This argument has serious weaknesses, both in its discussion of the relative merits of hunting- vs photo-tourism and, more importantly, how it frames the question facing decisionmakers around these options.
It correctly notes that in very high potential wildlife tourism areas, non-consumptive tourism clearly is a better option and out-competes trophy hunting in economic terms. This is a point often overlooked in the arguments of the hunting sector. This has been found in Namibia, for example, where phototourism generates greater economic returns than hunting for some (not all) communal conservancies, and overall generates overall a greater share of benefits for communities than hunting. Note that the economics of the two are not static, and in some areas (e.g. some parts of Tanzania), tourism has gradually become more profitable and competitive over a larger area of state and communal land in recent decades (notwithstanding the governance issues that limit landholders’ actual returns from either hunting or phototourism in this and other countries). Of course, economic drivers can easily move the other way too – political instability in Zimbabwe over recent decades caused tourism to crash, while hunting tourists continued to visit.
However, a critical point overlooked by Mr Joubert is that the economic advantage of tourism is limited to an uncertain but highly limited proportion of the wildlife area in sub-Saharan Africa. This applies primarily to up market photo-tourism camps that are located within highly protected areas, such as national parks or private conservation areas, with particularly attractive features, such as exceptionally scenic landscapes. Even in many or most of these areas tourism is not economically viable, and flourishes only due to external philanthropic investment. Importantly, there are vast areas of the conservation estate with very low potential for photo-tourism, due to lack of infrastructure, boring/inhospitable topography (e.g. miles of flat, featureless scrub), low or unremarkable densities of wildlife, etc. In these areas hunting can generate revenues that tourism cannot, and hunting is much more flexible and resilient to political turmoil. One particular dynamic left out of Mr Joubert’s analysis is that only rarely are high value tourism areas located in the multiple use areas where communities also make their living, such as Game Management Areas, Wildlife Management Areas, Forest Areas or Safari Areas. Here management regimes often have to deal with conflicting human and livestock land use practices. High end photo-tourism camps are shielded from these influences. But it is in these areas that hunting operations are generally to be found and have to bear the costs of conserving the wildlife. Further, even where photo-tourism could be viable, wildlife is often highly depleted, and hunting can generate revenue for conservation from these populations and allow them to recover to the point where photo-tourism becomes viable. This has been the trajectory followed by a number of communal conservancies in Namibia.
More broadly and more importantly, however, it is very disappointing to see here the perpetuation of an unproductive and polarised debate that is a distraction from the real conservation issues. In reality, some areas are well suited to photo-tourism and can generate meaningful revenues from it alone. Some have virtually no tourism potential and must rely on hunting if wildlife is to remain a competitive land use against the ever more intense pressures of agriculture and encroachment. In many areas, both photo-and hunting-tourism are viable and complementary land uses, and indeed both may be necessary to make wildlife competitive (as in many communal conservancies in Namibia – see Naidoo et al 2016). It is clearly possible to first take thousands of photographs of a lion, for example, and then raise additional income for conservation and communities through trophy hunting at the end of the animal’s natural life (e.g. a hunter removes an old male lion instead of it being killed by another lion). Communities also often want the tangible benefits of meat. There is a critical role for both hunting and tourism.
As this unproductive debate rages on, Rome is burning. Across Africa, wildlife is rapidly being displaced by livestock or depleted by uncontrolled illegal hunting. The real conflict is between developing economically viable enterprises on natural habitats that derive their value from wild species versus conversion of these habitats to crops and livestock. This is the fight we are losing in most countries, including very badly in some countries that rely solely on photo-tourism.
We urge people involved in this discussion to recognise the realities of this debate and strive to maximise the conservation effectiveness of hunting, tourism, and other approaches according to local context. While both hunting and photo tourism have shown outstanding successes in conserving wildlife in certain cases, neither is a panacea. Both have impacts, and there are many examples of each failing to live up to its potential for conservation – as well as failing to adequately recognise the rights of and to return adequate benefits to the local communities who live with wildlife and who will largely determine its fate. We call on both sides in this debate to enter a more constructive discussion: how can we realistically support a future where many and varied incentives encourage landholders to tolerate, steward and protect wildlife on their lands? How can we move toward a future where African societies and rural communities will be willing to invest the vast amount of land and revenue needed to protect and conserve wildlife?
Let’s start with a cease-fire between the tourism and hunting factions, in order to work collectively to deal with the real crisis. Without this, we risk a future where there is no wildlife left outside of protected areas to conserve.