The pressure on the trophy hunting industry to reform is growing, with the European Union now considering restrictions on the importation of hunting trophies. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published a 19-page report urging decision makers to exercise caution and make their decisions wisely.
The report makes for interesting reading, and I have extracted some important points below for those who don’t wish to read the entire document. 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.
The report acknowledges upfront that the trophy hunting industry has cases of weak governance, corruption, lack of transparency, excessive quotas, illegal hunting, poor monitoring and other problems in a number of countries. And it stresses that these poor practices require urgent action and reform.
The report also stresses that well regulated trophy hunting programmes can and do play an important role in delivering benefits for both wildlife conservation and the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities living with wildlife.
In conclusion, the report suggests that decisions made to restrict or end trophy hunting programmes should only be implemented after exploration of ways to improve on the current poor hunting standards. These decisions should be based on sound analysis of the role that trophy hunting does play in conservation efforts and community livelihoods, and be made after meaningful consultation with affected parties, as well as the implementation of alternatives to trophy hunting that deliver equal or greater benefits over the long-term.
12 important observations from IUCN
1. In many parts of the world indigenous communities have chosen trophy hunting as a strategy for conservation of their wildlife and to improve sustainable livelihoods.
2. ‘Trophy hunting’ (where the hunter pays a fee to kill an animal with a desired characteristic, such as horn size) is often incorrectly confused with ‘canned hunting’ (hunting of animals in small enclosures where they cannot escape) and with ‘poaching’ (illegal killing of animals).
3. Trophy hunting revenue goes to the hunting operator, community/landowner and government.
4. The impact of trophy hunting on conservation can be negative, neutral or positive – however, good evidence is lacking so it’s difficult to evaluate accurately.
5. Negative conservation impacts can include over-harvesting, artificial selection for rare or exaggerated features, genetic impacts (such as reduced horn size), introduction of species or subspecies beyond their natural range, and predator removal.
6. Positive conservation impacts can include incentives and revenue for landowners / communities to conserve or restore wildlife on their land (including the funding of anti-poaching activities) and increased tolerance amongst communities for living with wildlife, reducing the effects of human-wildlife conflicts and reducing illegal killing.
7. The overall negative impact of trophy hunting on populations of large animals is negligible – with unsustainable trophy hunting leading to drops in only a small number of populations. The primary causes of population declines are habitat loss, poaching and human-animal conflict.
8. When it comes to the degree of financial and infrastructural benefit for communities from trophy hunting, as well as their involvement in decision making and respect for rights, the scale ranges from insignificant to significant.
9. Removal of trophy hunting from those areas where there are indeed positive benefits could result in the decline of populations in certain iconic species that are hunted (elephants, rhinos, buffalo), as well as species such as wild dog that are not hunted. In addition, those already marginalised communities would lose their decision-making abilities.
10. Photographic tourism has generated enormous benefits for conservation. However, it is viable over only a very limited percentage of the wildlife area currently managed for trophy hunting. Tourism requires political stability, proximity to good transport links, minimal disease risks, high density wildlife populations, scenic landscapes, high capital investment, infrastructure (hotels, food and water supply, waste management), and local skills and capacity. Tourism and trophy hunting are frequently highly complementary land uses when separated by time or space. Like trophy hunting, if not carefully implemented, tourism can have serious environmental impacts and can return a very low level of benefit to local communities, with most value captured offshore or by in-country elites.
11. Trophy hunting practices can be improved by actively engaging with relevant countries in order to increase transparency in funding flows, community benefits, allocation of concessions and quota setting; strengthening of rights and responsibilities of indigenous peoples and local communities; and improving monitoring of populations and of hunts.
12. Conditional, targeted import suspensions that address identified problems could help improve trophy hunting practice in certain instances. Bans are unlikely to improve conservation outcomes unless there is a clear expectation that improved standards will lead to the ban being lifted, and the country has the capacity, as well as the political will, to address the problem. It is, therefore, critical to also provide funding and technical support for this process, and that the status of the initial problem is reviewed after a specified period.
The report also provides a number of case studies where trophy hunting has provided positive conservation and livelihood benefits, including some African examples:
1. Rhinos in South Africa and Namibia, which together hold 90% of African populations. In SA white rhino numbers increased from 1,800 in 1968 to 18,400 after the introduction of trophy hunting, and in SA and Namibia black rhinos increased from 2,520 in 2004 to 3,500.
2. Private wildlife lands in Zimbabwe, including the Save Valley Conservancy and Bubye Valley Conservancy where trophy hunting has led to large areas being restocked and managed as wildlife reserves.
3. Remote communal conservancies in Namibia, which on average derive half their benefits from photographic tourism and half from trophy hunting. Half of the conservancies are 100% reliant on trophy hunting to cover costs and create benefits, and only 12% are able to satisfy all of their requirements from photographic tourism. Wildlife populations in communal conservancies have increased dramatically since the introduction of trophy hunting, and Namibia’s elephant population has increased from 7,500 in 1995 to more than 20,000 today, partly due to trophy hunting in the conservancies. Namibia now has a large free roaming lion population outside of national parks.
4. Sometimes in areas where trophy hunting is poorly managed, there are still benefits that cannot be ignored. Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is one such example. Over the last decade Selous has suffered devastating levels of organised commercial elephant poaching for the illegal ivory trade, associated with serious allegations of official corruption and alleged complicity from elements of the hunting industry. The revenue generated from legal trophy hunting helps to fight this poaching, and without it there is little hope of stemming the tide.