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Turning African game poachers into conservationists

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In a new video from the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, African hunting guide Mark Haldane explains how “habitat conservation depends on making wildlife economically competitive with other land uses.” This story is set in the Coutada 11 region in Mozambique along the Zambezi River delta. As PERC explains it, “by making the conservation of wildlife habitat economically viable, generating revenue used to fund anti-poaching efforts, and establishing critical income for local communities, trophy hunting has proven to be an essential tool for wildlife conservation. These benefits help turn imperiled African wildlife from liabilities impeding economic growth, into assets to be cared for.”

Can trophy hunting be good for conservation? Why not use trophy hunting to turn wildlife into assets for local communities? Haldane says that once local villagers were brought in to manage wildlife, they found a legal and much more promising path to earning a living. Among the first to be recruited were poachers who were slaughtering animals simply to survive.

“Every poacher that I can give a job to is a poacher that is taken out of the field,” Haldane says. “My entire anti-poaching unit are all poachers that have been turned into the unit.”

In PERC’s 2015 edition of “Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation,” Terry L. Anderson and Donald R. Leal describe how control over wildlife and natural resources are reverting to local villagers “allowing communities to own, contract, and profit from wildlife. They have essentially privatized the use of wildlife — encouraging hunting, tourism, and the sale of meat, hides and horns.” Anderson and Leal describe one of these initiatives — the CAMPFIRE program.

The incentive to participate in CAMPFIRE is simple: financial rewards. Profits are primarily generated by leasing trophy hunting concessions to foreign hunters. The process provides jobs for community members, compensation for crop and property damage, food for villagers, and revenue to build schools, clinics and wells. The World Wildlife Fund estimated that households participating in CAMPFIRE increased their incomes by at about 20 percent since the program was started in the late 1980s and at the same time wildlife populations shot up.

Elephant populations in CAMPFIRE areas soared from 37,000 to 85,000 between 1989 and 2006 … During the same period, this program generated more than $20 million in direct income, benefitting an estimated 90,000 households …

What about calls to ban import of big game trophies to the United States in the wake of the furor over the killing of Cecil the lion in 2015? That would soon create perverse outcomes not helpful to wildlife conservation. And how could a ban on this type of hunting be reconciled with religious concern for animal welfare and wildlife conservation?

Make sure to listen to Russ Roberts’ February conversation with Catherine Semcer on Econ Talk. Now at PERC, Semcer was formerly Chief Operating Officer of Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants and also discusses recent efforts to relocate lions in Mozambique. Here she is responding to criticism that hunting is immoral (from the transcript):

I have heard those arguments. And, in response, you know, the first thing I would say is I am not a big game hunter. This is not something I engage in. But, you know I always ask those people, ‘Well, what is the alternative?’ Because if there was an alternative, my guess is we would implementing it by now. Also, you know: Who are we in the United States or in the United Kingdom or elsewhere to tell Africans how they should be managing their wildlife? Programs like CAMPFIRE and similar community-based programs have their genesis within these African communities. They have buy-in from the people in the continent. And I certainly understanding the discomfort that people might feel. But I would encourage them to be very careful about how they tread on this issue, lest we get back into some type of eco-colonialism in dealing with our African partners.

Some people will say that, you know, photo-tourism, is a viable alternative to trophy hunting. And in some places, that may or may not be true. But, what we know from the available research–primarily from Namibia–is that if hunting was eliminated in the community conservancies, 84% of those conservancies would no longer be economically viable. Now, what does that mean on the ground? That means more than 12 million acres of wildlife habitat immediately becomes more vulnerable to development. That’s roughly an area of 5 times the size of Yosemite National Park. So, I understand the discomfort. But, what are our alternatives? People like myself are very willing to listen. And, you know, would love to hear what they are. But they just have not been offered, and they are certainly not being employed on the ground right now.

Photo: Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park in 2010. Wikicommons.

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John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.

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