By Mike Norton Griffiths

The international furore following the recent killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has inflamed debate on the contribution to consumptive utilisation to wildlife conservation in general and of sport hunting in particular. But are positive economic benefits necessary for the long-term survival and conservation of large African wildlife outside protected areas?
The empirical evidence remains strong. Outside protected areas wildlife prospers, and more living space is made available for them, where there are wider rather than narrower opportunities for economic exploitation; where ownership and user rights to wildlife are more devolved rather than less devolved to the owners and users of land; where benefits flow transparently and fairly to producers and consumers of wildlife goods and services; and where wildlife authorities adopt enabling rather than purely enforcement roles.

This is demonstrated by the dramatic change in conservation policy in Kenya following the 1977 ban on all consumptive utilisation of wildlife. Opportunities for economic exploitation were restricted to photo-tourism; the State monopolised all wildlife ownership and user rights; benefit streams from consumptive utilisation abruptly ceased while those from photo-tourism were diverted to the service side rather than to the producer side of the industry; and the new wildlife authorities adopted a purely enforcement role. And despite millions of dollars invested into wildlife conservation by the year 2,000 Kenya had lost some 60% of her wildlife.

While Kenya pursued a strict protectionist policy, extensive wildlife industries developed throughout southern Africa. Following new legislation, wildlife became like livestock fully fungible ; ownership and user rights were widely devolved to landowners and landusers who could now capture the great majority of wildlife generated revenues; and close working relationships were forged between the state and private sectors.

The two approaches do not compare well. Over the same period that Kenya hemorrhaged 60% of her wildlife, South Africa’s wildlife numbers increased by more than 20 times. Wildlife also became more valuable: recently a Cape Buffalo sold for breeding at an auction in South Africa for USD 5.0 million: in contrast, In Kenya a poached buffalo might, after paying off the police andthe Kenya Wildlife Service, fetch around USD 500.

The economic incentives to conserve wildlife outside protected areas are typically provided by both non-consumptive photo-tourism and consumptive utilisation, including sport hunting. Other incentives are clearlynot economic in the strict meaning of the term. Purely social incentives are demonstrated where effortlessly wealthy individuals conserve wildlife, irrespective of cost, on extensive tracts of land. Major money raising franchises, “conservation bling”, focus on high profile species (typically elephant) and conservation problems (anti-poaching or anti-trade). Community based projects also yield collateral benefits for wildlife, REDD projects being particularly fashionable.

While the areas formally protected for wildlife conservation are conventionally the State National Parks, Reserves and Forests, there is a second type: namely, areas protected by landowners and landusers in response to economic incentives for wildlife conservation and utilisation rather than for livestock or agricultural production. Lion conservation demonstrates the importance of both. The peculiar social system of lions requires space, young males leaving the pride and wandering far afield until they are strong enough to take over a pride by killing the resident male and his cubs. This is how Cecil acquired his pride, as did his father and grandfather before him, and how Cecil eventually would have been deposed.

Few State protected areas in Africa are large enough to support significant numbers of lions, the majority of which live on land protected by economic incentives. In southern Africa the wide range of economic opportunities open to landowners and landusers make the economic landscapes much more extensive and more favourable to lions than in countries like Kenya, which has a very restricted range of economic opportunities, and now Botswana where trophy hunting was banned a few years ago.

For lions, the policy objective must be to create as large an area as possible for economic protection. Banning or curtailing sport hunting and other consumptive utilisation of wildlife, for example by placing lions on the U.S, Endangered Species List, will inevitably reduce the size of the areas within which lions will be tolerated, thus reducing in turn both the number of lions and the numbers and diversity of other wildlife.