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Restrictions on trophy hunting imports are not the answer to saving vulnerable species

3 min read

Contrary to the campaigning of animal rights organisations and celebrities reeled out to promote the topic, trophy hunting is on record as being capable of delivering a variety of significant conservation and economic benefits.

The government’s proposals to ban the import of hunting trophies has been criticised by many in the scientific community.

A letter signed by a growing number of leading conservation practitioners has described the proposals as “poorly conceived” and “unlikely to deliver any of its claimed conservation benefits”. It goes on, “it threatens to reverse many conservation gains while undermining livelihoods, rights and autonomy of rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond”.

Where trophy hunting has ceased, human-wildlife conflicts increase, often to the detriment of the wildlife

The act of hunting, let alone trophy hunting, may not be to everyone’s taste. However, it can benefit both the environment and the community in a sustainable manner. Where trophy hunting has ceased, human-wildlife conflicts increase, often to the detriment of the wildlife.

Most recently, the Pakistan Wildlife Department sold four hunting licences for the endangered markhor, raising $575,000. Local communities received 80 per cent of the licence fee with the rest going to the government. The incentive offered by the trophy hunting programme has engendered new ethical standards among the local communities, which now protect their wild game species as an economic asset. Without trophy hunting, this species would be extinct.

Trophy hunting has a similarly positive impact in sub-Saharan Africa. So much so that four of the five top performing countries in the world for megafauna conservation are found in the area. Their connection is that they all use trophy hunting as part of their conservation strategy.

In the 1970s, Kenya enacted a trophy hunting ban on their estimated 1.5 million head of game. Over the next four decades their wildlife numbers were depleted to around 80 per cent of their 70s level. Simultaneously, South Africa took the decision to adopt wildlife utilisation and support trophy hunting. Populations of game flourished and now exceed 20 million head.

One well-versed success is the southern white rhino. South Africa is home to 90 per cent of the world’s population, principally due to conservation efforts from those with hunting interests. Kenya’s numbers dropped from a direct result of poaching. A failure to conserve the species has led the country to import animals from South Africa.

Poaching is listed as a primary factor in the pending extinction of certain species. The same cannot be said of trophy hunting.

Trophy hunting, contrary to many arguments, is a carefully regulated activity - the principal aim of which is to conserve species to ensure their longevity. It is to state the obvious that where the activity is being undertaken unsustainably it should be stopped. Fortunately, through both national and international law, there are already countless measures in place to tackle both bad and illegal practice.

If the government is to bring forth legislation, it should be based on meaningful and impartial consultation with local governments, communities and people. It should respect the known science, accept new science, and under no circumstances disrupt conservation projects going on around the world.

If the government would like to make a real impact, they should investigate the issues around human-wildlife conflict, illegal trade and the devastating consequences of poaching. Tinkering around the edges with gesture politics will have no discernible benefit for the wildlife on the ground.


Dr Conor O’Gorman is the head of campaigns and policy at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

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