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Missing the Mark: African trophy hunting fails to show consistent conservation benefits

The pressure on the trophy hunting industry to take increased responsibility for its impact on endangered and threatened species is growing, with the US now assessing the impact of their trophy hunting activities on African wildlife. The Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources has published 25-page report discussing the failure of trophy hunting in conserving species in many areas of Africa.

The report discusses successful and failing programmes in depth, but for those don’t wish to read the entire document here are the key findings. Of course any summary will neglect the detail, so the best option is to download and study the full report. Any omission is in the interests of expediency and any implied bias is unintended.

EH 7018P Ernest Hemingway on safari, Africa. January, 1934. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway on safari, Africa. January, 1934. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Introduction

The report acknowledges that although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) official stance is that trophy hunting industry, “can and has provided significant long-term benefits to the populations of many species” in many instances this has not been the case.

The report then goes on to examine under what conditions trophy hunting may contribute to conservation highlighting that, “in places like the United States, where laws against wildlife poaching are generally well respected and enforced and transparent mechanisms funnel taxes and fees generated by hunters to effective conservation programs, hunting has helped restore populations of some prized game species” however in parts of Africa trophy hunting has not helped species.

The report examines the effects of trophy hunting on five major threatened or endangered game species (the African elephant, African lion, black rhinoceros, southern white rhinoceros, and leopard) in four African countries (Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe), noting that the laws, institutions, and capacity necessary to make trophy hunting benefit conservation are often lacking.

It notes that there is a responsibility on the FWS to significantly improve its permitting process to ensure that trophy hunting doesn’t destroy existing populations of these species.

Important findings of the report

1.    Scientists believe that Earth is now on the cusp of a sixth great extinction – the first one driven by humans. A major driver of this extinction event is poaching and trophy hunting and, although poaching is a major driver, trophy hunting does remove significant numbers of animals and appears to be the primary driver of certain animal (such as lion) declines.

2.    While some species can support a level of hunting, this report focuses on Threatened or Endangered animals, where there is little margin for error in managing these species.

3.    American hunters of these species have the financial means to ensure that they are acting responsibly and not promoting practices that are detrimental to wildlife. This of great importance as the US is the largest importer of wildlife trophies in the world.

4.    It is clear from this report and others that these hunters do not always act ethically or in a way that promotes wildlife conservation – as demonstrated by the killing of Cecil the Lion. In addition, there is no evidence that trophy hunting lessens the rate of poaching, despite claims to the contrary.

5.    In order to prevent these types of practices a strong legal framework that promotes conservation in the source countries is required. In addition, hunting outfitters need to demonstrate conservation benefits. Obviously where corruption levels are high, trophy hunting ‘benefits’ are negligible or nil.

6.    The findings of this report were that in many instances funds that should have been used for conservation, were diverted from their purpose and instances of non-sporting methods of hunting are increasing. In addition some species are being hunted at a rate that out-paces reproduction making the justification of trophy hunting very difficult.

7.    The report does note that not all trophy hunting operations were a failure, with Namibia’s conservancy model working well to conserve wildlife and enhance local welfare.

8.   On the importer side the FWS has only required one import permit from 2010-2014, even though 2,700 permit-eligible trophies were imported during that time. Failing to do so meant that the FWS did not collect data which is of vital importance as many individuals or organisations are known to repeatedly violate wildlife laws.

9.   Instead the FWS often uses data generated by external organisations, including Safari Club International (SCI) – the biggest advocacy organisation for trophy hunting. At times the FWS may not disclose the sources of data aside from authors without naming affiliation(s). Recent external evaluations of SCI ‘surveys’ found no scientific merit in any of them.

10.  The report states the FWS is not making use of its position to ensure American trophy hunters are not making bad situations worse for African wildlife species.

Conclusions and recommendations

Benefits of trophy hunting cannot be assumed. There can be benefits but only under specific conditions were corruption levels are low, legal frameworks are strong and there is transparency with regards to conservation funding practices.

American organisations need to do more to ensure that trophy hunting does not decimate struggling wildlife populations. Data collection from impartial and scientifically sound studies, and the enforcing of permits is one way the FWS could assist in African countries to conserve their wildlife.

In addition the FWS should not continue to allow imports without verifying that these imports do actually enhance species conservation. Loopholes need to be closed and import permitting requirements need to be tightened.

Finally, the report recommends that the trophy fees should be increased to fund scientific research and conservation and that trophies should only be imported from fair chase methods.



Carolynne Geary

Carolynne is a South African who has returned after a decade here, there and almost everywhere. During her travels she gained a Masters in Conservation from University College London, taught in a Mexican university, managed a language school in Italy and became a field guide in the African bush. She is passionate about conservation, photography, languages and Italian gelato. The views expressed in her posts are her own. Connect with her on Facebook.

Africa Geographic