Trophy Hunting and Conservation in Africa: Problems and One Potential Solution

Author: Peter A. Lindsey, L. G. Frank, R. Alexander, A. Mathieson, and S. S. Romanach


This article discusses the issues and the potential solution related to trophy hunting and conservation in Africa. Trophy hunting is a controversial topic, with some arguing it can generate revenue for conservation efforts and local communities, while others claim it can harm wildlife populations and ecosystems.

The authors identify two main problems with trophy hunting in Africa:

  1. A lack of adequate regulation and enforcement leads to the over-harvesting of certain species
  2. The uneven distribution of benefits, with local communities often not receiving a fair share of the revenue generated.

Key Role In Conservation

Trophy hunting has several characteristics that allow it to play a key role in conservation. When well managed, trophy hunting is sustainable and low risk, as off-take rates are typically only 2-5% of male populations. It can contribute to endangered species conservation and help rehabilitate wildlife areas by generating income without jeopardizing wildlife population growth. For example, hunting revenues have played a vital role in recovering white rhinoceros populations in South Africa and rehabilitating hunting areas in Mozambique.


Trophy hunting generates more income per client than tourism and has potentially lower environmental impact through disturbance, fossil fuel use, and habitat conversion. It doesn’t rely on costly infrastructure like ecotourism and can generate revenues in areas where ecotourism may not be viable, such as remote, degraded, or politically unstable areas. In addition, trophy hunting creates economic justification for wildlife as land use in regions that might otherwise be used for livestock or agriculture.

Hunting revenues are generated across various land tenures, including state, private, and communal land. For example, in Tanzania, trophy hunting generates 92% of revenues for the Selous Game Reserve. In southern Africa, revenues from trophy hunting were primarily responsible for developing the game-ranching industry. On communal land, trophy hunting creates 90-95% of campfire revenues in Zimbabwe and has provided incentives for creating around 70,000 km² of community conservancies in Namibia.

Limitations of the Conservation Role of Hunting

Ethical Problem

Some hunting practices, carried out by a minority of operators, hurt the public’s view of trophy hunting as a conservation tool and have led to legal restrictions in several countries. In addition, these practices, like shooting from vehicles, targeting young or rare animals, luring animals from parks, using bait, spotlights, and hounds, canned hunting, and put-and-take hunting, attract negative press and support for hunting bans.

Social Problem

The biggest threat to sustainable trophy hunting on communal land is the failure of governments and hunting operators to provide enough benefits to local communities, reducing their incentives to conserve wildlife.

This unequal distribution of hunting revenues is due to inadequate legislation, failure to give wildlife ownership to communities, and not developing skills among communities for better participation in the industry. Corruption is another problem that affects all levels of the industry.

Biological Problem

Establishing hunting quotas is often based on guesswork due to limited resources for accurate game counts. Furthermore, the focus on trophies can reduce the conservation role of hunting in some cases, such as in South Africa and Namibia, where legal requirements for high fences hinder the formation of conservancies.

Owners of fenced game ranches may be less tolerant of predators and can overstock their properties or introduce exotic species for hunting purposes. Legislation promoting conservancies and removing high fence requirements could improve conservation prospects on private land in these countries.

Certification System as a Solution

A certification system would enable clients to select operators based on their commitment to conservation and community development, thus creating economic incentives for responsible hunting practices. Certification would involve rating operators on conservation criteria, governance, landowner benefits, and adherence to national legislation and ethical standards.

Although certification has been attempted in other industries, such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, and ecotourism, it has faced challenges like conflicting certification programs, difficulties in implementation, and debates over community benefits. Establishing criteria for trophy hunting certification would require a dialogue among state wildlife officials, conservation organizations, hunting operators, and hunting associations.


In conclusion, developing a certification program should be a gradual learning process involving an independent body working locally in Africa with all stakeholders. Cooperation from international hunting convention organizers would be vital, as they could provide incentives for certified operators and discourage uncertified ones.

Implementing a certification system could help legitimize trophy hunting as a conservation tool.