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Issue of Trophy Hunting

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2953 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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American President Donald Trump ignited the controversy over trophy hunting and its possible role in conservation in Africa when he tweeted in November 2018, “Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”[1] On the internet, opinions in the United States of animal rights activists, conservationists, and hunters are sharply divided; but of more significance, how have African countries viewed wildlife management, hunting, and conservation historically and in the modern age? Ever since the advent of Colonialism in Africa, the concept of wildlife management has been hotly contested, with different interest groups including white colonial farmers, ranchers and settlers, native rural people, foreign trophy hunters, foreign conservation groups, tourism and safari businesses, and indigenous tribes all struggling for their own best interests. Indigenous African concerns were historically overshadowed by white and foreign interests. After independence, the country of Kenya adopted a complete ban of hunting in its country in 1977; whereas the country of Zimbabwe adopted the CAMPFIRE policy in 1982, which allows landowners and communal groups some autonomy in deciding hunting regulations on their own land. By examining the histories and hunting policies of Kenya and Zimbabwe, it suggests that regulated hunting allowing economic gain for both black and white Africans is advantageous for the conservation of animals and for political equality.

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  Game hunting was part of everyday life and culture in pre-colonial Africa. People hunted bushmeat for subsistence. They then traded artifacts such as horns, pelts and ivory for livestock, seeds, and other goods. Men were esteemed for their hunting skills. Historian E.I. Steinhart in his book Hunters Poachers and Gamekeepers; Towards a Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya states that hunting, “was until quite recently the chief avenue to prestige, honor, and wealth for many men.”[2] Africans also hunted to protect their livestock and families from predators, and to protect their crops from herbivores. Native hunters used traditional methods such as poison darts, snares, traps, bows and arrows, and spears.[3]

 The advent of colonialism in Africa radically changed hunting policies and practices. Initially, white colonialists exploitatively hunted big game with almost no restrictions. Political economist Clark Gibson in his book Politicians and Poachers: The Political Economy of Wildlife in Africa points out how big game hunting fueled colonialism when he states, “Later, ivory became closely connected to the slave trade. Ivory and meat subsidized early European explorers, fed colonial troops, and accounted for a significant portion of the household budget of early settlers and colonial administrators.”[4] Fueled by the ivory trade, colonialism expanded, and paved the way for white settlers.

White landowners desired to eliminate wildlife since it posed a threat to their livestock and crops. This effort was referred to as “game control”. Although shocking by modern standards, it is similar to the elimination of wolves in the United States, in which “bounty programs initiated in the 19th century continued as late as 1965, offering $20-50 per wolf. Wolves were trapped, shot, dug from their dens, and hunted with dogs” [5] according to the PBS documentary The Wolf That Changed America. Such aggressive predator control programs not only severely diminished wolf populations but also other predators such as bears and big cats in the United States.

The foreign sportsman became the foundation for Africa’s tourism industry in the early 1900’s. Wealthy European aristocrats and millionaire Americans (1920s-1930s) pursued high adventure romance and luxury on what became known as “champagne safaris.” These hunters also changed the whole concept of what African hunting was, compared to the indigenous pre-colonial concepts. Steinhart states, “they contributed to the ideological foundations of the hunting dilemma: their very eminence and wealth, their social standing and class backgrounds supported the belief that proper hunting was the sport of gentlemen who obeyed a civilized and humane set of rules of the game. These rules included the exclusive use of firearms and a disdain for the use of weapons and techniques which were considered ‘unsporting’.” [6] This disconnect between indigenous and wealthy European concepts of hunting set the stage for the inequalities of colonial hunting regulations.

Due to this ideological shift, native hunting methods such as snares and bows were considered poaching by colonial regulations. Black Africans were not allowed to own firearms and found it difficult to hunt or profit from wildlife. Colonial regulations on wildlife were hated by black Africans because they excluded them from either profit or control over wildlife in their country. Poaching is considered everything from an indigenous African hunting a predator that is killing his/her goats, to a criminal trading illegal ivory, to a hunter with improper licensing. Poaching also was a form of social protest against colonial hunting regulations. For example, the Waata tribe which had an ancient history of hunting elephants with bows, became aggressive poachers during the 1950’s out of frustration and as a form of social protest.

In 1946, Kenya began establishing national parks and reserves, and their economy became increasingly dependent on revenue from tourism and from foreign conservation aid groups. Kenya achieved independence in 1963 but was reluctant to change its old exclusionary colonial laws because of its reliance on wildlife tourism. At this point, camera safaris were as economically important as hunting safaris in Kenya. In 1977, Kenya established a complete ban on hunting in its country. Newspapers at the time expressed varying opinions about this ban. The New York Times Associated Press stated its optimism in, “The millions of people who are interested in the future of East African wildlife will be greatly encouraged by this step,” but still had reservations that the main cause of the depletion of wildlife was due to illegal poaching and not trophy hunting.[7] Boyce Rensberger of the New York Times stated that Kenya stood to lose “$1.2 million a year from the sale of hunting licenses,” alone, in addition to lost revenue from safari companies, and lost jobs as game trackers and servants for local businesses.[8]

The country of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was markedly different from Kenya in that it passed the 1960 Wildlife Conservation Act that gave mostly white landowners the ability to protect their crops and livestock by hunting, and to obtain permits to trade wildlife resources from kills on their land. Gibson states, “Wildlife, once a cost to settlers, became valuable, and the wildlife utilization industry developed rapidly. Wildlife populations outside parks and reserves began to recover quickly, indicating that white farmers had been killing a great deal of wildlife previously.”[9] Rhodesia achieved independence in 1965, becoming the country of Zimbabwe. The 1975 Parks and Wildlife Act went further in decentralizing the government’s control over wildlife by transferring control to landowners. Black Africans still did not benefit from these acts as they were not landowners, which led to them being suspicious about the motives of wildlife conservation.

Zimbabwe responded by creating CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) in 1982, which extended to black Zimbabweans living in communal areas, the same rights as white landowners. For the first time since colonialism, black Zimbabweans were given the right to make decisions and profit from wildlife. Through CAMPFIRE money from trophy hunting is funneled into communal projects including anti-poaching efforts. An example of how CAMPFIRE works is illustrated by author Bernd Grahl in his book Perspectives on Trophy Hunting in Tourism; Namibia as a Case Study. Rural people in Zimbabwe were upset about elephants destroying their crops. Through CAMPFIRE, “licenses for these animals to be shot, were issued in order to control population. It is argued that, ‘by 1993 eight districts had earned around 35,000 Pounds from safari hunting, mostly catering for Americans wanting an elephant trophy’.”[10]

Modern conservationists are still researching whether sustainable trophy hunting or bans on hunting are the most beneficial to wildlife conservation. The numbers of wildlife in Kenya is not encouraging. Researcher Joseph Ogutu has followed Kenyan wildlife over the past forty years. He reports, “The actual rate of decline in wildlife numbers varied among species. It was most extreme (64-88%) for wildebeest, giraffe, gerenuk, Grant’s gazelle, warthog, lesser kudu, Thomson’s gazelle, eland, oryx, topi, hartebeest, impala, Grevy’s zebra and waterbuck. The extreme rates of decline now severely threaten the survival of these species.”[11] The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority reports in its National Elephant Management Plan for 2015-2020, “Using historical accounts of elephant numbers…it is unlikely that Zimbabwe held more than about 4,000 elephants in 1900. More than one hundred years later, in 2014, this number had increased twenty-fold to nearly 83,000 elephants.”[12] These numbers sound encouraging, particularly since portions of profit are funneled back into local economies.

Conservationist Amy Dickman has worked in African conservation for over twenty years. She argues in the article “Trump Puts Big-Game Trophy Decision on Hold,” that rather than trophy hunting, the key issues facing game animals are, “loss of habitat, prey loss from bushmeat poaching, and conflict with local people.”[13] She argues that these issues can be diminished by responsible trophy hunting. The revenue from such hunting helps maintain habitat and parks and reduce poaching by allowing people to profit legally from wildlife.[14]

There is no denying that African wildlife continues to be in peril, especially as human populations grow. More research by conservation biologists is needed to determine what the best methods for conservation are, that still allow for cultural and economic benefits to local people. By examining the histories and present-day policies of Kenya and Zimbabwe, it appears that trophy hunting is one such solution. Equally as important as conservation, is that the African people have autonomy and control of the management of the wildlife in their country. Conservation biologist Amy Dickman powerfully states, “We should remember that the management of African wildlife is the right and responsibility of range states–who have managed to maintain populations of large, costly wildlife while in the Global North we have largely extirpated ours.”[15]


  • Dickman, Amy. “Ending Trophy Hunting Could Be Worse for Endangered Species.” CNN. January 04, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/24/opinions/trophy-hunting-decline-of-species-opinion-dickman/index.html.
  • Gibson, Clark C. Politicians and Poachers: The Political Economy of Wildlife Policy in Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Grahl, Bernd. Perspectives on Trophy Hunting in Tourism. Place of Publication Not Identified: Grin Verlag, 2013.
  • Ogutu, Joseph. “Kenya’s Wildlife Populations Are Declining Markedly as Livestock Numbers Grow.” The Conversation. September 19, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018. https://theconversation.com/kenyas-wildlife-populations-are-declining-markedly-as-livestock-numbers-grow-66643.
  • Rensberger, Boyce. “Kenya’s Ban on Hunting Draws Wide Applause; Goal Is Conservation and Poachers Are Target.” The New York Times, May 31, 1977. Accessed November 21, 2018.
  • Steinhart, E. I. “Hunters, Poachers and Gamekeepers: Towards a Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya.” Vol. 30, no. 2, 1989, pp. 247–264., www.jstor.org/stable/183067. Accessed 22 Nov. 2018.
  • Trump, Donald (realDonaldTrump). “Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.” 19 Nov 2017, 3:57 p.m. Tweet.
  • The Associated Press. “Kenya Bans Hunting of Big Game In Effort to Conserve Its Wildlife.” The New York Times, May 20, 1977. Accessed November 21, 2018.
  • “The Wolf That Changed America.” PBS. September 14, 2008. Accessed November 22, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/the-wolf-that-changed-america-wolf-wars-americas-campaign-to-eradicate-the-wolf/4312/.
  • Wildlife Management Authority. “Zimbabwe National Elephant Management Plan (2015-2020).” Conservation Action Trust. April 19, 2017. Accessed November 22, 2018. https://conservationaction.co.za/resources/reports/zimbabwe-national-elephant-management-plan-2015-2020/.

[1] “Donald Trump Twitter tweet,” Twitter, November 19, 2017, https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/932397369655808001?lang=en

[2] E.I Steinhart, “Hunter Poachers and Gamekeepers; Towards a Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya,” The Journal of African History 30 (1989): 249. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021853700024129.

[3] Steinhart, “Hunter Poachers and Gamekeepers; Towards a Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya,” 248.

[4] Clark C. Gibson, Politicians and Poachers; The Political Economy of Wildlife Policy in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 4.

[5] “The Wolf That Changed America,” PBS, September 14, 2008, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/the-wolf-that-changed-america-wolf-wars-americas-campaign-to-eradicate-the-wolf/4312/.

6 Steinhart, “Hunter Poachers and Gamekeepers; Towards a Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya,” 253.

[7] The Associated Press, “Kenya Bans Hunting of Big Game In Effort to Conserve Its Wildlife,” New York Times, May 20, 1977, https://www.nytimes.com/1977/05/20/archives/kenya-bans-hunting-of-big-game-in-effort-to-conserve-its-wildlife.html.

[8] Boyce Rensberger, “Kenya’s Ban on Hunting Draws Wide Applause; Goal Is Conservation and Poachers Are Target,” New York Times, May 31, 1977, https://www.nytimes.com/1977/05/31/archives/kenyas-ban-on-hunting-draws-wide-applause-goal-is-conservation-and.html.

[9] Gibson, Politicians and Poachers; The Political Economy of Wildlife Policy in Africa, 44-45.

[10] Bernd Grahl, Perspectives on Trophy Hunting in Tourism (Grin Verlag, 2013), 1.

[11] Joseph Ogutu, “Kenya’s Wildlife Populations Are Declining Markedly as Livestock Numbers Grow,” The Conversation (2018): https://theconversation.com/kenyas-wildlife-populations-are-declining-markedly-as-livestock-numbers-grow-66643.

[12] “Zimbabwe National Elephant Management Plan (2015-2020),” Wildlife Management Authority, April 19, 2017, https://conservationaction.co.za/resources/reports/zimbabwe-national-elephant-management-plan-2015-2020/.

[13] “Ending Trophy Hunting Could Be Worse for Endangered Species,” CNN, January 04, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/24/opinions/trophy-hunting-decline-of-species-opinion-dickman/index.html.

[14] “Ending Trophy Hunting Could Be Worse for Endangered Species.”

[15] “Ending Trophy Hunting Could Be Worse for Endangered Species.”


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