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The Unexpected Good of Trophy Hunting

Petar Draganov

For decades African countries have had concerns about conserving biodiversity, especially megafauna and predators. As the continent developed, a heavy reliance on agriculture was noted, and in many areas, particularly rural ones, the majority of the wildlife was seen as a threat to cattle and to life in those communities, as they sometimes competed for the same water sources. That perception of predatory animals as worthless in themselves or even as a menace led to two things, overhunting, and poaching; even when laws were implemented to protect the endangered species. The wildlife was of no value to the locals, so they sought to eliminate it, and some of them, seeing that they could make a profit beyond pest control, decided to capitalize on that.

While many animals are still endangered as of today, some of the species are making a comeback thanks to monetization efforts undertaken. A prime example of this capitalist approach can be found in Namibia.

In the 1960s Namibians began to offer trophy hunting as a service – mainly to foreigners – and it has become one of the most lucrative sources of revenue for the nation. In 2007 trophy hunting comprised 2.3% of GDP, without accounting for airfares, accommodations, meals, and comparable secondary goods and services that accompany such trips. These ancillary costs may even double that figure. Not only has there been great economic success, but the populations of big game – that is, large animals hunted for sport – like elephants and giraffe, has seen a massive uptick in the last decades. Namibia’s elephant population has been growing at an average annual rate of 5.36% since 1995. To help visualise that, the population in Khaudum National Park has seen close to an eightfold increase over said time period (from 1104 to 7999 elephants).

These conservation efforts have not been independent from government intervention. In fact, the government has played a large part in intertwining the conservation efforts with the establishment and delineation of the rights of individual landowners and local communities to benefit from the wildlife. The permit that must be issued for every hunter before each hunt is one such government action. There are strict regulations on the amount and type of game that can be hunted – almost exclusively adult males, and no more than two of every species per hunter, per permit. And there is a reason for those requirements. In general, the adult males have already made their contribution to the continuation of the species. And if the elephant you really want to shoot is too small, your hunting guide will tell you how many inches it has to grow before you can take it out. Adult females may also be hunted, assuming they have no dependent young.

It is also worth noting that hunting guides take their work seriously. The most obvious reasons are the double forces of licensing and competition for the job. The theoretical and practical exams are difficult, and there is a large list of applicants. The list has increased since the theoretical exam can now be taken verbally, as many skinners and trackers are deeply familiar with flora and fauna, but not fully literate. Beyond that, many hunting guides come from communities that benefit directly from trophy hunting. A lot of hunting takes place on conservation areas owned by tribal communities. Such communities have a deal with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism that states that, in exchange for using the communal land and wildlife, the trophy hunters get their trophies and hides, but the meat goes to the community.

It is crystal-clear that it is a win-win situation: hunters get the trophies they came for, locals get to easily procure meat for their communities, and the animals still alive get to live longer and reproduce more because of their newfound benefit to society.

You might imagine that, with hunting being such a lucrative industry, a lot of foreigners will be importing firearms regularly, which leads to an apprehension in the general public. Most hunters bring their own rifles and, for the sake of hunting, they are issued temporary firearms import permits with a maximum of 100 rounds of ammunition per hunting rifle. Handguns, automatic firearms and crossbows, however, are less than suitable for hunting, with their low range and/or risk of collateral damage, which is why you cannot get a temporary permit for those.

Namibia is very much an exception amid African countries, to the point that in 2019 during the Great Elephant Census across African countries, Namibia was accused of presenting false data and of having only 5600 elephants, in contrast to the 24000 their internal analyses claimed. They did share the raw data with the African Elephant Database though and the internal analyses were confirmed independently. The accusation likely has to do with the fact that the conservation efforts in many other nations exclude the private sector and fail to make the wildlife valuable to the locals, so the animals (in this case, elephants) get killed or poached mercilessly.

Namibian law may even have too many restrictions for someone of an avidly libertarian persuasion. Nevertheless, the nation is a great example of the usefulness of free markets in increasing the production of goods and services, and the overall quality of life in any economy!

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