By Amy Dickman and Alayne Cotterill, joint CEOs, Lion Landscapes
Short summary of contribution
Here, we provide a contribution to the Call for Evidence for the Animals Abroad Bill, based on our scientific knowledge and first-hand conservation expertise. This is written by the joint CEOs of Lion Landscapes, a UK charity working on community conservation across multiple lion landscapes in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. We have over 40 years of field conservation experience between us, as well as relevant advanced degrees, including PhDs. Our contribution focus primarily on lions, but the points made relate to many other species as well. As this exceeds 3000 words, our contribution covers the following points, providing evidence for each point raised (often using hyperlinks to the relevant studies):
We highlight that for effective conservation, the key threats to biodiversity must be identified and addressed. According to the IUCN Red List, current trophy hunting is not a major threat for any species, so the attention on this threat is misleading and draws attention away from other pressing conservation concerns
Using IUCN Red List data for monitored lion populations, and published data from various African countries, we highlight that the presence of trophy hunting does NOT mean that wildlife populations are declining, and that banning or restricting trophy hunting does not mean they will increase
We use scientific data to show that while poorly managed trophy hunting can negatively impact some populations, well managed trophy hunting can have a positive impact, even on endangered species. We also link to evidence that regulations can be effective at reducing the pressure on hunted species
We present studies showing the benefits that are delivered through trophy hunting at present, including habitat conservation, the maintenance of species range, protection against the specific, major threat of land conversion, and provision of livelihood benefits. We present a summary of community benefits from trophy hunting from a recent report, and highlight the importance of listening to affected local communities and not undermining their rights and livelihoods
We discuss the challenges of finding adequate, scalable, viable alternatives to replace trophy hunting, and some of the problems associated with increasing photo-tourist numbers
We present suggestions for different rules for animals hunted in different settings, with a focus on trying to incentivise habitat conservation and discourage ‘canned’ hunting
We outline significant unintended consequences likely from import bans, especially in terms of the risk of indiscriminate killing, with major negative impacts on animal welfare and conservation. We also highlight a recent poll showing that the UK public would not be supportive of trophy hunting bans (including import bans) which led to those consequences
We state that we do not believe that the current measures on controlling trade in trophies are effective for supporting conservation, and make suggestions for how they could be improved. However, we stress that the current controls would be better than damaging import bans if those are imposed without due consideration for unintended consequences.
1. Will the Government’s proposals on the export and import of hunting trophies effectively support the conservation of endangered species?
No, for many reasons as outlined below.
1a. For effective support of conservation, the key threats to biodiversity must be identified and addressed
Despite all the media attention, IUCN Red List data shows that current trophy hunting is NOT a major threat to any species at a range-wide scale. To effectively support conservation, it would be far more impactful to take action that addresses major threats to wildlife. Data on conservation status and key threats (from the IUCN Red List) are compiled below, for the African species most commonly discussed in this debate. It is clear that trophy hunting is not a major threat to any of them – and by conserving habitat and prey, and contributing towards anti-poaching activities, it can actually help reduce those major threats. Therefore, extreme caution should be taken before imposing restrictions which could harm the economic viability of this land use, particularly without any viable, scalable and funded alternatives ready.
Figure 1. Population trends and major threats to some of the most-discussed African species in the trophy hunting debate.
This current focus on trophy hunting is misleading to the public, and risks detracting attention (and possibly funding) from far more pressing issues such as habitat loss and conflict. It is actually those issues – and working out how conservation can be used to drive local development – that should be the focus of the UK Government and other interested stakeholders. People may suggest that tackling ANY threat is a good step, but that is only positive if in doing so we don’t inadvertently increase larger threats such as conflict, bushmeat snaring and habitat loss, which is the very risk outlined by many conservation scientists and the IUCN with regard to trophy hunting bans, including import bans.
1b. The presence of trophy hunting does NOT mean that wildlife populations are declining – and banning or restricting trophy hunting does not mean they will increase
Using data on monitored lion population trends between 1993 and 2014 in the 2016 IUCN Red List. 38 of these lion populations were in non-hunting areas, and of those, 22 (58%) were declining (Figure 2). Only 7 populations examined were in trophy hunting areas, and of those, only 1 (14%) was declining. This is not to say that trophy hunting does not negatively impact some lion populations – especially where poorly managed and in concert with other threats, as outlined in the section below – but it demonstrates that having trophy hunting in an area is not in itself an indication of threat, just as the absence of trophy hunting does not mean populations are safe.
Figure 2. Data on lion population changes from 1993 – 2014 from 2016 IUCN Red Data List for the African lion.
This trend is not unique to lions: Kenya is a famous example of a country which banned trophy hunting (in 1977) and far from seeing well-conserved wildlife, a study has shown that its wildlife numbers have plummeted since then.
Figure 3. Trends in wildlife and livestock numbers documented in Kenya between 1977-1980 and 2011-2013, showing the precipitous decline in wildlife & concomitant increase in livestock.
While there are multiple causes for these declines, the lack of local incentives to maintain wildlife is a key aspect. This is highlighted in the study when it compares wildlife trends in Kenya to those in several other sub-Saharan African countries which used sustainable use, including trophy hunting, as part of their wildlife management. In those countries, there was evidence of increased wildlife numbers and concurrent declines in livestock numbers.
Figure 4. Indicators of wildlife population increase and concurrent declines in livestock numbers in Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia but substantial increase in livestock numbers and concurrent declines in wildlife numbers in Kenya (references can be found here.
1c. While poorly-regulated trophy hunting can have a damaging local impact on populations, well-regulated trophy hunting can have a positive impact, even for species like lions. The costs and benefits should be assessed at a site level, not at a species or country level
Poorly regulated trophy hunting can undoubtedly have damaging impacts on populations, especially in concert with other threats. However, trophy hunting is not necessarily damaging to a population if it is well regulated, and can have positive impacts. One key example is Bubye Valley Conservancy (Figure 5), where lions were reintroduced around 20 years ago, and now number around 500 individuals (see case study 4 in the IUCN Briefing Document), with well-regulated trophy hunting used as a key management tool. This demonstrates that trophy hunting can be a useful conservation tool.
Figure 5. Lion population in Bubye Valley Conservancy, which uses well-regulated trophy hunting to fund its wildlife conservation activities.
At a wider scale, the IUCN Red List data shows that wild lion populations are only increasing in two countries, Namibia and Zimbabwe, both of which use trophy hunting (including of lions) as part of their sustainable wildlife management. Because trophy hunting can be positive or negative depending on how it is managed, as suggest that decisions on imports are made on a case-by-case basis rather than imposed at the species or country level.
The same holds true for several other species, including both black and white rhino, as outlined in the IUCN Briefing Paper for Decision-Makers.
Figure 6. Data on rhino population trends, from the IUCN Briefing Paper for Decision-Makers.
Furthermore, in many places (including around Hwange, one of the examples of poor management of lion trophy hunting above), there have been recent changes in policy since those papers were published. Short-term moratoria, reduction of quotas and the adoption or adaptive age-based quotas have all reduced the risk posed by trophy hunting. There is scientific evidence of the effectiveness of such measures in reducing pressure on hunted species, so it is these kinds of approaches which should be tried first, before import bans.
1d. Trophy hunting areas have clear and well-evidenced conservation and livelihood benefits, so care should be taken not to imperil those benefits through bans (including import bans)
It is often questioned whether there is any evidence for conservation benefits from trophy hunting. Here, we provide evidence for clear conservation benefits in terms of protecting habitats and also maintaining species within those areas. While good management of trophy hunting is clearly necessary for effective conservation of the hunted species, it is important to note that some of these key benefits – e.g. habitat protection – still often occur even in those places where the hunting regulations may not be optimal.
(i) Habitat protection
Given that land use change has been identified by IPBES as the main driver of biodiversity decline, we believe that this is the major benefit of trophy hunting, certainly for lions. 11 lion range countries currently allow legal trophy hunting of this species, though this is a dynamic situation. Trophy hunting areas have the same key conservation benefit as National Parks – large-scale habitat protection, and hunting areas cover large extents of remaining range (Figure 7). Our current draft analysis of remaining lion range indicates that the area where lion trophy hunting of lions is legal is ~712,000km2, equal to around 42% of wild African lion range. This exceeds the area of remaining range covered by National Parks (~450,000km2).
Figure 7. Map showing (in blue) from 2019, showing the extent of remaining lion range covered by areas where trophy hunting was legal, compared to the extent covered by National Parks (in green). Note that this was before Botswana lifted its ban on trophy hunting.
Trophy hunting is a particularly significant land use in those countries with the largest remaining extent of lion range (Figure 8), such as Tanzania, Botswana and Mozambique.
Figure 8. Significance of trophy hunting as a land use in remaining lion range countries, though now Botswana has made trophy hunting legal again.
The habitat protection extends far beyond lions, and across Africa, areas conserved under trophy hunting exceed the areas conserved under National Parks. Therefore, decisions which affect that land use should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, the conservation benefit of that habitat protection appears clear: in a recent study assessing how well countries were doing to protect large mammals, the majority of the top 10 countries (including the top 3) use trophy hunting as part of their wildlife management.
The particular significance of trophy hunting as a land use in key wildlife range countries underlines the importance of not imperiling this land through knee-jerk policy reactions. Unfortunately, much of this hunting area is unlikely to be suitable for economically viable photo-tourism, and proven alternatives do not yet exist at the scale required. Researching those alternatives in concert with local stakeholders, and funding them, should be a top priority if the Government wants to play a positive role in moving towards effective wildlife conservation without trophy hunting.
(ii) Maintenance of species range
People often assume that hunting areas are mismanaged and devoid of wildlife, but our recent data analysis for Tanzania (paper in prep), shows that these areas are very important for biodiversity. Considering 18 large mammal species for which sufficient range data are available, the data showed that a mean of 44.4% of the species’ country range was found within hunting PAs, compared to 18.5% in non-hunting PAs and 37.2% in completely non-protected areas (Figure 9). Hunting PAs were the most important area category for 61% of the species considered. We have not yet been able to examine wildlife densities in these areas, but it is clear that hunting areas play a key role in large species conservation in Tanzania (and many other countries) so decisions that affect these areas should be taken very seriously.
Figure 9. Data from Tyrrell et al. (in prep) showing the significance of trophy hunting areas for large mammals in Tanzania.
(iii) Protection against land conversion
Land conversion is the major threat driving biodiversity decline at a global scale. When examining habitat loss across three land uses (National Parks, trophy hunting areas and other areas), Tyrrell et al. (see case study) showed that within Tanzania, habitat loss was lowest in strongly protected non-hunting areas (National Parks), followed by strongly protected hunting areas (Game Reserves). Importantly, as many hunting areas are becoming vacant – partly in response to increasing international pressure – they also found that habitat conversion was higher in vacant blocks than in actively hunted blocks, demonstrating a likely positive impact of anti-poaching activities in managed hunting blocks. This also highlights the major risk of likely unintended consequences in areas where hunting ceases without viable alternatives implemented at the same time.
The map below from Tanzania (Figure 10) clearly demonstrates the value of hunting areas in helping protect against the key threat of habitat conversion (in this case agricultural land conversion). Given that land conversion is so much more significant than trophy hunting in terms of threats to lions, and is such a major threat to biodiversity overall, losing the protective effects of trophy hunting areas is a major risk.
Figure 10. Map from Tanzania from 2019, showing National Parks in dark green and areas where trophy hunting was permitted in light green. The red shows land conversion, demonstrating the clear protective benefit of hunting areas against land conversion. Some of the Selous Game Reserve has now been gazetted as Nyerere National Park.
(iv) Provision of livelihood benefits
Just as with photo-tourism, trophy hunting can provide important local jobs, income and other benefits. There is an erroneous figure commonly used by anti-hunting groups, suggesting that local people only receive 3% of trophy hunting income. Although (again just as with photo-tourism), in many places the amount of benefit reaching local people should be higher, the current income is nonetheless locally significant in many areas. A recent comprehensive assessment from the African Leadership University School of Wildlife Conservation documents the important community benefits which emerge from trophy hunting in many African countries. When trophy hunting was banned in Botswana, there were multiple, varied and well-documented negative impacts on local communities. Elsewhere, scientific analyses have shown that both photo-tourism and trophy hunting revenue combined are currently crucial to many community conservancies in Namibia, with trophy hunting also generating important benefits in the form of meat. Representatives of millions of rural Africans have vociferously spoken out against Western-led campaigns to ban trophy hunting and deprive them of their livelihood options, and the right to sustainably and legally utilise their wildlife. Such campaigns have been accused by community leaders in southern Africa of representing a ‘colonial mindset’, and that should be a major concern for the UK Government in considering any course of action.
Figure 11. Table showing community benefits from trophy hunting in multiple African countries
To summarise, while both National Parks and hunting areas often have issues (e.g. lack of funding, mismanagement, declining wildlife populations), but in both cases the key conservation benefit is the incentive to maintain habitat for wildlife, protect species and prevent land conversion. This is done by generating a wildlife-based income stream, which can also provide substantial benefits for local people, and is often part of their key right to sustainably use their natural resources.