Elephants used to be very common in Africa, but now there are only around 415,000 are left on the continent. The species is considered vulnerable, which means it is likely to become endangered soon. Despite that, however, several African countries, including Zimbabwe, still allow elephant trophy hunting.
Elephant trophy hunting allows the shooting of a certain number of elephants under the official government license. This controversial tradition has been taking place in Zimbabwe since 1991, and every year during the hunting season that lasts from April to November Zimbabwe sells permits to hunt 500 elephants. The cost of such a permit is equal to around $10,000 and anyone, not only professional hunters, can get it.
Even though generally in Africa the numbers of elephants living in the wild are decreasing, Zimbabwe is faced with the overpopulation of elephants. There are around 84,000 elephants living there, while the country’s carrying capacity is 50,000.
For that reason, the government argues that killing less than 0,5% of the elephant population will not do any harm. Wildlife conservationists explain, however, that ‘trophy hunting is not a sustainable means of generating income for conservation.’
What drives elephant trophy hunting?
National parks in Zimbabwe are only partially funded by the government so they often need to find other ways to fund their activity. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they have seen a decline in tourism so they now rely on trophy hunting even more than before. The authorities, therefore, say that elephant trophy hunting is beneficial because it provides revenue that is then used to conserve wild populations of elephants.
In addition to collecting funds, trophy hunting is supposed to discourage people from poaching elephants. The reasoning behind it is that if people are legally allowed to kill the animals, they will no longer have to do it in hiding.
Nevertheless, trophy hunting means killing animals for pleasure by those who can afford the expensive permits. Those who engage in poaching, on the other hand, normally come from a poor background and kill elephants to later sell their trunks and get means to support their families. That said, trophy hunting does not eradicate the problem of poaching but adds to the number of elephants that are deliberately killed each year.
What are the harms?
Trophy hunting can result in human-wildlife conflict as killing one elephant can lead to elephants attacking people in revenge. Elephants are social animals that interact with other members of their group, form bonds with them, and feel emotional distress when one of them is in danger.
Even if just one animal from the herd is killed, the entire group is negatively affected. It is important to note that those who kill elephants do not bear the consequences of animals being agitated. Instead, it is the local communities who have to deal with elephants’ anger.
The skin of elephants killed during trophy hunting is used to make bags and belts, and their tusks to produce jewelry or other souvenirs. If the tourists want to take them home with them, they need to pay extra for special permits. Killing elephants’ for skin and other body parts for trophies is not only controversial but also represents animal cruelty.
It has also been reported that the funds obtained through trophy hunting do not go into conservation programs but fuel corruption in the country. The Zimbabwean government is known for being corrupted so concerns have been raised about parks and local communities not actually receiving the money that comes from elephant trophy hunting.
The bigger picture
Sadly, Zimbabwe is not the only African country that allows trophy hunting. In fact, twelve other countries on the continent, namely Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, allow it.
In addition to elephants, amongst the most coveted animals to kill are lions, rhinos, leopards, and Cape buffalos. These species represent the ‘Big Five’, which are considered ‘the most iconic animals in Africa.’
Rather than targeting old animals that would soon die of natural causes, and consequently eliminating the surplus of animals, hunters kill those that appear the most impressive and would make attractive trophies, a report by the Born Free Foundation revealed.
Removing strong, male individuals harms the health and safety of entire herds and threatens future populations of these species.
When looking at trophy hunting in Africa, some portray it as a practice offering economic incentives for conservation. On the other side, however, trophy hunting has been deemed unsustainable and brutal. It seems, therefore, like the matter of whether trophy hunting undermines wildlife and ecosystems, or whether some animals actually need to die to save the vulnerable species is open to debate.