The Harmful Practice of Trophy Hunting on Wildlife and Communities in Zimbabwe

Sep 12, 2023 | Commentary

By Noma Dube – Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation

In Zimbabwe, trophy hunting is part of a ‘sustainable-use policy’ adopted by the Government in generating income to manage environmental affairs. In principle, the income should be distributed to rural communities, specifically those living on the borders of protected areas and having to deal with wildlife conflict every day. Instead, it is a story of mismanagement, unscientific determination of hunting quotas and missing funds.

Trophy hunting in Zimbabwe is not based on scientific detrimental findings. It’s simply a numbers game that is poorly policed and shackled by corruption on every level.  Hunting quotas are peddled by those who know how to play the political game, the records are inaccurate and not transparent often with insufficient or zero Government oversight.   

Cycle of impoverishment

Claims that trophy hunting is primarily to do with wildlife conservation or wildlife management are misleading. Although we could debate on emotional issues and animal rights, we cannot avoid the facts. Trophy hunting in Africa has gone on for many decades, communities living alongside hunting concessions have never been lifted out of poverty, and poaching has still not been controlled inside National Parks. This is because trophy hunting creates only a few low paid, seasonal jobs. Rations of meat from trophy hunted animals is distributed to a few in local communities during the hunting season, encouraging demand for ‘bush meat’. Furthermore, the hunting season takes place during the dry season, and once hunting camps are closed at the end of the season, those tiny rations of meat stop when village food stocks are running low. This inevitably leads to subsistence poaching as it will be many months before crops can be harvested.

Vast areas of land in Zimbabwe have been set aside for trophy hunting with little benefit to all but a handful of rich landowners and concession holders. Tens of thousands of dollars are deposited into foreign bank accounts by hunting companies annually to hunt the biggest, rarest animals.  That money never returns to Zimbabwe, and only a fraction of that amount is paid for licence fees and permits within the country where trophy hunting takes place. Moreover, little of that domestic revenue is ever received by the communities whose land was set aside to create hunting concessions on the boundaries of National Parks. 

Furthermore, hunting regulations are frequently broken, and poaching is a growing problem. As a result, excessive hunting and poaching have left many hunting concessions depleted of wildlife. A report prepared for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noted that 40% of the big game hunting zones in Zambia and 72% in Tanzania are classified as depleted because the big game has been hunted out of those areas.

Trophy hunting is a ‘sport’ with prizes given by hunting clubs for the biggest, rarest, wild animals killed by trophy hunters. Extra points are scored by those using bows and arrows to kill the biggest  and most impressive individuals (think Cecil the Lion). Even endangered species are still trophy hunted. Targeting the fittest, rarest species will be helping to drive them towards extinction even faster rather than saving them. Trophy hunters don’t only target problem or old, frail, unimpressive looking animals as claimed. More often, they target wild animals in the prime of their lives, i.e., with the most impressive traits such as the largest tusks, the longest horns, or the darkest manes. They remove strong, healthy survivors, often dominant males with the strongest genes and years of survival knowledge to pass on. This severely disrupts animal families, weakens gene pools of wild populations, and reduces disease resistance. Trophy hunting also often causes immense animal suffering. Trophy hunting does not prevent human-wildlife conflict. In fact, it escalates human-wildlife conflict.

In Zimbabwe, wildlife numbers outside national parks and fenced private reserves are dwindling and local communities remain some of the poorest in the world. Trophy hunting is the tool that keeps this happening. It won’t end until a viable alternative is considered.

Nomusa Dube was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She works as a Climate Programme Officer and is currently studying Environment and Sustainability. She is a passionate advocate and campaigner for animal rights and welfare. In 2019, she founded the Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping communities co-exist with elephants and other wildlife in Zimbabwe.

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