My Thoughts: Safari Hunting as a Conservation Measure

It seems like on a fairly regular basis there is a large outcry from the public about big game hunting in Africa. Disproportionally, it seems that these attacks are focused on attractive women (ex. 1, ex. 2, ex. 3) – but is certainly not limited to just women (ex. 1).  This is an ongoing debate that will never be settled until there are no more animals left.

First, let me present my credentials: while I am not personally a hunter, I come from a family of hunters and grew up around hunting. My dad is an avid hunter, hunting deer and pheasants in Iowa, and taking many trips to hunt big game in the United States and abroad. I have joined him on two such trips, Zambia in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013. Both of the safaris were hard work – lots of walking, tracking and waiting for the right animal to come by.

In addition to coming from a pro-hunting family and participating in African safaris myself, I also spent two years living in a rural community in Zambia and a third year at a small national park in Zambia. I have seen wildlife conservation in action, and I realize that hunting plays a major role in successful management programs. Like many things, hunting must be managed in a responsible way in order to be beneficial.

*Disclaimer: Obviously, these are my opinions. This post contains images that anti-hunting activists might find disturbing.

How does killing something support conserving it?

  • Carrying capacity is defined as the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain based on the resources (food, water, habitat) available in the environment. When the population of a species outgrows this capacity, there are often disease outbreaks, environmental destruction, and widespread starvation. The continued expansion of human populations has limited the space where wildlife can live, confining them to protected areas with limited resources to support a population that without outside management will only continue to grow. Many estimates put the population of elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana at twice what it can support[i]. Elephants are especially destructive, and when overpopulated destroy habitat that supports other wildlife.
  • Economics are a huge driving factor in how hunting promotes conservation. Hunts like these cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Zimbabwe was expecting to earn about $60 million from trophy hunting in 2014, up from $45 million in 2013[ii]. In Zimbabwe, hunting elephants alone generates $15 million a year, according to a representative from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. And across Africa, it was estimated in 2010 that $77 million would be generated from the elephant quota of 1,540 animals set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)[iii]. Unfortunately, there is corruption and not all of the money goes to the programs that is supposed to support, but income from hunting does go to conservation programs, including funding wildlife protection officers, funding research projects, and supporting community initiatives for income generation and wildlife conservation.
  • On a community level, people and villages are supported by income from hunting safaris. Almost all of the people staffing safari camps, from cooks to trackers and skinners are from a nearby community. In some cases, these people are former poachers who are now using their skills to help other people hunt animals. Safari camps traditionally give a large amount of meat to communities in the surrounding area (the rest is used in camp), which also prevents small-scale poaching for meat.
  • Hunting safari companies are also able to fund major programs that prevent large-scale commercial poaching, especially of elephants and rhinos. These safari companies have the resources to fund these initiatives beyond what the local government does to prevent poaching, both large and small scale.
  • Many of the national parks and preserves, in the U.S. and abroad were started at the urging of hunters. In the U.S. our national park system was started by Teddy Roosevelt, himself a noted big game hunter. Hunters recognize the need to protect the animals so that future generations can see these animals (and yes, maybe even shoot them). Hunters were some of the first people to realize that protections must be put in place to save animals from extinction.

Aren’t these animals endangered?

  • There are different levels of ‘endangerment’. An animal might be highly endangered in one area, but overpopulated in another. The wildlife authorities in the country look at population counts, overall and localized. African elephants, lions, cheetah, are currently listed as vulnerable, white rhinos and leopards listed as near threatened, and cape buffalo are listed as least concern[iv]. So technically speaking, none of the animals that this young woman from Texas killed are endangered. Also, many rhino hunts are done with tranquilizer gun, so that the animal can be tracked and researched in order to understand the population and ensure their survival.
  • Each country sets a quota for every safari area on the number of each species that can be taken. For example, one area might only have one elephant license because the population would not support taking more.  However, in an area with overpopulation issues, the quota might be 15. Depending on the species, most of the time only animals of a certain size are taken (and often only males). Of course, there are always unscrupulous or unethical hunters and safari companies that bend these rules.

How can you kill such a beautiful, smart animal?

  • Yes, elephants and other animals have been shown to be highly intelligent. I am certainly not advocating for the large-scale culling of elephant herds.  As elephants age, their teeth fall out and are replaced by new teeth, up to six sets. After that there are no more replacements, and these elephants are unable to eat as efficiently (or at all) and slowly starve to death. By removing older elephants, you are preventing them from suffering from a long, drawn-out death from starvation.
  • As mentioned above, many people in rural communities hunt for meat for their families. The most popular way to this is through snares. Snares are inherently cruel, and lead to the slow starvation of animals rather than a clean, quick kill shot. By providing a source of income and meat, illegal poaching is less enticing to most villagers. Local people also deal with ‘problem animals’ – elephants destroy crops that are often the only source of income for these families, so farmers destroy the elephants or other wildlife that is destroying their livelihood. Again, these are often cruel deaths. Research is ongoing on non-lethal ways to control problem animals, but until a solution is available, farmer will continue to protect their crops by any means they have available.

Why is a hunting safari more beneficial than a photographic safari? People will pay money just to look at these wonderful animals – you don’t have to kill them!

  • Yes, it is true that photographic safaris are a huge draw for tourism in African countries. These safari companies also employ large numbers of local people and benefit local communities. Hunting has the added benefit of managing populations and keeping them healthy, not to mention hunting safaris are significantly more expensive.  In Zimbabwe, an elephant hunt will cost about $30,000 in permit fees and for a professional hunter. A lion hunt will likely exceed $55,000[v]. These numbers do not include flights, lodging and money spent on extra sightseeing, souvenir buying or other costs. Compare to a photographic safari of the same length (ten days) without flights at about $5,000.

I believe there is a place for both hunting and photographic safaris in Africa. I believe that hunting plays a vital role in conservation for many reasons that benefit wildlife and local people. I know the system is far from perfect, with too much room for corruption, abuse and unethical treatment of animals. Hunting is one small part of wildlife conservation and one that must be maintained. I love and appreciate wildlife as much as the next person, but I realize that by removing a few animals from the population, it allows the population to thrive.

References:
[i] Sports Afield (http://www.sportsafield.com/notes-from-afield/africas-elephant-explosion). Retrieved 3 July 2014

[ii] Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-16/zimbabwean-hunters-count-costs-of-u-s-ban-on-elephant-ivory.html). Retrieved 3 July 2014.

[iii] American Hunter (http://www.americanhunter.org/articles/hunting-saving-african-wildlife). Retrieved 3 July 2014

[iv] IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (http://www.iucnredlist.org/). Retrieved 3 July 2014

[v] Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-16/zimbabwean-hunters-count-costs-of-u-s-ban-on-elephant-ivory.html). Retrieved 3 July 2014.

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48 thoughts on “My Thoughts: Safari Hunting as a Conservation Measure

  1. I appreciate your reasoned post. I am an animal lover. I don’t come from a big hunting family. However, I was raised on a farm. In full disclosure, my ex, when he was young, went on big game safaris with his wealthy father, who eventually became a Ky Derby winning horse owner. I do have a couple of questions though:

    1. Are these types of safaris considered canned hunts and, if so, what is the sport in that? And

    2. Couldn’t the money spent on safaris be better applied to agricultural charities if the goal is to help African communities?

    1. There are many different types of hunting safaris that you can go on, which unfortunately does include what you might call “canned hunts”. Again not knowing the specifics of Kendall Jones’ hunts, I can’t speak to that. Both of the safaris I went on with my dad were not. We were in areas near national parks (where animals are totally protected) but there were no fences preventing movement from the protected area to the regulated hunting area. These animals are totally wild. We tracked the animals (in our case the main objective was buffalo) for hours, and in the end we outfoxed and came up empty.

      Agricultural charities are another great option – especially if you are unable to travel to the country to contribute directly to local economy. There are lots of great charities and community development organizations that focus on wildlife conservation and supporting reformed poachers (COMACO [http://www.itswild.org/] is one of my favorites, and one I worked with in Zambia). There are many ways to ‘help’ African communities.

      1. Thanks for the informative article. Looking at Kendall Jones’ hunting photos were admittedly very offputting and easy to criticize but reading through your article helped me better understand why hunting is sometimes necessary to promote conservation.

  2. Well said!
    It’s nice to see a well-reasoned response to the criticism leveled at the young lady.
    As a vegetarian and, like yourself former Zambian PCV, I found the complaints frustrating. Too often, we criticize others without understanding the situations surrounding their actions. I’d add more, but it would just be an echo chamber and you’ve already addressed everything nicely.

    1. Oops ^ I’m on my mobile version! – I’ll continue- .. For the reasons you have stated, i do agree that it makes sense to hunt to help keep the animal populations reasonable enough so they are still able to have food in their areas, and also as mercy killings for the older, more ill ones. The only part about hunting I have a problem with is killing them for purely sport and amusement.

  3. Thank you for clearing up what I thought was cruelty to animals. Facebook pages and pics etc about hunting exotic animals being hunted can quickly make people turn a blind eye, but not until you know the full story. Thanks for clearing it up. Great read.

  4. I always find it interesting that no matter what the hunters reasoning for killing a wild animal, be it a deer or lion, they always seem to choose the most magnificent specimen they can find. That in itself is proof enough for me that these big game hunters kill for the trophy, not conservation.

  5. I’m still not sure how I feel about this whole thing, but I do LOVE that you took the time to write such a well-informed post, and you make excellent points. I thank you for helping to educate people who may otherwise not understand the truth behind this issue.

  6. This is one of the first well-written, well-informed, well-reasoned posts on the subject that I have seen so far. Well done! I feel like it’s all clearer to me now. So glad I stumbled upon this during my research.

  7. Well written! I am not a hunter and that world has always been very far from me. Up until recently (about one year) I regarded it negatively, but aftering researching and informing myself, i can say I understand it better and have changed my opinions.
    Right now I am staying in a safari lodge in Uganda for a work experience and my first week here, we had a professional hunter staying at the lodge. We are in an area that is a hunting reserve, so we often get guests that come for hunting (mainly species that are found in this area of Africa). The PH was a great guy and very happy to talk and explain the hunting ‘world’ to me. He said exactly the same things you wrote and well….just wanted to say nicely done on covering the subject in such a clear and complete manner!
    Also congrats on being freshly pressed 🙂

  8. As others have said, a very well reasoned post. However, the fact that some proceeds from hunting go towards conservation efforts does not make it right, and is a case of “The ends not justifying the means”.
    Also regarding the general point of hunting generating a lot of money to go into the economy; so what? Who does this benefit? Humans, that’s who. So this argument breaks down to “Its good for us so that’s OK”.
    You also state that “When the population of a species outgrows this capacity, there are often disease outbreaks, environmental destruction, and widespread starvation. “. The disease and starvation are natures way of controlling the population, maybe we should leave it to nature? I don’t know why humans think they have a right to take over.

  9. As much as I appreciate your perspective I cannot support the murder of innocent animals within their own habitat. The human species should concern itself more with controlling its own population and educating the public about the importance of respecting an animal’s right to life. Hunting/killing for the sake of economy is exactly how we’ve gotten ourselves into this pile of mess that has made factory farming uncontrollable, eradicated 90 per cent of large sea life, legalized animal suffering and has expediated climate change to disastrous results. Whether it’s controlled hunting, or poaching elephants and rhinos so that those in the West can wear a trinket on their ear, murder is murder.

    1. I guess the way I look at it is that a quick, efficient kill shot is better than an animal slowly starving to death because of a lack of resources or suffering from anthrax or another disease brought on by overpopulation. This is not purely hunting for economics – it’s hunting to improve populations, as a source of food – and to improve economics.

      1. Animals dying slowly is natural,that’s like asking doctors to kill humans once they are sick, those animals might be treated too. The real fact is that we are disrupting the cycle of life. Farming leads to erosion, its not about economy people have to think of, it’s about balance in nature. Humans are overpopulated, not animals. Kendall Jones is surely a wonderful women who is going after her dreams- she just has to realise to mend them a little so as to benefit nature. Can hunters conserve? -to my mind, the idea seems impossible to sink in.

  10. Canned hunting may not rank up there with the melting of the polar ice caps, terrorism, war, poverty or the threat of nuclear annihilation, but it’s probably a little more troubling than, oh say the condition of Blue Ivy’s hair, another recent internet topic.

  11. The controversy about hunting will go on until the last wild animal is killed. Even then, hunters will maintain that hunting is about conservation. It is not. Hunting is about killing animals. Killing an animal is the prime goal of hunting, not conservation. Whether it is trophy hunting or subsistence hunting, it is to kill an animal.
    Controlling animal populations is not a science, it is arbitrary guess work and biased by boards and share holders that have their own interest in mind. Some national parks (Denali) have abandoned culling of animals, after many years of the opposite practice. In other wilderness areas predators are hunted from helicopters by Fish and Game.
    Trophy hunting is a relict of times when there was abundant space and wildlife. Now the human population has overgrown the planet, with wildlife restricted to parks and so-called wilderness areas. Sooner or later we can marvel deer, bears, and lions on the Discovery channel. It is time to rethink our approach to taking responsibility for this planet. Giving up on trophy hunting would be one small step to recognize an outdated practice.

  12. Also, I forgot to add that most of the elephant licenses that are granted are for ‘tuskless’ animals. Both male and female elephants usually have tusks, which is the dominant gene. However, some do not and these are the majority of animals taken – thus eliminating the “trophy” aspect of an elephant.

  13. I just got back from an internship in Balule Nature Reserve, South Africa. I have no problem with hunting as I am an avid deer hunter myself. The problem lies in endangered species and the reasons for hunting. I worked hands on with rhinos and can tell you that even though they are only “threatened”, losing them is a bigger problem than you can dream of. We lose 3.5 rhinos a day to poaching and soon enough their won’t be any left in the wild. How is hunting them helping their population? And can’t measurements be taken during radio collaring in an effort to save them? As far as reasons for hunting go trophy hunting is appalling. You shouldn’t be hunting unless you mean to eat that animal. How about we start trying to keep them alive and protected rather than shot for a photo-op.

  14. Another great article about this so controversially discussed topic! I totally agree with you, but I can understand people who get so emotional… I love animals – as a FGASA field guide and biology student I was always fascinated by nature, ecology and how everything comes together. But I’m not opposed to hunting. You describe the benefits so accuaretly! I just guess that the fact that we’re talking about endangered species makes me feel “weird”. At first it just doesn’t sound right to be shooting such an animal… I think the issue lays somewhere else: If we could solve the poaching issue, people might think differently about hunting endagered species too….

    1. I agree about rhinos (black rhinos are listed as Critically Endangered) – and I’m pretty sure that is what she did – just dart the rhino to be able to take blood samples and track the animals. This is also pretty common with big cats. That way you get the thrill of tracking and hunting the animal (and yes, posing for photos) without actually killing it, as well as contributing to ongoing research. I agree that the bigger problem is illegal poaching (large scale and small scale).

  15. Although I can appreciate your well researched and carefully thought out essay, I have a difficult time being convinced of this young woman’s true motives when she posts photographs that are in my mind, rather repulsive and sad. Posing with a huge smile over a magnificent, but sadly dead animal seems … I don’t know … it just seems wrong. She seems to take a perverse pleasure in the killing of such beautiful animals; that’s the part that I find so disturbing. If you truly admire and respect wildlife, how can you take pleasure in killing? For background, I have a graduate degree in biology and my father grew up on a farm. He had to put injured livestock down. He had to kill animals for food. We all grew up knowing where dinner came from. We showed respect for the life that was taken. Although I’m not opposed to hunting (when done legally), her photographs and behavior strike me as grossly inappropriate and disrespectful, but that’s just me.

  16. You make great points here! Americans are such tree hugging, anti hunting, pro gay marriage people. They would even go so far as to hunt pretty girl for hunting. In my country, we hunt for food and enjoyment!

  17. Oh come on with this talk of conservation. How many hunters of exotic animals paying tens of thousands of dollars for the hunt plan to ‘harvest’ anything but the biggest, healthiest, or most beautiful? That leaves the weaker and smaller and less eye appealing to be mounted on the hunters’ wall and that is pure fantasy. Plus, well heeled organizations like Safari Club International sponsors killing contest that is the antithesis of conservation principles, and to get to the highest level a hunter will have killed 322 animals of different species. Multiply that by the 35K members of the club and we have some real problems talking about conservation. They simply want the blood bath to continue.

    1. The biggest problem I have with people complaining about taking the “biggest, healthiest, most beautiful” animals is these are the animals that are usually the oldest, most mature. The other option would be to take sick animals or immature animals. Many hunters do take “less eye appealing” animals since these are also older animals that have been in fights, etc.

      1. And the biggest problem I have with trophy hunters is the narcissistic attitude they take toward exotic wildlife including threatened species which they think gives them the right to continue to blow them up. This selfish point of view toward God’s creatures is shameful and appalling, to say the least.

  18. I totally agree with you. It is about killing animals. Nobody is going to spend thousands of dollars to cross the Atlantic for the well-being of the animal.

    1. While this comment is confusing, I will definitely admit that yes, most hunters are not driven purely by a desire to help the animals. However, hunting does play a role in the maintenance of a well-balanced ecosystem, which is what I was focusing on.

  19. I must say this is a very well written post. Having an environmental background it has taught me to see topics from very many perspectives which are touched upon in the post as well as the comments. It all makes sense to benefit the local economies and as much as I love animals its a fight or flight response to protect whats your own. However, in this day and age it is difficult to have programs without any corruption within them which would cause over hunting and those just looking for the trophy kill; which then takes away from the purpose of programs set in place. It is a very touchy subject and you have done an excellent job portraying your side and view on the subject.

  20. I’m still not sure how I feel about this whole thing, but I do LOVE that you took the time to write such a well-informed post, and you make excellent points. I thank you for helping to educate people who may otherwise not understand the truth behind this issue,Killing wild animal is not good we will loose the Natural

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