A socio-economic analysis of trophy hunting areas

By Dr. Pieter Kat
(ALERT Technical Board member and founder of our partner, LionAid)
Last updated 16 Apr 2011

Article reproduced with kind permission of LionAid.  The original article can be found here.

In 2009, the IUCN published a report entitled "Big Game Hunting in West Africa.  What is its contribution to conservation?" (pdf). Despite the title, the report considers trophy hunting areas across Africa, and comes to conclusions very different from what trophy hunters are spoon-feeding the world in terms of trophy hunting value. In particular, the report concludes the following:

•        Where management levels are similar, wildlife is much better conserved in protected areas than in hunting areas;
•        Hunting areas are much less resistant to outside pressures (poaching for example) than protected areas;
•        Economic returns from trophy hunting are minimal, and the land-use returns are much lower than what could be gained by raising livestock, for example;
•        Hunting contributions to GDP and national budgets are insignificant, especially in light of the large areas of land set aside for hunting;
•        Returns for local populations, even when administered by community-based natural resource management projects, are insignificant and is no incentive for communities to stop poaching and agricultural encroachment;
•        The number of people employed (estimated at 15,000) is miniscule compared to the 150 million people living in 8 main trophy hunting nations, and setting aside 16.5% of the land area for trophy hunting is a questionable decision given that trophy hunting does not provide any significant level of socioeconomic return;
•        Good governance is largely absent from the trophy hunting industry, and those in charge are not ready to share any level of control. Lack of transparency does not serve the State, local communities, or conservation.
•        Hunting had, and still can have a role in conservation if considerable changes can be made. Currently, it contributes very little economically, has no social role, and makes no contribution to good governance. Consequently, trophy hunting has an overall negative effect as far as development is concerned;
•        Environment has to be seen as a global good, not for the exclusive use of private interests or minorities.

Some numbers and other comments in the report:

1.        In sub-Saharan Africa, some 1.4 million square km are set aside as hunting areas, 22% more than all the region’s protected areas. Annually, about 18,500 tourist hunters come to Africa, and there are about 1,300 hunting companies offering services.
2.        In the 11 countries where trophy hunting takes place, hunting areas take up 110 million hectares, about 14.9% of the total land area.
3.        Tourist hunters take about 105,000 animals per year, including 640 elephants, 3,800 buffalos, 600 lions and 800 leopards.
4.        Hunting income is estimated at about $200 million, half of which accrues to South Africa and half to the other countries.
5.        On average, trophy hunting generates $1.1 dollar per hectare per year, compared with at least $2 per hectare for protected areas. Community income is about $0.1 per hectare per year of their land set aside for hunting, and indicates why communities show little interest in preserving hunting areas and stopping poaching.
6.        The weak socio-economic benefits of trophy hunting and the minimal contribution to conservation argue against setting aside such large areas of land. In Kenya, where the population has increased by a factor of 2.7 since hunting was banned (14 million in 1977 and 38 million in 2008), the nation developed in the mean time a tourism sector 40 times more profitable than hunting, centered on a land area of 8% protected areas.
7.        The contribution of trophy hunting to GDP (%) and the percentage of land area set aside for hunting for various countries is as follows: South Africa (0.04, 13.1), Namibia (0.45, 11.4), Tanzania (0.22, 26.4), Botswana (0.19, 23.0), Zimbabwe (0.29, 16.6), Zambia (0.05, 21.3), Cameroon (0.01, 8.4), Burkina Faso ( 0.02, 3.4), Benin (0.01, 3.6). Only in Burkina Faso and Benin does the land set aside approach the estimated equivalent annual value per hectare of land used for agriculture ($300).
8.        On average in the 11 countries, 14.9% of the land area has been set aside for hunting, and the average contribution of hunting to GDP is 0.06%. This means they are the least economically productive lands in the country. Trophy hunting does therefore not represent economically valuable land use, especially in the context of the need to abate poverty and hunger.
9.        It has been argued that hunting blocks are centered on land that supposedly has no other economic use. This overstated, and the closing of hunting as currently practiced would give far greater returns. It is precisely in those countries where alternative uses are available that one encounters the greatest difficulty in persuading rural populations to maintain hunting areas.
10.        Since the socio-economic and development contributions of trophy hunting are practically zero, their greatest potential contribution should be seen as conservation. That value can only be augmented by conscientious integration of hunting into overall conservation strategies.
11.        In total, 7 countries (Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, and Benin) have set aside 696,708 square kilometers for trophy hunting for a total employment of 9,703 people. It should be noted that for many, the employment does not exceed the six-month hunting season
12.        Photographic tourism creates 39 times as much employment on a permanent basis than trophy hunting. Such tourism in the Luangwa National Park (Zambia) alone has created work for about 800 employees, double the number of all employed by trophy hunting in Benin and Burkina Faso combined.
13.        In Zambia, returns from hunting in 2006 to the local population were about $1 million to use 22% of Zambia’s land. In Zimbabwe, each household (average 10 people) received between $1 and $3 per year. In Tanzania, 42 district councils received a grand total of about $1 million per year for the use of 250,000 square kilometers of land. In Benin, 300,000 people shared $70,000, so about $0.23 per person. The African country in which communities earned the least for land set aside for hunting was Tanzania, with an income of $0.04 per hectare per year.
14.         Given such weak returns, there is little incentive to stop poaching in hunting areas, as the informal bush meat sector is much more valuable to the communities. In Ghana, the bush meat trade is estimated to be worth $250 million per year and in Ivory Coast $148 million. It is noteworthy that the annual bush meat trade in Ghana alone exceeds income from trophy hunting in all of Africa. Sadly for conservation, such economic returns of poaching indicate this activity will continue, as there is no competing alternative.
15.        Compared to other forms of tourism, trophy hunting composes only 1% in South Africa and 3% in Tanzania. Such numbers are expected to decrease further. Tourism to Kenya is now approaching a value of $1 billion per year compared to an estimated $30 million earned from hunting (current value) in 1977.

To sum up

This carefully researched and exhaustively documented report has sadly not received the attention it deserves, perhaps as a combination of having been written originally in French and not being circulated as widely as it should have been. I thank Bertrand Chardonnet, a contributor, for bringing it to my attention via another website.

The conclusions of the report are largely in agreement with other research done on the same subject, but this is the first time a research group has actually approached the issue from the angle of land areas set aside for hunting. It has always been assumed, mainly because of hunter propaganda, that trophy hunting of such extremely marginal land (as they would like to see it) brings the best returns compared to any other land use. This is highly debatable, especially as the report shows what miserly returns actually accrue from such huge areas tied up in hunting concessions. Trophy hunters would like us to believe the hunting areas are basically akin to drought blasted tsetse infested lunar landscapes where nobody but an intrepid hunter would set foot. The reality is actually quite different in very many cases, as the communities living there will attest.

Neither, as the report suggests, are the hunting areas at present contributing to wildlife conservation. This could change, but will require much greater commitment of the concession leasers towards a goal that now only receives lip service.

The report is not against the role of trophy hunting as part of an overall conservation formula for African wildlife, but is right to question the current status quo. Greater transparency, better accountability, and improved governance are key factors identified as a good way forward. The report correctly points out that an average annual return to communities of $4 per square kilometer per year for land in Tanzania is easily superseded by other activities. The report does not encourage such activities (apart from advocating a greater role of non-hunting tourism), but merely points out the discrepancies.

So why has the status quo persisted for so long? The answer is relatively simple and the solution very difficult. Currently, hunting operators are maximizing profits as there is little incentive for them to consider the true value of the resource they are utilizing, and the necessity to involve people living with wildlife in a significant fashion. Also, financial benefits reluctantly shared by the hunting industry accumulate to the country elite who have little regard for wildlife and less for rural populations. Communities have little say in choosing the operator and ensuring that land rents accumulate in meaningful ways to the population. It is a corrupt business from start to finish, and those involved have little incentive to change the current system as the shortcomings are only pointed out by the powerless rural communities and/or outside analysts.

Change can come, but it will take a concerted effort by clients to seek out hunting operators who truly are involved with conservation ethics and amelioration of rural community poverty and hunger. In concert, the large conservation NGOs operating in Africa can also have a role to play by carefully and forthrightly addressing issues they now sweep under the carpet.