Hunting as a Conservation Tool?
Anyone who has had the good fortune to be able to travel to Africa and enjoy the experience of safaris cannot help but view animals as majestic and important to protect. Unfortunately, living among these wild animals isn’t as idyllic. Human-wildlife co-existence poses many challenges. Elephants destroy crops and water installations. Lions, hyenas, leopards, jackals, cheetah and other predators kill goats, cattle and sheep. Crocodiles attack villagers cleaning their clothes or gathering water by river banks. For protection, humans hunt those animals and, understandingly, see them primarily in a negative light. Would you want to preserve wildlife if the animals in your area were hurting you and the people you love economically and physically?
Finding a way to allow both humans and wildlife to thrive, particularly in areas with harsh environmental conditions and subsistence economies, is no simple task. Fortunately, following independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia became the first country in the world to incorporate conservation into its constitution and in the years that followed an enticing idea began to develop. In the late 1990s, with empowerment from the government and support from WWF, communal conservancies were established in a manner that gave local people control over wildlife in their areas. This created an opportunity for rural Namibians to directly benefit from economic activities such as tourism. Seeing the potential value of wildlife, locals began to take conservation into their own hands.
Tourism can be used as an important incentive for native populations to accept and manage human-wildlife conflict and, surprisingly, controlled hunting may be another.
How does controlled hunting work?
To make things simple, I am going to use lions as an example, but this concept applies to many other species as well.
- In order to manage their wildlife, conservancies need information about their wildlife. With limited resources available, rangers who are in charge of specific territories record their sightings of various species. These statistics are then compiled into monthly reporting charts such as the one displayed below. So for instance in 2013, Torra Conservancy rangers (located in the Damaraland region) spotted 143 lions. Given lions are constantly moving, overlaps may have occurred rendering these figures estimations. The data is therefore most useful when repeatedly compared over months and years. Has the lion population overall decreased, increased or stayed the same from January to February, from 2013 to 2014? With this data, the number of lions that can be sustainably hunted is determined.
- Hunters will pay tens of thousands of dollars to go hunting, without even a guarantee that the excursion will be successful. Moreover, the lions that they are allowed to hunt are restricted. The hunting permits are given under the condition that the lion population will continue to prosper so an ideal trophy lion is an older male about 8 to 10 years old. Male lions that age are often challenged by other males moving into their region and trying to claim their pride, or kicked out of their pride and forced to move to another region where they will either not survive the journey or challenge a lion from another pride themselves. As a result, a lion that might have died anyway is hunted and locals gain financial resources that are used to support their community. This further provides incentives for communities to live with their wildlife because it adds an existence value for lions that would not otherwise exist.
As animal populations have risen and communities have prospered due to tourism and controlled hunting, the progress made in Namibia has come to be seen by many as an inspiration worldwide.
That being said, not all problems have been resolved, and many new problems have arisen. Just yesterday, in Torra Conservancy, 8 lions surrounded an enclosure occupied by goats. Many of the goats were so terrified they pushed their way through the wire in the hopes of escaping and as a result 7 out of the 9 goats that left the enclosure were killed. Today, Vitalis Flory, Natural Resource Coordinator for Torra Conservancy, told us: “As long as humans are on earth and wildlife is on earth, human-wildlife conflict will always exist. But we need to make efforts to reduce it.”
This is what I’ve learned during my visit to Namibia, but for more information about conservation, conservancies, and controlled hunting check out the following links: