Is Hunting Conservation? Yes, And Here’s Why

Ever asked: Is hunting conservation? Though it may seem counterintuitive, hunting actually does indeed promote wildlife conservation. Read on to learn exactly how and why this is true.

Is hunting conservation? Regardless of what you may have heard from anti-hunting activists, well regulated, sustainable hunting actually promotes wildlife conservation. Yes, I know that it may seem hard to believe at first that killing individual animals can actually benefit overall animal populations. However, it is true and hunting is conservation. Read on and I’ll explain why.

There are two primary threats to animal populations in the world today: habitat loss and poaching. We’ll discuss each threat and show how hunting is conservation in each case.

Is Hunting Conservation? If It Pays, It Stays

Of these two threats, habitat loss is the most serious. The unfortunate reality of the situation in the world today (particularly in Africa), is that virtually all of the places left that can sustain populations of large and dangerous animals like elephants, lions, and rhino are already at, or exceeding their carrying capacity. Human encroachment has slowly but steadily reduced the amount of land left that is suitable for those animals to live on. This has brought these animals into conflict with people.

Seeing large species of African game like elephants and lion on vacation, particularly for the first time, is a truly amazing experience. However, living with them on a daily basis is a whole other deal entirely. I probably wouldn’t like it either if leopards and lions were stealing my livestock or if elephants were destroying my crops. When animals and humans are in conflict, the wildlife invariably loses. Looking at it this way, it’s not surprising that the locals take matters into their own hands and many of these animals get poached.

However, properly managed hunting programs, like the CAMPFIRE system in Zimbabwe, give local people tangible benefits from preserving wildlife populations. After all, they are the ones who must live with these animals. The true fact of the matter is that “if it pays, it stays.” It’s a whole lot easier to tolerate crop and livestock raiding animals if you’re given a job assisting with the hunt, the hunters give you some of the meat from animals that are killed, and when money from the hunt is invested back in the community.

Yes, trophy hunting does invariably result in a few animals being killed. However, when well regulated, sustainable hunting is practiced, only a very small number of animals (typically .5%-3% of the entire population), usually older males past breeding age, are taken. This does not result in any negative impacts on healthy wildlife populations and can even help populations grow.

The story of the village of Sankuyo in Botswana illustrates both the benefits of hunting to both the local people and wildlife populations as well as the pitfalls of hunting bans. That village is located in a part of Botswana that at one point was a premier destination for trophy hunters until the country shut down hunting in 2013.

In 2010, (while hunting was still legal) the village earned $600,000 from visiting hunters. This is in addition to the meat from animals killed by hunters and the jobs created in order to support the hunting industry. Among other things, the village built toilets for 20 households (chosen by lottery) and connected another 40 households to running water with this money. Remember, the people in these areas are extremely poor and the simple act of providing easy to access to water or a toilet is an incredible improvement to their quality of live (not to mention a public health benefit).

According to Timex Moalosi, Sankuyo’s chief:

That’s what made people appreciate conservation. We told them, “That lion or elephant has paid for your toilet or your standpipe.”

Since hunting was shut down in Botswana in 2013, leopards, hyenas, and lions have taken an incredible toll on the livestock in the village. Understandably, the locals are starting to take matters into their own hands. After the ban was enacted, it was no longer in their best interest to protect animals, so poaching skyrocketed.

Is Hunting Conservation? Rewilding Farmland

Following along the habitat loss track, thanks to hunting, southern Africa is starting to see a trend of landowners “rewilding” farms and cattle ranches by converting them into wildlife conservancies with native flora and fauna. Not only does hunting often pay better than farming, but the native animals are much more tolerant of drought conditions and less damaging to the ecosystem than cattle. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in wildlife populations over the past few decades.

For example, the Bubye Valley Conservancy is a great example of how hunting is conservation. In 1994, the 2,200 square miles of land that is now the Bubye Valley Conservancy contained thousands of cattle, but absolutely no wildlife. All the native animals had been killed off by farmers to make room for their cattle. Now, the cattle are gone and the conservancy is home to the world’s third largest black rhino population, Zimbabwe’s largest lion population, a flourishing elephant population, and abundant plains game.

This is obviously an incredible wildlife conservation success. However, building and maintaining the conservancy was not free. There are several outfitters that practice sustainable hunting in the conservancy. They pay for anti-poaching patrols and funnel a great deal of money back into the conservancy and the surrounding communities. Let’s be clear here: the Bubye Valley Conservancy would not exist today and you would not see photos like the one below without hunting. 

Is Hunting Conservation? Fighting Poaching

As I mentioned at the beginning, poaching is another serious threat to wildlife populations. A common tactic of the anti-hunting lobby is to lump poaching and ethical hunting in together. This is a completely false assertion and I’ll discuss the differences below.

Unlike hunting, poaching is incredibly harmful to wildlife populations. No species has ever gone extinct due to well regulated, ethical hunting. The same cannot be said about poaching. It’s not just the large numbers of animals that poachers kill that makes them bad, but it is the indiscriminate killing of animals as well. While ethical hunters tend to selectively pursue older males, poachers make no distinction between killing old males, young males, females, and babies. This is particularly damaging to animal populations.

Killing a small number of mature males that have already had an opportunity to breed and pass on their genetics has no negative impact on an animal population. In fact, it can actually improve the overall health of the herd. At the same time, shooting the same number of females can be absolutely devastating to the population, especially with animals that have low reproduction rates like elephants and rhinos.

Additionally, sustainable hunting funds anti-poaching programs. The men and women actually fighting on the front line against poachers are incredibly dedicated, but they don’t work for free. They also need training, weapons, vehicles, radios, and other equipment to adequately protect wildlife. These things all cost money, and hunters gladly pick up the tab for them. The anti-poaching units for the Bubye Valley Conservancy (which have never lost an elephant to poachers) and in Mozambique’s Zambezi Delta are both examples of highly successful anti-poaching programs that are funded primarily by hunters.

Is Hunting Conservation? Photo Safaris

Anti-hunting groups claim that photo safaris can provide all the same benefits to African economies as hunting, but without killing any animals. On the surface, this would appear to be a good idea, but it just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Look at Kenya and Tanzania as prime examples of how hunting promotes wildlife conservation. Both of these East African countries had some of the largest and most diverse wildlife populations in the entire continent during the early 20th century. However, Kenya banned hunting in 1977 and decided to focus solely on earning income from wildlife through photo safaris and other non-consumptive forms of tourism. Since then, wildlife populations have declined by over 60% and virtually no wildlife lives outside of national parks in Kenya.

Tanzania banned hunting in 1973, but reopened hunting again in 1983 after suffering a large drop in wildlife numbers. The country now has some of the largest wildlife populations in Africa and offers some absolutely outstanding hunting opportunities. Wildlife is thriving both inside and out of the national parks and other protected areas because the wildlife now has value and hunters are funding anti-poaching programs.

Photo safaris simply cannot provide the same level of economic and conservation incentives as hunting. Photo safaris are most successful in areas that are easy to access, have an infrastructure that can support comfortable and safe accommodations for large numbers of people, and have large, diverse populations of wildlife. Most parts of Africa simply lack one or more of these attributes and are not suitable for photo safaris.

On the other hand, hunters are willing to travel long distances, stay in very basic accommodations, and expend a great deal of time, energy, and money just to encounter a small number of animals. There is a reason why bongo are almost exclusively pursued by hunters and not photo tourists. Any country that decides to ban hunting in favor of photo safaris will be giving up all of the income and conservation benefits of conducting sustainable hunting in the corners of the country not suited for photo safaris.

Make no mistake: photo safaris are important contributors to the economies of many countries. Fortunately, it’s not an either/or situation and countries may do both. Photo safaris and sustainable hunting should be viewed as complimentary instead of competing activities. Countries that have taken this approach, like Tanzania, South Africa, and Namibia, have thriving wildlife populations.

Is Hunting Conservation? Conclusions

So, back to the original question: is hunting conservation? If you’ve made it to this point in the article, it should be pretty clear to you that well regulated, sustainable hunting promotes wildlife conservation. By giving wildlife tangible value, providing incentives to landowners to conduct “rewilding” projects on their land, and by funding anti-poaching efforts, hunting is beneficial to wildlife populations in many different ways.

For more information on how hunting is conservation, check out the video below which does an excellent job of discussing and elaborating on the points made in this article.

If you’re interested in learning more about how hunting promotes wildlife conservation please contact us.