For years now, there appears to be a growing opposition to trophy hunting, particularly in foreign nations where hunting is not common practice. Evidence has shown that trophy hunting plays a key role in conservation, but much of the resistance towards conservancy hunting has been based on a contrast of worldviews; a difference in ideology surrounding animal welfare.
What is often ignored by those in the anti-hunting camp is the perspective of the local communities that are involved in the day to day work relating to hunting and conservation. Policymakers residing in wealthy nations know little about the reality of these individuals, and too often the thoughts and opinions of these communities are not considered in any discussions regarding hunting legislation.
In 2018, the peer reviewed journal “Biological Conservation” released a paper entitled “Local perceptions of trophy hunting on communal lands in Namibia” (Angula et al, 2018). This paper sought to get the opinions of those living and working in various conservancies across Namibia in order to gain some insight into trophy hunting and the impact that it has on their lives. In total, 160 rural residents across 32 communal conservancies were participants in this this study, answering questions through both interviews and surveys.
Here, we will detail the key points and themes that were found as part of this study, and the reason why the local perspective is significant when assessing the holistic benefits of conservancy hunting and the possible implications of a hunting ban.
Why is the Local Perspective Significant?
Whether it’s on state, communal or private lands, it is the land managers and people living in these conservancies that are ultimately most affected by decisions relating to trophy hunting. Trophy hunting is intrinsically tied to the livelihoods of many of these residents, and to dismiss the impact that a hunting ban would have on such communities demonstrates a distinct lack of consideration for countless lives.
The introduction of conservancy hunting has lifted many Namibian people out of poverty, leading to the creation of jobs and income in areas where employment is a scarce commodity. Research has suggested that Namibia’s attitude towards trophy hunting has had a significant positive impact on their economy, leading to greater stability and growth (Batavia et al, 2018). Ultimately, this can be at attributed to job generation and wealth creation at the local level in conservancies across Namibia.
There are further reasons why the local perspective is significant, particularly in regards to conservation. Local residents in conservancies are the frontline workers when it comes to conservation; in terms of knowledge and the practical application of ideas related to this field, it is these individuals that can be considered the leading experts. Therefore, the thoughts of these local communities should at least be considered when conducting research and political debate around trophy hunting.
The Benefits of Trophy Hunting to Locals
The results of the study found that an overwhelming majority of 90% of respondents said that trophy hunting provided benefits to the local community. Most subjects attributed jobs and the income that it provides community members as a major contributing factor in this response. It should be noted that the economic benefits are not only limited to those directly managing these conservancies, but also includes jobs at local hunting camps and from eco-tourism.
The boost in eco-tourism as a result of trophy hunting can also be seen as an indicator of the success that such programs have in tackling conservation issues. Additionally, it shows that protecting the ecosystem, including flower and fauna as well as animals, through trophy hunting can have a positive knock on effect in other industries. Not only is this favorable for the state by bringing foreign cash into the country, but most importantly allows for the further creation of jobs and wealth for local communities.
Other benefits that were mentioned included the distribution of meat to local communities following hunts. In an area such as Namibia where the amount of arable land and land available for animal husbandry can be limited, protein can be expensive and difficult to access. Trophy hunting provides a unique and ethical solution to this issue, and ensures that locals can maintain a balanced diet for little to no cost.
The removal of problem animals was cited as a further boon of conservancy hunting. One respondent mentioned that elephants were often the cause of issues by destroying crops, another stating that aggressive hippos can lead to conflict with humans.
While these points do demonstrate the advantages of conservancy hunting to local communities, they also highlight exactly why these types of studies are so important. Those unfamiliar with the daily operations in conservancies may be wholly unfamiliar with any of these points, and yet local voices are not being considered by those opposed to hunting.
What Would be the Effect of a Hunting Ban?
Participants in the study were asked how a potential trophy ban would impact their lives. 65% of respondents stated that “This would be depriving them of income or employment that is critical for their livelihoods.” The term “critical” suggests that a majority of those employed in conservancy work would have nowhere else to turn to for employment, possibly forcing them back into poverty. Those proposing a ban on hunting must offer other solutions before imposing such a drastic decision on these individuals.
It is also suggested that a ban on trophy hunting, and the discontinuation of the conservation program, may have an adverse effect on wildlife outside of the direct impact it would have on the ecosystem. The study shows that only 11% of participants would continue to support wildlife on communal lands if a ban was enacted. Removing the motivation for locals to care for wildlife would be counter-intuitive when the intent of a hunting ban would be to protect the animals in the first place. Further examples of how locals think it may impact wildlife include an increase in poaching and the retaliatory killing of animals.
Social factors that were mentioned in the study were an increase in human-wildlife conflict and the loss of meat. While many are concerned for the welfare of animals, it should be considered that a hunting ban would have wider, non-economic implications for humans. Again, these are concerns that those lobbying for such a ban would never consider to be an issue.
What is interesting to note is that even though 13% of people were in favor of a hunting ban, all participants with this viewpoint suggested that there was no other alternative to trophy hunting that would be able to replace all of its benefits. This reveals how locals that are against hunting still accept it as necessary for both people and the environment.
Summary and Wider Implications of the Local Perspective
What is clear from the results of this study is that trophy hunting has far reaching implications to the local conservancies and its residents across Namibia. The common themes that were found are often not discussed by those that oppose the practice of hunting. Arguably, it is the economic repercussions that a hunting ban would have on humans that is the most significant finding. From this perspective, the primary concern that can be concluded from the study should be the prevention of conservation workers from transitioning back into poverty.
The effect that a hunting ban would have on wildlife is another point that should be stressed. The mindset amongst those in favor of a hunting ban is a desire to “help” animals, when in reality such a ban would have the opposite effect. With the large majority of residents in conservancies suggesting that they would not continue caring for wildlife in communal lands, it is important to remember the role that human incentives play in conservation. The same wildlife and animals will continue to exist even after a ban; the only difference will be that there will be no funding to operate a conservation program.
Much of the conflict around hunting appears to stem from a difference in ideologies surrounding animal welfare. Those that oppose it seem to base their arguments around ethics, when a more critical analysis would reveal that the real issues are about humans and the wider environment. Even though less than 1/5 participants in the survey were in favor of a hunting ban, none of them cited animal welfare as a reason for doing so. This suggests that individuals pushing for a ban in foreign countries lack an in depth understanding of the subject, with their personal opinions preventing them from taking a more holistic view.
It is unfortunate that the local perspective is often lost in the discussion surrounding trophy hunting, as their thoughts are equally if not more important than those that seek to ban it. For those that understand the advantages of hunting, more could be done to inform and educate others on matters relating to local conservancies. It is imperative that similar studies should be repeated and conducted on a wider scale, as academic articles are key in definitively outlining and convincing others of the advantages of trophy hunting.
Angula et al. (2018). Local perceptions of trophy hunting on communal lands in Namibia. Biological Conservation, 218, p26-31.
Batavia et al. (2018). The elephant (head) in the room: A critical look at trophy hunting. Conservation Letters, 12(1), p1-6