The Relationship Between Trophy Hunting and Conservation in South Africa
The age-old debate of whether hunting has its place in conservation continues to rage on, fuelled by media channels who do not fully understand the hunting model and the vital role it plays in protecting wild animals and the larger biosphere.
Like Greater Kuduland, most private game reserves in South Africa are supported through trophy hunting, which is why we would like to share our perspective on the matter. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the role hunting has played in the significant increase of wildlife species in South Africa, as well as how it has been the main benefactor behind the protection of endangered animals.
The Start of Commercial Trophy Hunting in South Africa
In the early 1970s, countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia began to implement hunting bans, while at the same time South African law introduced private ownership rights of wild animals. The combination of these factors led the market to shift to southern Africa and for the first time, wild game species held more value than livestock and agricultural produce. Soon, private landowners began converting their land into environments sustainable for game farming and before long wild species began to recuperate.
Game Numbers on the Rise
Contrary to popular belief, game numbers are on the rise rather than the decline. According to a study done by SAN Parks in 1964, there were just under 500 000 heads of wild game in South Africa, mostly residing in the Kruger National Park. Today, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs estimates this number to be over 20.5 million, of which 70% of the game live on private game reserves. Rhino numbers have increased from an estimated 200 to 18 000, despite the massive poaching epidemic, making South Africa home to over 85% of the world’s rhino population. Similarly, sable, roan, wild ostrich, tsessebe, cape mountain zebra and black wildebeest are some of the animals who have fought their way off the endangered species list.
Hunting as a form of Sustainable Utilisation
Sustainable use is to use the components of biological diversity in a way, and at a rate, that does not lead to its long-term decline. This ensures the needs and aspirations of present and future generations are met. In order to be classified as sustainable, three pillars need to be covered; economic, environmental, and social.
Over 90% of the revenue brought in from a hunting safari on Greater Kuduland goes straight back into the Reserve. Many other private game reserves that hunt work on a similar model. This funding allows game farmers to support their animals and the environment through anti-poaching operations, drought management, veterinary requirements, and rehabilitation programs, to name a few. Its is largely thanks to efforts such as these that wildlife populations have strengthened in recent times.
A game farm’s main objective is to produce a healthy ecosystem to enable the health and longevity of their game. According to Wildlife Ranching SA, the average game reserve of about 2,700ha supports an estimated 45 mammals, 266 birds, 43 reptiles, 29 grass species and over 100 other tree and plant species.
On private game reserves, where long migration is not possible, it is important to ensure the delicate balance of the environment is maintained to prevent over-harvesting, habitat destruction and ecological imbalance. One of the ways we manage the risk of overpopulation is through hunting. Regular game counts are performed and careful monitoring and research are conducted on the health of the herds and of the land. This information is then used to work out hunting quotas. Without this off-take tool, game farmers would eventually need to cull herds as they do in national parks in order to protect the environment for all animals.
According to the statistics of the Wildlife Ranching Association of South Africa, private game reserves collectively employ over 100,000 people. Many of these reserves lie within remote areas that are not considered part of the mainstream tourism circuit which has expanded the employment pool into the rural areas. This not only gives breathing room to the over-saturated job market in the larger towns and cities, but it also keeps families together in agronomic areas. Greater Kuduland has also helped fund schools and churches within the community with the revenue brought in from hunting. Like many other private game reserves, we have invested a lot of time and money into training our employees and would not want to lose them to more developed areas for the lack of infrastructure. Furthermore, reserves such as Greater Kuduland donate a large portion of the meat from each hunt to their staff and the local communities, providing a vital source of protein to people who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
What Happened to the Countries that Implemented Hunting Bans?
The benefits that resulted from the introduction of hunting in South Africa is clear, and the opposite effects were witnessed in countries that banned hunting. Kenya’s ban took full effect in 1977 following an elephant hunting ban in 1974 and the country has since lost 68% of all its wild game according to recent research. When game farmers lost the incentive to breed game, they turned to agriculture to earn a livelihood and their game was left to roam free, leading to severe poaching. In 1993 elephant hunting in Ethiopia was prohibited. The tropical rain forests of the Guraferda region harboured about 3,000 elephants of which between 10 and 15 were harvested a year. Within the 10 years following the ban, there was no rainforest left in the area, let alone any elephants, as is the case today.
What do Research Agencies and Animal Welfare Bodies have to say?
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), IUCN and other serious nature conservation bodies have long acknowledged that regulated trophy hunting in Africa is an important tool for nature conservation. Former SAN Parks CEO, Dr David Mabunda, recently spoke of the importance of hunting in modern wildlife management in a speech he gave at the premiere of Peter Flack’s documentary “The South African Conservation Success Story”, stating that registered privately owned land does three times more for conservation than the efforts of the state.
It has long been recognised that trophy hunting is a vital element when it comes to the conservation of the land. Theodore Roosevelt even weighed in on the matter and said, “in a civilised and cultivated society, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen”. In South Africa, although not always civilised, we are grateful that the hunting industry provides the funding to allow us to protect pieces of natural African habitat and conserve its wildlife.
Our comments are based on the way we conduct wildlife conservation and hunting practices at Greater Kuduland Safaris. All animals that live on Greater Kuduland are free-roaming and with no captive breeding. We only conduct, and actively promote, fair chase hunting and are against the canned hunting practices.