Botswana has maintained a long and extensive history of hunting, as trophy hunters have flocked from all over the world at a chance to shoot some of the world’s most exotic animals. However, recent shifts in the benefits of the industry have prompted drastic changes for potential hunters and hunting organizations. Towards the end of 2012, the President of Botswana, General Iam Khama, announced that they will not issue anymore hunting licenses for 2013 and all trophy hunting across the country will be banned by 2014. ”The shooting of wild game for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna,” the environment ministry said.
Only one month later in January 2013, Zambia followed suit, stating that they had banned hunting of all leopards and lions. ”Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry,” remarked Sylvia Masebo, the current Tourism and Arts Minister of Zambia.
Both of these moves drew a plethora of praises and criticisms from various factions of the industry.
Trophy hunting in Africa has always held an allure over the rest of the globe with visions of picturesque landscapes populated with hundreds of species of exotic animals. Beginning with the early game hunters during colonial times with such high profile sportsman as former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt and author Earnest Hemingway, the continent hosted some ambitious and arduous hunters. These days, some of the wealthiest people on earth are among those that hunt for big game in the wilds of Africa, with a list that includes Donald Trump Jr., Bob Parsons – CEO of GoDaddy.com – and Spain’s King Juan Carlos, these multi-millionaires have all taken expeditions for a chance to slay some of the continent’s prized beasts. Hunting big game in Africa draws the extremely rich because the price tags for bagging any substantial animals can be extremely expensive.
The fees and licenses for an elephant can range as high as $US 70,000, while a license for a Black Rhinoceros in South Africa can reach $US 350,000. So why is there a sudden trend in fighting back against an industry that draws in some of the world’s wealthiest citizens?
Well the move may simply be an economic one. While hunters and hunting advocates point to large profits being made in hunting of animals in Africa, particularly the Big 5 – water buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros – the reality is that photographic tourism far outdistances any money made in hunting safaris.
In Botswana, tourism ranks as the second largest industry behind diamond mining, and the economic growth of tourism has grown by at least 14 percent each of the last eight years. As a landlocked country, the majority of tourists flock to this majestic wildlife refuge in search of a glimpse of their favorite animal, not to shoot one. In fact, tourism now makes up almost 11 percent of their annual GDP.
However, in a 2007 study conducted by Peter Lindsey the impact that hunting industry played in actually protecting and conserving animals was studied. Lindsey argued that if trophy hunting was well managed, the profits could be utilized towards anti-poaching efforts and more importantly, private land owners would have financial benefits of reintroducing and protecting certain species, such as the rhinocerous, in an attempt to lure hunters to their land and reap the economic benefits. However, that same study examined Botswana specifically and trophy hunting only represented approximately .1 percent of GDP, as opposed to phototourism which represented 11 percent.
The move by Botswana was prompted by the drastic diminishments of certain species, as they discovered that 11 species declined by more than 61 percent since 1996. Some of the most severely affected were the Ostrich and Wildebeasts which saw their numbers dwindle by more than 90 percent. The potential for hunting to completely eliminate certain species was too much of chance for the country to take, so they yanked the plug on the entire industry.
While Zambia took a less drastic approach, their actions also deal directly with numbers and the potential to lose out on valuable tourists if the population of certain species dipped below current numbers. It is estimated that there are less than 4,500 lions and the number of leopards is unknown.
Critics of the decision argue that it will encourage poaching over the long-term in Botswana and that the move will cost many professional hunters their jobs. Many point to Kenya – which outlawed game hunting in 1977 and has never rescinded the ban. They state that poaching in the country has reached alarming levels and the same would happen in Botswana and Zambia if they continue to block potential hunters.
While poaching continues to be a problem in all African nations, Kenya boasts $USD 800 million in revenue annually from safaris, a figure that significantly adds to the national economy. In addition, recent revelations of major poaching violation in both Tanzania and South Africa – two of the largest hunting profiteers on the continent – show that even countries that encourage trophy hunting are not immune from illegal hunting. South African rhinocerous poaching has reached epidemic levels and major problems with elephant and giraffe poaching in Tanzania have driven a call to action. Many blame Chinese buyers for their interest in ivory and rhino horns.
Ultimately each country must decide whether hunting hurts or helps the conservation of endangered or vulnerable species. The economic benefits of phototourism and non-hunting safaris far outdistance the hunting industry. For Botswana and Zambia the move was made specifically to harness the phototourism industry. Kenya’s safari industry continues to thrive, but they still battle poachers on a daily basis. Ultimately, each country must decide which direction will benefit them both ecologically and economically. The problem of poaching will not disappear until the buyers disappear. However, a change in stance by these two nations should be applauded, if only because they realized that the hunting industry did not provide enough financial windfall to potentially destroy the safari juggernaut and that the figures do not support the ideology that hunting prevens poaching.