larger than Kruger NP. South Africa has 10 times more tourists than Namibia. Maybe Namibia can not reach the same level, because South Africa is more diverse. But it should be possible to get minimum 5 times the tourists, that visit Namibia today.

            «Finally, the core of the debate, for me, is wildlife ownership. That is
            the critical point for Namibia’s success story. »
            It doesn’t matter if the wildlife belongs to the locals or someone else. It’s only important that the locals have a benefit from the wildlife. Then they will protect it. And as far as I know the conservancies have never the ownership for certain species e.g. Rhinos on their conservancy land. Doesn’t matter.

            «I have sat in community meetings where the people reduced the hunting quota of a species of antelope that occurred in their area, because they wanted to boost its population. »
            I know and it’s a good thing. But it’s also prove that (trophy) hunting in Namibia is not sustainable. There are no reliable wildlife count, no scientific and sustainable hunting quotes. Not for own use hunting and not for trophy hunting. Smart people in the conservancies (e.g. Anabeb) in the Kunene region have learned, that the hunting quotas by the MET are much to high and not sustainable. Most of the wildlife would be gone in some years if they use the full quotas.

          • Gail Potgieter

            My description is nothing like Etosha, which does have abundant wildlife (not as much as a high-rainfall area, but a lot, nonetheless). Anyone who has parked at a waterhole in Etosha for longer than 5 seconds will say that it is a great wildlife viewing experience, with as many as six different species with hundreds of individuals coming to drink at the same time. Alternatively, tourists go to one of the camp waterholes at night and have near-guaranteed rhino or elephant sightings. It is flat, yes, and I personally prefer the more mountainous parts of the country, but the open plains and pans have their own kind of allure. All in all, Etosha is well worth the money people spend to go there.

            The area I was describing is in the eastern part of the country, north of Gobabis and around the Okakarara area, going east towards the border and north up towards Tsumkwe. Much of it is characterised by dense thorn bush, and it is very difficult to spot any animals in this region. Few tourists venture here, but there are several commercial game farms that rely mostly on hunting, and some struggling communal conservancies. Furthermore, we are not debating National Parks like Etosha – wildlife conservation without hunting is a given in Parks, so there is no debate. The debate is what to do with the areas outside NPs, where people live.

            I agree completely that Namibia needs to market itself better, as the tourism industry can certainly grow. It is one of the most under-rated countries by tourists, and that should change. In particular, I think the north-western conservancies should chart a future towards photographic tourism only, as it has an incredible landscape. Even with relatively few wildlife sightings (due to extreme arid conditions), this region is a photographer’s dream. However, as any lodge operator will tell you, working with conservancies is not the easiest way of making a living, so the establishment of new lodges happens at quite a slow rate. Furthermore, with the limited marketing problem, not all of the lodges in this beautiful area actually make a profit. Until they do, and more of them are established and also make profits, there will be a role for hunting to keep the conservancies afloat and to ensure that wildlife still has a value in the eyes of conservancy members.

            As for the struggling conservancies in the less attractive east, a lot of time and effort needs to be spent in terms of education there, as people are still unconvinced by the conservancy model. In these areas, they need to be incentivised to grow their wildlife populations and rely less on livestock. Certainly in the short-term future, that incentive can really only be created through hunting. For many of those conservancies, the long-term future is also a reliance on sustainable use (trophies and/or meat). The point is, we need to be flexible and open-minded, and allow people to chart their own future.

            Finally, with regards to wildlife ownership. A hunter will tell you that the reason Kenya’s wildlife is in a crisis today is because there is no hunting. I believe that that is not the real issue. The real issue is that the people no longer feel that wildlife has anything to do with them. Wildlife are seen as “the government’s cattle”, or perhaps even “the white man’s cattle”. Just outside the spectacular reserves that host five star lodges that rake in money from wildlife, there are people who don’t see the wildlife as important in anyway. These same people may live on government grants that are partly funded by tourism, their kids may even go to schools that are funded by tourism, but the link is too indirect to really hit home the message that wildlife has a real value. There are some places in Kenya that give people a bigger stake in wildlife, with the monetary benefits being directly linked with conservation; these are their success stories. However, they are in a political environment that makes their work an uphill battle, and they are limited to specific areas of the country where they work. Getting communities to value wildlife in Namibia is easy in comparison, because of the government policies that allow real ownership.

            If people are given a real stake, with real decision-making powers over wildlife, and they are fully informed of how the wildlife is used, and where the money that is generated is going, then we are getting somewhere. With true empowerment, you get changed attitudes, with changed attitudes, you get co-operation towards a common goal, with education and far-sighted community leaders, that common goal is conservation.

          • Jamie Smith

            Gail you are up against people who have not been to the places in question. They have never been to the vast mopane / mimobo / appleleaf areas that cover much of southern Africa – where animals move through now and then. They have a Disney perspective of Africa – they think that Africa is all like Etosha, Mara and Kruger. – with permanent water and food. Logic and experience are simply not going to work when their response is cut and paste activism.

          • Guido

            Yes, Jamie you know exactly nothing about me, but surely you can judge which areas in Namibia I have been. Tells a lot about you.

          • Guido

            @gailpotgieter:disqus
            I agree that photo tourism is more complicated in thes conservancies between Gobabis and Rundu. But i’m sure it’s possible.

            There was already more tourism in that region 5-10 years ago then today (despite much higher tourist numbers in Namibia today). But Tsumkwe Lodge was very badly managed and overpriced for a long time. Campsites in Khaudum NP were totally run down. Sikereti is currently a nightmare for most tourists. As far as I know the campsites in the Naye-Naye conservancy are also not operated anymore. Of cource all this has affected tourism in Khaudum NP and surrounding conservancies. If you can’t offer any type of accomodation, you will hardly see any tourists. But I really believe: Khaudum NP is a jewel and surrounding conservancies like Naye-Naye, Ondjou, .. have similar landscape, flora, fauna. Tourism is possible there.

            They built a new luxury lodge at the old Khadum camp (not open yet). They build a new campsite at the Khaudum Camp (open and beautiful). Currently they are upgrading gates, roads and ranger camps to get more tourists into Khaudum NP. Tsumkwe lodge has a new management (TUCSIN). They will rebuild Sikereti Camp. Surrounding conservancies can profit from this development. But of course they need to offer something.

            I see regularly questions from tourists: is there any lodge, camp or campsite between Tsumkwe and Gobabis? Because they are not interested to drive 450km on gravel in one day. But there is nothing (just the Harnas zoo before Gobabis). So they often take another route and there are hardly any tourists in these conservancies. Namibia is trying to promote some off-the-beaten-tracks routes for self drive tourists (like the arid eden route, omulunga route). But there is no route through the eastern conservancies.

            Build 1-2 camps/campsite and build something special around these
            camps. Something, that’s not available anywhere else in Nambia. Build a bunker directly on a waterhole (like Senyati in
            Botswana). It’s not that expensive and an amazing experience.

            And as I already wrote: If there is some hunting for a transitional period: OK. But as I already wrote too: Hunting is not scalable. It’s not the solution in the long time. Just hunting means, the people in these conservancies will live in poverty forever.

          • Gail Potgieter

            Tsumkwe and North (i.e. “Bushmanland”) has a lot of potential, and I would love to see more developments in and around Khaudum. That area should be drawing more tourists than it does at the moment. I have less hope for the others south of Tsumkwe and north of Gobabis, however. I have spent many exceedingly boring hours driving through that region, and I really can’t imagine enough tourists coming who would pay enough money to get even one of those conservancies off the ground. Firstly, you need an investor with money to burn, who doesn’t mind working with some of the most notoriously difficult conservancies in the country – let me know when you find one of those…

            I feel that the best bet, without writing off the whole area in terms of wildlife conservation, is to help them imitate some of the commercial hunting farms. To do that, they need to know more about game management and long-term sustainability. Even having some wildlife in amongst the livestock in the area would be preferable to the way it is now. At the moment if a pack of wild dogs sets foot in that area, they get killed. Cheetahs and leopards may fare a little better, because they’re better at hiding! If there was just some game there, then the dogs would be much less of a problem, and may have some chance of moving through the region. As for the communities, at the moment their heavy reliance on cattle and overgrazed rangeland results in a crisis every time there is a below-average rainy season. Any diversification of income would be an improvement on the status quo. I’m not saying that hunting will bring them untold millions, just that it is a viable, sustainable way of getting them some income and helping improve local attitudes towards wildlife.

            Even the Kunene conservancies, which are so blessed with natural beauty, still have a way to go before they can all switch 100% to photographic tourism. My main contention is that anti-hunting rants on the Internet aren’t helping. Prof. David Macdonald, who is so good with words, suggests that if trophy hunting really cannot be tolerated in the modern world, then we should embark on a ‘journey’ to get to the point where it is no longer needed, rather than taking a ‘jump’ to ban it straight away. This has the added benefit of showing local communities that we are willing to take this journey with them, rather that impose bans from the outside. It looks like you and I have come to a similar conclusion.

          • Guido

            The MET has relocated thousands of animals into other conservancies. It should be possible for the conservancies between Tsumkwe and Gobabis too. Landscape and fauna is similar to Khaudum. With some waterholes it should be possible to enable some tourism. And if there is a chain of some nice waterholes and 2-3 nice camps between Tsumkwe and Gobabis, then it should be possible to bring tourists on that route.

            You’re right: It’s hard to find investors for most conservancies (and it will be probably even harder with NEEEF). I hope the new Tourism Development Bank will improve the situation. They “just” need ideas, education and a concept. There are so many ideas. You mentioned wild dogs in that area. Why is it not possible to establish something like a special wild dog reserve in one or more of the conservancies? There are no wild dogs in Etosha and most parts of Namibia. Could be a huge attraction if marketed accordingly. Look at something like the Rhino sanctuary near Serowe in Botswana: 90% very boring flat bushveld and hard to spot any animal, but it works.Tourists on the way to/from northern Botswana stop there for 1 or 2 nights.

            And it’s not about a rant against trophy hunting. All that is being asked for is the proof for the hunters’ claims. We hear over and over again, that trophy hunting is the solution. There is no evidence for these claims. Looking at the hard numbers and statistics it’s very clear, that trophy hunting is not the solution in the long term. At best it’s better than nothing and it is in some conservancies a measure for a transitional period. Of course trophy hunting has the advantage, that it does not need investments or education to start with trophy hunting in a conservancy. And it’s perfect for every type of corruption (More than half of the conservancies in Namibia are basically without any accounting).

            «Prof. David Macdonald, who is so good with words, suggests that if
            trophy hunting really cannot be tolerated in the modern world, then we should embark on a ‘journey’ to get to the point where it is no longer needed, rather than taking a ‘jump’ to ban it straight away.»

            I totally agree. But I don’t agree with people, who basically say “There is no need to “embark” on that journey, because trophy hunting is already the best way for conservation and to empower the people in the conservancies. It is not and it will never be. And not because of animal rights. It’s just mathematics.

          • Gail Potgieter

            They have tried to relocate red hartebeest into the area near Okakarara (A.K.A. “Hereroland”), and failed. The main reason is that no one as put in the considerable amount of effort required to really get communities on board with the conservancy idea. Garth Owen-Smith started working with communities in the Kunene region in the early 80’s, and they were able to translocate animals into these areas relatively recently (00’s, if I’m not mistaken). No such consistent, on-the-ground effort has been spent in Hereroland, so relocating a lot of wildlife into the area is destined to fail at this point in time. Similarly, without changing attitudes and subsequently increasing prey species, encouraging wild dogs in the area is also a pipe dream at the moment, as they don’t mix well with livestock farmers. I’m not saying we should throw in the towel, but rather someone needs to put in at least two decades of community work in the area before it will reap any benefits for wildlife.

            As for moving from no wildlife, to hunting, to photographic tourism, the best option for conservancies is to follow the model set by commercial farmers. The wildlife numbers increasing on commercial farmland was started by granting ownership of wildlife to land owners. This led to a number of livestock farmers starting small hunting operations (often just for biltong) on the side to supplement their other farming activities. These biltong/livestock farmers soon realised that they could make more money through trophy hunting, but that requires more effort game and rangeland management. So they started rather basic hunting camps, bought in some species that hunters particularly look for (e.g. Sable), and increased the populations of the already resident game (e.g. Kudu). Many successful game farmers stopped farming livestock altogether. Some of these hunting farms are well located along the major roads of Namibia (e.g. the B1), so they saw an opportunity to expand their market into photographic tourism, particularly out of hunting season. This mixed photographic and hunting approach can work quite well, and ensures that not all of your eggs are in one basket (i.e. if the Ebola virus scares off the photographic tourists, your hunting clients are likely to come anyway). Some of these farms have joined up with neighbours to form commercial conservancies and manage their game over a much larger area than one farm. A subset of these, particularly the biggest ones that had the most capital to invest, have finally become private wildlife reserves that rely solely on income from photographic tourism (e.g. Erindi and NamibRand Nature Reserve). Not all farms have switched to photographic tourism only, as they don’t attract enough tourists to do this. The journey from no wildlife through to a mix of hunting and photographic tourism on commercial farms has happened gradually over the last 40 years (since the 1975 change in the legislation), and it is still developing.

            The situation on commercial farms isn’t perfect, but give it another 10-20 years and with the right incentives and government willpower, wildlife management could improve even further (e.g. taking down more fences). Communal conservancies are a lot more complicated than commercial farms, for two main reasons (amongst others): 1) there are many more people who are “managers” of the wildlife; 2) because they don’t own the land, they are vulnerable to a tragedy of the commons situation for their resources such as grazing. I think it is possible for communal conservancies to follow the pattern of commercial conservancies, and even be better for wildlife conservation in the long run, as they are not game fenced. However, given the two issues above, I would estimate possibly 60 years from the law change in 1996 to transform conservancies from livestock farming only (e.g. Hereroland) to mixed hunting/tourism conservancies, a few of which may luck out and become photographic tourism only. They also require more NGO and government guidance to get off the ground than the commercial farms.

            I see hunting’s role as follows: it provides a way for communities to start managing their wildlife with minimal infrastructure and investment, thus providing a route towards photographic tourism (just as it did for many commercial farmers). However, it may also play a long-term role in areas where ecotourism may never fully develop, thus providing some incentive to still maintain wildlife in human-dominated landscapes (as it does on commercial livestock farms). It is not the solution to all conservation problems, far from it. It is also never going to be a sole provider of income for rural people, rather just a supplement and a means of economic diversification. It is a pragmatic means to this end: keeping areas between National Parks, with low to medium tourism potential, wildlife-friendly enough so that the Parks don’t become islands of refuge in a sea of intolerance.

            I highly recommend this article and its associated full-length report, for an in-depth view of the statistics and reasoning behind why carnivore conservationists still see a role for trophy hunting: https://www.wildcru.org/news/lion-conservation-report-question-responses/

    • BANG ON GUIDO!. The hunting fraternity keep coming out with these tired old arguments that don’t stand up to the real world. In countries like Tanzania hunting generates around $70 million dollars a year but eco- toursim was nearer $2.2 BILLION IN 2015. 500,000 Jobs were linked with tourism. 85 % of all tourism was wildlife related.
      And some bright sparks think the best thing to do would be to shoot all the lions leopards and elephants. As for being well managed – well little stands up against a good bribe does it.

      • Jamie Smith

        Chris, you are just continuing the endless cut and past arguments. READ the article and address the specific issue at hand. This is not about shooting “all the lions and leopards and elephants” – that’s just blind activist speak. In this case wildlife populations (incl lions, leopards and elephants) have increased. Read the article. Then ask questions based on the matter at hand. Please.

        • I was quoting Tanzania if you read what I said. Maybe you are un corrupt in Namibia (which I find hard to believe) but in most of Africa hunting as a conservation measure is a non starter compared with eco tourism. Question is why doesn’t Namibia develop a non consumptive style of wildlife management instead of killing stuff? Desert lions and elephants?

          I do believe its the hunting fraternity who cite the outdated arguments.

          • Jamie Smith

            I think you are confusing me for the author? I am just an open-minded retired pilot who has flown many anti-poaching and veterinary crews around Africa on missions to save individual animals and people. More classic antagonistic vomit activist nonsense from you. Focus and refine your comments please.

          • If you really think my comments are ‘vomit activist nonsense’ then you are completely beyond the pale. They are based on sound government produced figures, well documented research and observations made in the field. I don’t resort to personal abuse when discussing these things, but I conclude that you have to use it as a weapon of last resort as you have no reasonable argument left.

            It’s a shame that concerned people like myself are labelled as ‘armchair activists’ and the like by people who know nothing about us or our circumstances. This seems to be an attempt to denigrate our viewpoint, as though we can’t possibly know anything as we aren’t continually ‘in the field’. Well the news is – this is the 21st century, the age of instant global digital communication. We don’t have to await a sailboat to come around the Cape to bring us information of Africa any more, and we can assimilate information from many sources at once to get an overall balanced view.

            The world is moving on from the times of Ernest Hemingway.

          • Gail Potgieter

            The arguments are not outdated, nor are hunters the sole proponents of sustainable use. Here is an example: https://www.wildcru.org/news/lion-conservation-report-question-responses/

  • solophotog

    You make a compelling argument. But, as with most divisive issues, there are many different shades and layers beneath the surface argument. As somebody mentioned earlier, good theory does not always lead to good practice. I did an interview a number of years ago with Kenyan conservationist and BBC presenter Saba Douglas-Hamilton, who — specific to lions — noted that trophy hunters want the best trophy they can get, and why wouldn’t they, given the prices they’re paying. That means they want the pride male, not the weak second sister. Nobody, not even a fat dentist from Minnesota, is going to pay tens of thousands of dollars to shoot a mangy, moth-eaten cripple that’s half-dead already anyway, let alone mount the stuffed head on their trophy wall back home. No, the fat dentist from Minnesota wants a trophy — Cecil — on his wall that all his friends and neighbours will admire and slobber over. As Douglas-Hamilton pointed out, the problem is, when you constantly take out the best trophy specimen, it isn’t long before you completely wreck the social dynamic in the pride. I’m sure what is true of lions is true of other trophy animals.

  • Attie Heunis

    An important question is “what are you conserving”? If you are conserving a playground for the wealthy where the natural ecosystem is grossly undermined by the requirements and effects of trophy hunting? Then yes trophy hunting results in “conservation”.

    But for the TRUE conservation of wilderness – where animals adapt or die per the laws of nature without the interference of people who are perversely stimulated by destroying precious life, there is no doubt that Trophy Hunting is not conducive to conservation.

    I think that by lending credence to this false notion of conservation, we are not only doing irreparable harm to nature (in the true sense of the word – not the ridiculous idea of a captively bred lion being natural), but we are also normalizing abhorrent behavior that has no place in modern society. People don’t allow their pets to be hunted. If you shoot a cat or a dog it’s a crime, yet shooting a majestic wild animal for fun is somehow OK.

    There is no doubt about the numbers. Trophy Hunting doesn’t bring a fraction of the funds into Africa that real conservation does. The truth is that Trophy Hunting is easy money. It only requires an animal (no matter how sick, drugged or raised) and a bit of open space to make money.

    Trophy Hunting is evil and in future generations people will feel the same way about it that they do now about Apartheid and Slavery. Back then the proponents also had these charming ideas about how it’s actually good for the Negroes to be enslaved. Now we know what we justified back then was plainly wrong. As is is Trophy Hunting.

    It needs to stop.

    • Jamie Smith

      What has this to do with this specific article? Yours is another generic anti-hunting rant. As a non-hunter I am appalled at how many comments come from people who have not had the decency to actually read the article.

    • Gail Potgieter

      The true conservation of wilderness is what happens in Africa’s beautiful National Parks and Game Reserves, most of which rely solely on photographic tourism to stay operational (even some of these do not break even, but governments subsidise their costs). No one suggests hunting in core wildlife areas, such as Etosha NP.

      The issue is outside of these ‘wilderness’ areas. People still live out there, and there are more of them than ever before. In some cases, they even invade these areas, or push their livestock in to graze in the ‘wilderness’. They have needs that are ignored at our peril. The key threats to lions and other wildlife are from these areas on the edge of wildlife reserves: habitat encroachment and degradation, and human-wildlife conflict. If we do not address these issues, then our treasured “wilderness” will become increasingly small islands in a sea of humanity and livestock.

      These are the threats we are up against, and the ones that need to be addressed urgently, especially for lions and other large carnivores. A core conservation goal in these areas beyond the Parks is to create sustainable incentives for people to tolerate dangerous wildlife (lions, elephants, etc.), and to not poach all of the available prey species. In some places, photographic tourism comes to the rescue, although not all lodge operators in all countries actually contribute meaningfully to local communities (that is another issue). In other places, there is no lodge, and they don’t lend themselves to photographic tourism (see one of my comments further down).

      The people living in these non-photogenic areas still need some incentive to keep wildlife around. We could either pour money into the areas as a type of conservation ‘aid’ programme, or we could allow them to realise the economic value of their wildlife through managed hunting. Poaching is a system where every man/women hunts for themselves. It is a true case of the tragedy of the commons, as each individual realises that if they hunt less, their neighbour will just hunt more, so they will ultimately lose out. It is a race to see who can kill animals at the most efficient rate, before they become locally extinct. Managed hunting, whether it be for meat for the community only, or for community meat and a trophy for a foreign client, provides a mechanism to prevent the tragedy of the commons scenario. With education and a good structure in place, individual community members understand that the resource isn’t going to be driven to extinction, and that they and their children can keep benefitting from it well into the future. Wild animals then become a sort of “secondary livestock” that people encourage, rather than kill on sight. It might not be pretty, but this is the face of conservation in areas that camera-toting tourists never see.

AG Kariega Photo Safari
Wildshot Safari
Africa Geographic