The Controversy Over Big Game Hunting in Africa

The story of 19-year-old Kendall Jones put the issue of big game hunting abroad back in the spotlight. The Texas woman displayed several photos of animals she killed on Facebook, including a lion and zebra in Zimbabwe. The photos prompted a petition to ban the woman from entering any country on the continent. It has received over 153,000 signatures as of this publication. Interestingly Jones had to take a Texas hunter safety course to get a hunting license in her home state. The ethics portion of those courses specifically advise hunters not to display harvested animals to non-hunters and others who may be offended.

GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons received similar attention for his exploits in Zimbabwe in 2011 after posting video of himself shooting an elephant. These two stories garnered attention mostly because of the individuals involved (Jones a “beautiful” cheerleader, Parsons a prominent business man). But the issues remain one of high importance to conservationists and those who view the lives of animals equally important as human lives.

Economics of Hunting Tourism

The Republic of Zambia banned the hunting of lions and leopards in early 2013. Sylvia Masebo, the country’s former Tourism and Arts Minister, told the BBC that the decision has more to do with economics than preserving the cats. She said the country makes more money from tourists who want to see the lions in their natural habitat versus the blood sport. A spokesperson for the Zambia Wildlife Authority said there are no more than 4,000 lions in the entire country.

A 2011 study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that big-game hunting in sub-Saharan Africa brings little economic benefit to the respective countries. For instance, 31.5 percent of the territory that comprises the Central Africa Republic (CAR) is designated hunting area. But big game hunting contributes only 10 percent to the country’s total gross domestic product. South Africa’s hunting areas comprise 13.1 percent of the country’s total territory but account for only 4 percent of GDP. Conservationists argue the land could be better-used for farming to feed people and create jobs.

Still some argue that hunting tourism is beneficial in many ways. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Hunting declared at a 2008 workshop in Barcelona that hunting tourism benefits the environment and is an effective conservation tool. An article in the July 2011 issue of Environment magazine said Kenya has seen declines of 40 to 90 percent in all animal species since enacting hunting bans in 1977.

Revenues from hunting tourism in South Africa totaled R811 million (about $75 million) in 2012, down from R901 million in 2011, according to the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa. Barclays Africa Group Ltd. says the country also earns about R12 billion annually from its game-ranching industry.

Big Game Hunting Controversy – Money or Morals

There are only about 25,000 lions remaining on the entire African continent, down from about 400,000 in the 1950s. U.K.-based Lion Aid says lions are now virtually extinct in 35 African countries.

Hunters in the U.S. faced a similar dilemma with buffalos. There were approximately 50 million bison roaming North America before Europeans arrived in the 16th century. That number plummeted to less than 1,000 by the late 1800s due to the mass slaughter of bison by Europeans. The situation forced President Teddy Roosevelt to take action. He co-founded the American Bison Society in 1905 and established the National Forest Service to monitor hunting activities. Though there are nowhere near the number of buffalo in North America that there were prior to the arrival of Europeans, today they numbers in the hundreds of thousands and are safe from extinction.

Big-game hunting in Africa will be a lightning rod issue for the foreseeable future. Michael J. Thompson, a political science professor at William Paterson University, argued that humans killing animals for sport has completely deformed the overall ethical culture of humanity. Meanwhile, the states of Texas and West Virginia have trophy hunters associations for big-game hunters to join and share their stories.

The basic question when it comes to big-game hunting is this: Do humans have an ethical obligation to non-human life forms? Until that question is universally answered, big-game hunting will continue on the African continent and elsewhere.

About the Author: Brian Wilkins is an Arizona State University journalism grad who has worked as a radio broadcaster and banking industry professional. He is an independent journalist, blogger and small business owner who loves life. He lives off-the-grid and has not owned a TV in more than six years.