Course:CONS200/2021/Conservation or carnage? An analysis of trophy hunting in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa

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Trophy hunting is the activity of slaughtering wild animals in their natural habitat for the sole purpose of displaying the kill. The entire carcass can be retained or only the head, horns or hooves. These taxidermy mounts are thought to add status to the hunter, perhaps as brave or wealthy.  

Trophy hunting has had a long controversial history. Opponents question the ethics and necessity of the sport and, in contrast, supporters say it provides conservational benefits and economic income to local communities.

History and Background of Trophy Hunting

trophy hunting elephant

Trophy hunting has a long history of being practiced in Africa, and is a major tourist attraction[1]. Therefore, trophy hunting is a significant economic asset in many African countries[2].

Economically, trophy hunting in Africa can support the conservation of wildlife habitat. In Namibia, the population of black rhinos, elephants, and mountain zebras have increased as a result of habitat preservation for the purpose of trophy hunting[3]. In Botswana, wildlife resources such as safari hunting and community-based wildlife use are capable of increasing the national income[4]. Aside from income, safari hunting can also contribute to the development of sanitation facilities in Botswana[5]. In South Africa, the legalization of hunting white rhinos motivated landowners to reintroduce the species back onto their land and increased the population of white rhinos by more than 100 times[6].

However, trophy hunting is also capable of disrupting the age, sex, and social structure of wild animals. Strong and ornamented males are trophy hunted much more frequently than females and as a result can lead to problems like lack of provision for offspring[7].

Overall, it is evident that trophy hunting is a major contributor to prevention of habitat loss in Africa and even capable of increasing the population of endangered species. However, it comes with negative side effects such as deleterious genetic effects.

Trophy Hunting Benefits for Conservation

trophy hunting rhino

In recent years, concerns over the ethics and sustainability of trophy hunting have been widely discussed. However, when closely examined, some have made the argument that when properly managed and regulated, trophy hunting can be an incentive for habitat protection and biodiversity conservation. And in countries like Namibia where unemployment is high and wildlife is considered a common resource, trophy hunting is seen as an important way to optimize benefits for all stakeholders, especially the local communities, the government and private operators. Namibia is known for its local community empowerment, and the Namibia government has transferred administrative rights for the management of wildlife and the environment to local communities. Therefore, the well-controlled trophy hunting in Namibia has brought financial and economic benefits to local populations, which contributes to a positive and protective attitude towards wildlife in the local communities, resulting in a positive impact on conservation. In Namibia, the revenue generated by trophy hunting is seen as being a major factor in the increased development of wildlife conservancies on communally owned land[8]. As a result, the population of mountain zebras, lions, elephants, and black rhinos have increased or remained relatively stable in Namibia in comparison to neighbouring countries[3].

Similarly in Botswana, trophy hunting is a major source of national income and a contributing factor to community welfare. Wildlife utilization in Botswana was found to generate positive contributions to national income and that wildlife uses have a clear economic advantage over livestock uses, which is a strong incentive for local communities to preserve wildlife habitat instead of converting land for agricultural uses[4]. Other than financial income, trophy hunting business also empowered local communities to invest in sanitation facilities in Botswana, which is a positive social impact made by trophy hunting[5].

In South Africa, trophy hunting is also an effective incentive for wildlife habitat preservation. There are thousands of game farms and reserved lands in South Africa, ranging over 16 million hectares of land, which would be possible if it wasn't for the profit of trophy hunting. As a result, trophy hunting accounts for almost 5% of South Africa's GDP, making it even a stronger incentive for local communities to conserve the land for wild animals. Trophy hunting business also encouraged South African landowners to reintroduce endangered species such as white rhinos back onto their land, which increased their population by more than 100 times[6]. Therefore, it is evident that trophy hunting in South Africa is capable of having positive impacts in conservation.

Trophy Hunting Detriments for Conservation

Trophy hunting has been and will be an ongoing, controversial debate. The justification of trophy hunting is deeply intertwined with the costs of conservation. Conservation pressures are a substantial financial factor to many nations, which trophy hunting licenses help mitigate.[9] The economic system of capitalism that many of us operate under calls for land to be utilized and, in some cases, exploited.[9] Land needs to be productive, in some capacity, to be valued. In this way, trophy hunting creates an anthropocentric value for these animals. Hunting brings in large sums of money that is not easily replicated by ecotourism. [9] It prescribes a value to the land and provides a buffer between local peoples and the animals.

What needs to be avoided is a federal government collecting high fees for trophy hunting licences and not distributing the money to the game wardens or inhabitants of the land. [10] Often these fees will be collected in cash with little transparency provided.[10] A controversial system that might be working is in Namibia, where the payments are being distributed to local tribes in return for a carefully controlled hunt of big game, including elephants.[10] In this case, nine elephant licences are released each year, making each one highly valuable and desired by hunters. With limited supply, the value of each licence rises, and fewer animals need to be slaughtered—capitalism working in the animal's favour, in this case.[10]

However, excluding the financial factor, the beneficial effects of hunting itself are limited and could be achieved through other means. For example, if an animal is aggressive to others in the herd, it could be relocated to somewhere where it is not a problem.

Amy Dickman refers to maintaining a barrier between indigenous populations and wildlife as a benefit of trophy hunting, citing that indigenous people will often kill a limited number of animals as a way to protect the livestock (Dickman, 2018).[11] However, culturally there is a fundamental difference between people local to a region hunting an animal for food, tradition, or protection to someone foreign to an area hunting an animal simply for a trophy.[12] Furthermore, as a non-hunter, it is challenging to comprehend how firing a large firearm at a grazing animal and butchering it only to remove its antlers or head equates to masculinity, bravery or a cultural experience.[12] Undoubtedly, trophy hunting basks in deeply troubling power dynamics that perpetuate colonial attitudes and values.

Online searching revealed many results proclaiming the economic benefits of trophy hunting. Be this as it may, we must question who has access to posting online articles. Would local African tribes and communities have the means to post their views on Google and have them be found in a search algorithm? National tourist ministries would, and so would large hunting organizations. More on the ground research would need to be performed to substantiate the claim that big game hunting benefits local communities. Corruption by African leaders has been notorious. Can we believe that revenue is being appropriated justly without a system of verifiable accounting?


Trophy hunting will continue to remain a controversial subject, with both sides believing their view is justified. The balance between economic forces, local peoples and animal conservation is difficult to obtain. The example of Namibia, where this balance is being addressed, is worthy.[10] Sharing the trophy fees with the game wardens and the local population can create a sustainable industry.[12] By limiting licences, the price of each licence rises, making capitalism a saviour to the animals instead of their demise.[12] However, it is difficult to find reliable information where large sums of money are involved.[12] Trusting internet search algorithms or sponsored research becomes problematic.

An exciting extension to this report would be to contrast two nations, one supporting trophy hunting and one fully embracing ecotourism. I would expect that ecotourism is better for a country than hunting. Rather than a few hunters paying a lot, welcome many visitors paying less. There are advantages too many more industries such as travel, restaurants, hotels, and retail and handicraft shops with each and every tourist. With money going directly into the hands of the local people. Attitudes would need to be amended to believe that a large photo, perfectly shot and framed, is a more valuable souvenir than a stuffed animal part. Mentalities can be changed, just as wearing fur coats is now widely disapproved of in society.

With more tourists engaging in ecotourism and viewing the animals, the goals of protecting and enhancing the species, land preservation, and economic prosperity can all be achieved.


  1. Van der Merwe, P.; Saayman, M.; Krugell, W. (2004). "Factors that determine the price of game". Koedoe. 47 (2). doi:10.4102/koedoe.v47i2.86
  2. Cloete, P. C.; Taljaard, P. R.; Grové, B. (2007). "A comparative economic case study of switching from cattle farming to game ranching in the Northern Cape Province". South African Journal of Wildlife Research. 37 (1): 71–78. doi:10.3957/0379-4369-37.1.71
  3. 3.0 3.1 Conniff, R. (2014). A trophy hunt that's good for Rhinos. The New York Times. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from
  4. 4.0 4.1 Barnes, J. I., (2001) “Economic returns and allocation of resources in the wildlife sector of Botswana”. South African Journal of Wildlife Research. 31 (3): 141-153.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thakadu, O. T., Mangadi, K. T., Bernard, F. E., & Mbaiwa, J. E. (2005). The Economic Contribution of Safari Hunting to Rural Livelihoods in the Okavango: The Case of Sankuyo Village. Botswana Notes and Records, 37, 22–39.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Leader-Williams, N., Milledge, S., Adcock, K., Brooks, M., Conway, A., Knight, M., Mainka, S., Martin, E. B., & Teferi, T. (2005). Trophy hunting of Rhinodiceros Bicornis: Proposals to ensure its future sustainability. Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 8(1), 1–11.
  7. Milner, JM; Nilsen, EB; Andreassen, HP (2007). "Demographic side effects of selective hunting in ungulates and carnivores". Conservation Biology. 21 (1): 36–47. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00591.x. hdl:11250/134170
  8. Lindsey, P. A., Alexander, R., Frank, L. G., Mathieson, A., & Romanach, S. S. (2006). Potential of trophy hunting to create incentives for wildlife conservation in Africa where alternative wildlife-based land uses may not be viable. Animal Conservation, 9(3), 283–291.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Lindsey, Peter A. (12 December 2015). "Life after Cecil: channelling global outrage into funding for conservation in Africa". Conservation Letters. 9: 296–301 – via Society for Conservation Biology.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Semcer, Catherine (September 6 2019). "Conservationists Should Support Trophy Hunting". PERC. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. Dickman, Amy (2020). [nationalgeographic "AMY DICKMAN"] Check |url= value (help). National Geographic.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Dajczak, Wojciech (16 September 2020). "Should Hunting as a Cultural Heritage Be Protected?". International Journal for the Semiotics of Law: 803–838 – via SpringerLink.

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