Hunting trophy ban must be backed by a global fund to support communities living with wildlife
Tamar Ron
31st January 2022

The issue of trophy hunting is highly emotive, and the UK government plans to ban the import of trophies. But if it goes ahead, it must look at establishing a global conservation fund to help indigenous communities conserve the wildlife with which they live

The British government and Parliament plans to ban the import of hunting trophies as part of a conservation initiative to protect endangered animals have been received with great enthusiasm by many organisations and individuals globally – and with sharp criticism from others.

Both proponents and opponents of the ban are very vocal, emotional, certain that they and only they are right, and accuse the others of being motivated by hidden agendas.

While proponents of the proposed ban praise its contribution to global conservation as well as to animal welfare, opponents claim that it undermines the rights of rural communities to use their local resources and to benefit from hunting.

This claim is relevant specifically in the context of community conservancies or similar institutional structures, where revenues from the legal trophy-hunting trade form part of local communities’ income in several countries, mainly in southern Africa. Nevertheless, the opponents of the proposed bill go as far as generalising that it “puts wildlife at risk”.

Proposed balanced approach

Proposed here is an integrated balanced approach of support for promoting a ban on trophy hunting and trade everywhere, while at the same time protecting the rights and addressing the needs of local communities that reside with wildlife in Africa and elsewhere.

The identification of these needs would have to be based on extensive dialogue and community consultations in range states of the species concerned, both in the context of established conservancies and among communities in countries where there is no conservancy system.

A special focus should be given to support for enhancing communities’ engagement in conservation, for developing sustainable livelihood opportunities and enabling access to education at all levels, and for mitigating the devastating impacts of human-wildlife conflict.

Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade

Legal hunting of wildlife is interlinked with poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in several ways. While opponents of the ban claim that reduced revenues from legal trophy hunting for certain communities would increase these community members’ motivation to engage in poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, proponents stress the impact of legal trade on facilitating, enabling and increasing the volume of poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

Particularly worrying is the negative impact on endangered iconic species that are threatened by the illegal trade in their trophies and in derivatives, such as rhino horn, ivory and lion bones.

Legal trade in wildlife hunting trophies and other derivatives forms a comfortable platform for laundering of illegal trade. Considering that the supply for legal trade in endangered species and their derivatives is very limited in nature, due to biological factors such as limited species abundance, life history and reproduction limitations, and that the demand for these products is not stable and normally exceeds the legal supply by far, laundering of illegally obtained wildlife derivatives as legal is bound to prevail wherever there is legal trade.

A ban can considerably reduce such illegal activities by reducing demand for these products and facilitating enforcement and judicial efforts.

In an ideal world, with sufficient legislation and regulation, strict control, tight and effective enforcement, and no corruption in all source and consuming countries of the traded species, the laundering of illegal trade products as legal would not form a major threat and consideration. However, the reality is different.

Legal wildlife hunting, trade and ranching are definitely not immune to corruption, illegal activities and the infiltration of criminal elements.

The high financial value of some wildlife hunting derivatives makes these species particularly vulnerable to the involvement of sophisticated criminal elements and syndicates, and sensitive to corruption. The impact of even a few “rotten apples” among legal hunting and trade operators can be devastating to endangered species that are subjected to intensive illegal trade.

Vulnerability of these endangered species is higher in source countries where legislation, control, enforcement and judicial capacities are weak. The existence of legal trade imposes additional challenges and limitations on enforcement and judicial systems in both source and destination countries, and more so in countries with weaker legislation, and weaker enforcement and judicial capacities.

Therefore, legislation in the importing and consuming countries cannot be based only on the situation in several source countries with stronger conservation measures, including capacitated community conservancy structures, but rather must take into consideration the threat that wildlife trade poses to these endangered species in the most vulnerable countries and sites of their distribution, where conservation and enforcement capacities are weak.

Who benefits from legal trade in hunting trophies?

The primary beneficiaries of legal trophy hunting are the professional hunting operators, companies and service providers, as well as related international travel service providers. A large part of legal trophy hunting is performed inside game ranches, where most of the revenues belong to the ranch owners. Governments benefit through licensing.

Local communities are among the beneficiaries in a few countries and in several cases of well-institutionalised benefit sharing with community conservancies where trophy hunting is legally permitted in this context. To a limited extent, local residents may also benefit from related employment opportunities. These jobs are rarely well paid, compared with the revenues and salaries of the hunting operators and their skilled employees, who are not local.

Moreover, these jobs are normally gender-biased and thereby may increase gender inequality in these communities.

It must be honestly said that most local community members in most source countries of species that are subject to legal and illegal hunting and trade do not benefit from legal trophy hunting. Moreover, due to the very limited hunting of iconic species that can be legally permitted within sustainability considerations, and with the decline of many large mammal populations in Africa as a result of a number of causes, there is simply no option that legal trade in hunting trophies would become a sustainable and substantial income source for the majority of community members in all of these species’ range states.

Legal trade in hunting trophies is not and cannot be a major remedy for poverty and unemployment of most rural communities in Africa, including most of the communities that cohabit with endangered and iconic species, and that suffer the costs of conservation and the burden of human-wildlife conflict.

At best, it can be part of the livelihood components of certain rural communities in a few countries where community conservancies are well established, and where specific wildlife populations of these iconic species are and will remain large enough to enable limited sustainable hunting.

Other solutions of sharing the burden of conservation must therefore be prioritised.

Whose values and vision does trophy hunting and trade represent?

Hunting for food has been part of the local subsistence livelihood and tradition in many parts of Africa for many generations. Many rural communities in Africa still practise bushmeat hunting for both subsistence and commercial purposes.

Poverty and limited access to basic social services, education, employment opportunities, and other sustainable livelihoods, are often mentioned as the main drivers for this practice nowadays.

When asked, many rural residents in various parts of Africa, particularly women and young people, clearly express their will to expand the education and employment opportunities that are open to them and their children, way beyond the limited livelihood options they can access now, or that are related to hunting and gathering.

Trophy hunting and trade, on the other hand, represents a mainly colonial practice that was introduced into Africa. Nowadays, most trophy hunting is performed by foreign tourists, and run by professional hunting operators. When governments and legislators in consuming countries ban hunting trophy imports, they represent a current shift in values of their countries’ citizens. This is what they were elected to do.

Call for dialogue

Nevertheless, when, as in this case, legislation in one country can financially or otherwise affect another country, a multilateral dialogue is called for.

Considering that the expected impact of trophy hunting imports on several source countries with well-established community conservancy systems is dramatically different from the impact expected on other source countries of the same species, such a dialogue must encompass locally agreed representation of local communities, ideally from all source countries of the main endangered species that are the subject of the proposed bill.

Joint global responsibility

If there is one thing that the world must take as a lesson from the past two years of Covid-19 and environmental disasters, it is the great need for coordinated collaboration through joint global responsibility.

In this spirit, the UK and other countries may well ban the import and trade resulting from trophy hunting to support conservation globally, but at the same time they are called upon to share the burden of conservation with impoverished rural communities who currently undertake alone the costs of acting as the custodians of endangered species that we all need to survive.

It is therefore proposed here that a joint global responsibility fund for wildlife and communities be established.

Such a fund can be initiated, for example, within a budgetary package of the proposed UK bill, while other countries would be encouraged to join both the ban and the fund. The proposed fund would support custodian communities that cohabit with endangered wildlife species to facilitate their engagement in, and benefits from, conservation, developing long-term education and sustainable livelihood opportunities and capacities, to be identified in accordance with their own vision and goals, and to sustainably mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

In the same spirit of joint responsibility, it is also essential for the several countries in southern Africa that have developed solid wildlife conservation legislation and qualified enforcement and judicial systems – including well-established community conservancy systems – to collaborate with and support other range states of the same endangered species in their efforts to reach the same level of conservation, protection and community engagement capacities. DM

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