Trophy hunting in Africa is a complicated subject. Read on to learn how Botswana’s ban on hunting is hurting both the people and wildlife populations there.
Ever since the Cecil the Lion scandal erupted, calls from anti-hunting groups all over the world to ban trophy hunting in Africa have grown more and more strident.
However, by looking at present conditions in Botswana, which banned virtually all trophy hunting in 2013, we can get a glimpse into a bleak future for both the people of Africa and wildlife populations there if all trophy hunting in Africa were banned.
It was once one of the premier destinations for trophy hunting in Africa, but conditions in Botswana have rapidly deteriorated since the government enacted a virtual ban on hunting. The village of Sankuyo, located in northern Botswana near the Okavango Delta, is a microcosm of the problems that surfaced when hunting in the country stopped.
Each evening the villagers cower in fear as emboldened lions and leopards prey on goats, cattle, and donkeys. While lions and leopards prey on livestock, elephants raid fields and make short work of corn and watermelon crops.
In addition to livestock depredation, attacks on people by the big cats are rising exponentially across the country. The people of Botswana are responding in kind and poaching is skyrocketing as people deal with problem animals on their own.
Obviously, poaching is unregulated and poachers do not make distinctions between young and old or male and female animals. They simply kill what they encounter without regard to the long-term prospects of the wildlife populations in the area. This is in sharp contrast to properly-regulated trophy hunting in Africa, which normally targets only old males.
Back when trophy hunting was still legal in Botswana, the people received a share of the proceeds from trophy hunting expeditions. This money was used to improve the lives of average people.
For instance, the village of Sankuyo received approximately $600,000 from trophy hunting in 2010. Using that money, the village built outdoor toilets for 20 households chosen through a lottery and connected 40 households to running water. The people in the village also received (for free) the majority of the meat obtained from animals shot by these trophy hunters.
Tangible benefits like those gave the villagers incentive to protect these animals from poachers so that trophy hunters would continue to travel to the area. Jimmy Baitsholedi Ntema, a man from Sankuyo, explained:
Before, when there was hunting, we wanted to protect those animals because we knew we earned something out of them. Now we don’t benefit at all from the animals. The elephants and buffaloes leave after destroying our plowing fields during the day. Then, at night, the lions come into our kraals.
These people do not have very much, and understandably get very angry when wild animals destroy what little they have. With this in mind, it should not come as a surprise when they start taking matters into their own hands by shooting or poisoning nuisance or dangerous animals.
Dr. Brian Child, an associate professor at the University of Florida, is an expert on wildlife management in Africa and is leading a study on the impacts of Botswana’s trophy hunting ban. According to Dr. Child, well-regulated trophy hunting is actually very good at both generating income and protecting animal populations:
When hunting was introduced, we actually ended up killing less animals. That’s the irony.
Unfortunately, this is what life would look like without trophy hunting in Africa: more poaching, lower wildlife populations, and more danger for the average African person.
So what about photo tourism? Unfortunately, photo safaris alone will not save Africa’s wildlife populations or its people. While photo safaris do bring significant revenue into many African countries, they tend to benefit areas with dense populations of wildlife, like Kruger Park in South Africa or Botswana’s Okavango Delta, while leaving out peripheral areas like Sankuyo.
Photo tourists also generally demand more heavily developed infrastructure and nicer accommodations than hunters. Trophy hunters will willingly travel to remote areas of the country and are willing to pay significant sums of money while tolerating primitive accommodations for the chance to hunt African game.
Luckily, it is possible to have both a thriving photo tourism industry and well-regulated trophy hunting in Africa. For a more detailed explanation of the benefits of this arrangement, watch Shane Mahoney’s video below.