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CAT – The effects of trophy hunting on five of Africa’s iconic wild animal populations in six countries – Analysis



The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC), states “that well-managed trophy hunting can provide both revenue and incentives for people to conserve and restore wild populations, maintain areas of land for conservation, and protect wildlife from poaching.”

According to a much touted study by Lindsey et al (2006), trophy Hunting is big business in Africa bringing in a revenue of US$ 200 million. The researchers argued that private hunting operations in Africa control more than 540,000 square miles (1.4 million square kilometers) of land, 22 percent more land than is protected by national parks. As demand for land increases with swelling human populations, conservationists can garner more effective results by working with hunters.

“Trophy hunting is of key importance to conservation in Africa by creating financial incentives to promote and retain wildlife as a land use over vast areas,” said lead researcher Peter Lindsey at the time and added: “To justify the continued existence of protected areas in the context of increasing demand for land, wildlife has to pay for itself and contribute to the economy, and hunting provides an important means of achieving this.”

But almost a decade later, Africa faces an unprecedented wildlife catastrophe. Many iconic species, especially those favoured by trophy hunters, are in a sharp decline mainly due to widespread poaching and habitat loss but an analysis of six African countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania – where trophy hunting has long been regarded as an effective conservation tool, shows that trophy hunting, contrary to the common view, not only is having negative impacts on wild populations, but that there is also an extremely close link between legal hunting and poaching.

Five iconic species – elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, cheetahs and lions – were selected for this report primarily because they are facing an unprecedented decline in their populations and because they are some of the most targeted trophy species.

The analysis will reveal that trophy hunting is an activity that fuels corruption, it encourages the unfair redistribution of the wealth generated without adequate involvement of communities, causes the loss of healthy individuals that are still key for reproduction and social cohesion and, most damagingly, contributes to the decline of all five species considered in this report.


Introduction                                                                                                                                    4

  1. Elephant (Loxodonta africana)                                                                                              7
  1. Rhinoceros, S. White (Ceratotherium simum simum) & Black (Diceros bicornis)   22
  1. Leopard (Panthera pardus)                                                                                                   27
  1. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)                                                                                                  36
  1. Lion (Panthera leo)                                                                                                                 39

Conclusion                                                                                                                                       51



In this analysis, trophy hunting exports and quotas have been examined using the official CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) trade database which lists all animal and plant products exported and imported internationally.

CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

The agreement was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN. The text of the Convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington, D.C., the United States of America, on 3 March 1973, and on 1 July 1975 CITES entered in force.

Parties (countries) adhere to the agreement voluntarily. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties – in other words they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws. Rather it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level.

CITES now has a membership of 181 Parties.

Information was extracted from the period 2003-2013 because in this decade Africa has witnessed an upheaval in both habitat destruction and rampant poaching due to an exponential increase in illegal wildlife trade that has lead to an unprecedented decline in numbers. It’s against the backdrop of this time scale and in this context that the effect of trophy hunting has been reviewed.

Also considered is analysis of CITES trade data by the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre’s (UNEP-WCMC) Review of Trophy Hunting in Selected Species (2014) and Review of Panthera leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia (2015). Comprehensive studies and reports by leading ecologists, scientists, journalists and NGOs over the same period have likewise been examined and collated to determine the effects of trophy hunting on wildife.

It is important to note that as per CITES diction “there is no specific requirement in the text of the Convention to establish quotas to limit the trade in CITES-listed species.” Nevertheless, the use of export quotas has become a standard for the regulation of international trade in wildlife. Export quotas are usually established by each Party (member State) unilaterally, but they can also be set by the Conference of the Parties. When a country sets its own national export quotas for CITES species, it should inform the Secretariat, which in turn informs the Parties for approval.

The analysis of hunting trophies of the CITES trade data is complicated in a variety of ways in which hunting trophies are reported. The Guidelines for the Presentation and Submission of CITES Annual Reports states that all the parts of one animal constitute one ‘trophy’. For example, an elephant’s two tusks, four feet, two ears and one tail, if they are exported together on the same permit are a considered a trophy. However, according to the UNEP-WCMC analysis (2014), in practice, many Parties do not follow these Guidelines and report multiple trophy items from a single animal separately. For example, one skin plus one skull or set of teeth and claws is registered in the trade database rather than one trophy. This tends to confuse and inhibit accurate analysis of the exact number of animals exported. With elephants tusks when doubled are regarded as one animal and in this report have been added to items designated ‘trophy’. All other body parts with all five animals that have been listed seperately from trophies have been ignored for purposes of clarity.

CITES trade database accuracy has been compromised further by a number of unavoidable discrepancies. These discrepancies, though, fall on either side of the official figures and are likely to cancel each other out. For example, countries sometimes report the number of export permits issued but not permits used. In this case the database figures tend to overestimate actual animals shot. On the other hand, there is a tendency to underestimate the data because hunting permits may be issued and the corresponding animals killed, yet not all of those are exported as trophies.

Nevertheless, after extrapolating the data, the results reveal a broad picture which indicates trophy hunting is an outdated conservation tool and, in many cases, it has been found that the practice is accelerating the demise of Africa’s iconic species.

The findings are corraborated by data from importing countries. The largest importer of trophy hunted animals is the United States. Since 2010, the United States federal government has documented 2,963 violations related to the import of sport-hunted trophies, according to records obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit. About 54 percent of the listed infractions concerned violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but only 14 people had to serve time in jail and 546 violators had to pay criminal fines, ranging from US $25 to US $390,700.

In November 2015, the Investigative Unit revealed concerns from wildlife advocates and a former top U.S. official over the US’s ability to vet trophy hunting programs abroad, before determining whether certain trophy shipments should be granted approval to enter the United States.

Wildlife trafficking in the USA is a profitable crime, according to Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Illicit transactions like this are fueling a global market and leading us closer to a day when rhinoceroses, elephants and countless other species are extinguished from the earth,” Cruden said in a statement.

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Trophy imports into the USA in the last 15 years. Rhinocerous includes both Southern White (511 animals) and the critically endangered black Black species (2 animals). Cheetahs trophy imports are prohibited by federal law due to gross over-hunting.

  1. ELEPHANTS (Loxodonta africana)

At the turn of the 20th century there were roughly 10 million elephants roaming Africa. Today, some estimates put elephants as low as a little over 430,000. This is mainly due to illegal poaching of elephants for ivory across all its range states. A recent assessment of elephant product seizure data held in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), indicated that the three most recent years of the 16-year study period 1996-2011 had the largest quantities of ivory were seized by weight (CoP16 Doc. 53.2.2).

African elephants are continent-wide categorised as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List but the classification differs regionally – elephants are Endangered in Central Africa, Vulnerable in Eastern and West Africa and Least Concern in Southern Africa. They have been listed under the CITES classification as Appendix I since 1989, meaning products like raw tusks may not be traded commercially, but the populations of the following countries have since been transferred back to Appendix II with specific annotations: Botswana (1997), Namibia (1997), South Africa (2000) and Zimbabwe (1997). This effectively allows elephant products to be internationally traded but under certain conditions.

The first pan-African aerial survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society as part of the Great Elephant Census started in February 2014 with the aim to count elephants in 22 countries, constituting >90 percent of the continents’ savanna elephants. Full results of this survey should be available by 2016 but national results for Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia have been made available.

There is also fairly reliable population data from the African Elephant Database (AED) that publishes data from a variety of regional and national surveys that were conducted on or before December 31, 2013, as well as expert opinion for that time (see Chart 1). This data is produced under the aegis of the African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC)[1].

  1. South Africa’s official figures differ greatly from AED’s. The country has published figures of at least 26,000 elephants. At least 17,000, according to South African National Parks, inhabit the Kruger National Park alone.

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Chart 1: Comparable Elephant Populations 2009 & 2014

Trophy hunting of elephants is permitted under the national legislation of a number of range states, and five of the following countries in this report have export quotas for the year 2015 set by the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) for elephant tusks as trophies: Mozambique, (200) Namibia (180), Tanzania (200), Zambia (160) and Zimbabwe (1000). South Africa can set its own export quota, which is 300 tusks.

The United States has imported almost 5,000 elephant trophies since the year 2000.

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Chart 2: Export Quotas for L.africana 2003-2013 (from CITES Annual export Quota List)

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Chart 3: L. africana Trophies & Tusks Exported 2003-2013 (from CITES Trade Database)


Zimbabwe is facing a major collapse in its elephant numbers in the north of the country due to rampant poaching where figures have revealed collapses between 40 percent in Mana Pools and 75 percent in Matusadona and Chizarira. This data is according to a report on a survey released by Kevin Dunham at the Workshop to Develop Elephant Conservation Policy and Management Plan for Zimbabwe (2014).

Yet, Zimbabwe has been set a massive export quota of tusks as trophies, the biggest of the six countries – 1,000 annually, which has been in place since 2004. This means each year 500 elephants could be legally shot by trophy hunters and their tusks exported. The CITES trade datbase reveals that in the period 2003-2013, a total of over 28 metric tons of tusks have been exported from Zimbabwe by trophy hunters alone.

Also, the UNEP-WCMC technical report (2014) revealed large discrepancies in the import vesus export data between 2009 and 2012 (see Chart 4). A subsequent permit analysis showed that while differences in reporting of trophy items between Zimbabwe and its trading partners (mainly United States and European Union countries) was apparent (with some instances of the same items being reported as a whole trophy by one trading partner and a trophy part by the other), a notable proportion of the export permits reported by importers for trophies were not reported by Zimbabwe. This, as per UNEP-WCMC analysis, indicates that the discrepancy is primarily due to differences in the volume of trade reported rather than differences in reporting practices for trophies.

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Chart 4: Global direct exports of wild-sourced tusks and trophies from Zimbabwe, as reported by the importers and exporter (Zimbabwe), 2004-2012 (no quota was published in 2003; trade data for 2013 is not yet available.)

A more worrying figure came up with an analysis of raw elephant tusks (excluding non-tusk trophies and other items) as registered per kilogram. In the UNEP-WCMC report Zimbabwe exports showed 15 metric tons more than the importers registered (see Chart 4.1). The discrepancies began occuring in 2009, which coincided with the sudden increase in poaching of Zimbabwe’s elephant population. It means tusks exported may have entered the illegal market, showing that trophy hunting may be used as a loophole for ivory to enter the illegal trade.

Furthermore, and for the first time, the CITES trade database showed in 2010 that China suddenly began importing trophy hunted ivory (4,181 kgs of raw tusks). In all the years prior there was zero elephant trophies imports into China. Tusks by weight imported into China as trophies came exclusvely from Zimbabwe. No other country has registered exports of raw ivory to China. Again, this hints at a link between trophy hunted animals and the illegal ivory trade where China is the main recipient.

Chart 4.1: Trophy hunted raw tusks exported and imported from Zimbabwe as registered per kilogram.

Chart 4.1: Trophy hunted raw tusks exported and imported from Zimbabwe as registered per kilogram.

In 2011 there was a decision at CITES to allow the stockpile sale which also allowed Zimbabwe to trade in ivory carvings for noncommercial purposes, including personal items such as tourist souvenirs. Subsequently, China announced that it would issue permits for the importation of worked ivory such as jewelry, decorative objects, art, utensils, and other items carried in personal luggage as tourist souvenirs from Zimbabwe. Each permit allows one importation of a maximum of five pieces, value and weight not to exceed US$5,000 and 10kg. Between 2011 and 2013, 22kgs of carved ivory from trophy hunted elephants exported from Zimbabwe to China was registered on the CITES trade database.

The IUCN has argued that “some community-based conservation programmes in which revenue from the sport hunting of elephants reverts directly to local communities have proved effective.”

In Zimbabwe Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) is a community-based natural resource management program in which Rural District Councils acts on behalf of communities on communal land by generating revenue from natural resources. They are granted the authority to market access to wildlife in their district to safari operators. These in turn sell hunting activities to mostly foreign trophy hunters.

Given the political, economic and social changes in recent years in Zimbabwe, rural councils since 2003 have been notoriously underfunded and almost always have nothing to hand over to their districts (Frost & Bond, 2007). According to the Chairman’s End of Year Report for 2014 for Chiredzi, where a bull elephant with one of the largest recorded tusks in thirty years was shot by a German trophy hunter in October 2015, revenue for the communities from hunting was negligible with “very little off-take”. This may partially be because hunters and poachers have targeted big tuskers resulting in fewer mature bulls; and partially because the bulk of revenue goes to the professional hunter, hunting outfitter and a central government department where the permit is issued. The small portion of council earnings from hunts such as this last one, if paid, would likely have been swallowed up by the debt accrued by the rural council without much reaching the ground. In his report the chairman suggested a switch from hunting to more profitable non-consumer based tourism for future revenue.

Coincidentally, in countries where trophy hunting elephants is most popular and trophy hunted ivory exports and discrepancies the highest – Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – it also happens to be where poaching is most rife, and where good governance is most absent. Transparency International ranks Zimbabwe 156 out 175 countries on the corruption index scale.

According to Ivory’s Curse (2014) a Born Free USA-C4ADS report on ivory poaching in Africa, those who currently have control of the permitting system are not prepared to share that power and undertake adjustments that would mean relinquishing control. This position serves individual interests, but not those of conservation or local communities.

The report has revealed that “across Zimbabwe, economic operations on wildlife range areas are being seized by Zimbabwe’s political-military elites”. A small clique of Zimbabwe’s ruling party politicians and associates are turning to taking over profitable safari and wildlife conservancies rather than agricultural land as was previously favoured. The Born Free report shows that the current wave of wildlife-related land seizures is centred around the Save Conservancy and the Gwayi conservancy, the latter is the buffer zone of Hwange National Park where Cecil the lion was shot in July 2015.

For example, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, Chief of Staff of Zimbabwe National Army, has been linked to land seizures in the Save Valley Conservancy, and as late as November 2013 was alleged to have been involved in the eviction of 350 villagers at Matutu conservancy in Chiredzi. This was evident early in 2015 when Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, seized land in the Mazowe district north of the capital, Harare, to set up a private wildlife conservancy.

The CAMPFIRE project appears to be used as a thin veil to cover the actions of land-hungry members of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite. The Born Free report further links hunting elephants with official state Chinese diplomats and trade partners where ivory accrued by Chinese ‘hunters’ bypasses normal state regulations in diplomatic pouches and flown out on Chinese state jets. Such acts have also been linked with Tanzania’s government.

The net result, according to the report, is that rural communities are resorting to poaching in an effort to either sustain their livelihoods, or worse, gravitate toward the profitable illegal wildlife trade.

Consequently, the world’s biggest legal ivory trading nation, the United States, has pressurized the biggest illegal ivory trading nation, China, to enforce an almost complete ban on all ivory trade after a joint announcement by presidents Barak Obama and Xi Jinping on the 25th September 2015.

The United States has, through its Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which officially recognizes well-managed sustainable sport hunting as a conservation tool, already imposed a ban on imported elephant trophies from Zimbabwe for the years 2014 and 2015. Word is from the USFWS at the time of writing that the ban is likely to be extended indefinitely. The ruling is based exclusively on the failure of trophy hunting syndicates and government to control rampant poaching of elephants. “Trophy hunting in Zimbabwe does not currently support conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species,” says USFWS spokesperson, Gavin Shire.

In October 2015, China initiated a one-year ban on all trophy hunted ivory. China’s State Forestry Administration did not give further details but the policy follows the US-China deal to enact nearly complete bans on ivory imports and exports made during Xi’s September state visit to the United States.

Tanzania & Mozambique

Tanzania has lost 60 percent of its elephants in just five years, while neighbouring Niassa in Mozambique elephant populations plummeted from an estimated 20,000 to 10,300 during the same period.[2] Between 86 and 93 percent of all seized ivory shipments over the decade came from elephants that once roamed South Eastern Tanzania and the adjoining cross-border ecosystem of Niassa in Northern Mozambique (Wasser et al. 2015).

For Tanzania and Mozambique, where elephant poaching is the worst, CITES has set the 2015 export quota for trophy tusks at 200, or 100 elephants. Tanzania has exported almost a ton of ivory as trophies during the past decade, and Mozambique almost half a ton. In both countries, elephants are classified as Appendix I, which means that none of their products can be commercially traded. But under the listing, trophies aren’t considered commercial products.

But the 2014 UNEP-WCMC review reveals the quota in Tanzania appears to have been exceeded according to importer-reported data in 2003 and 2005 when the export quota was 100 tusks as trophies and again 2009 when it was increased to 200 tusks. There is also a big discrepancy between export and import data. Importer-reported volumes of trophies exceeded those reported by Tanzania in all years except 2006 and 2010 (see Chart 5).

[2] These figures are according to a survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society as part of the Great Elephant Census 2014.

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Chart 5: Global direct exports of wild-sourced tusks and trophies from Tanzania, as reported by the importers and exporter (Tanzania), 2003-2012 (2013 data not yet presented).

The country has been implicated in the largest-scale elephant poaching of all six nations. Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an environmental watchdog group, told National Geographic in June 2015 that the Tanzanian government is a primary reason for the rapid decline in elephants.

In 2014, the EIA released a report, called Vanishing Point – Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants, which has revealed that senior politicians in Tanzania’s ruling party as well as high-level Chinese diplomatic delegations were responsible for transporting huge amounts of ivory out of the country. In 2013, an official visit of the Chinese naval task force correlated with a sudden spike in business for ivory traders with one dealer bragging he made US $50,000 from naval personnel, while a Chinese national was caught with 81 tusks trying to enter the port of Dar es Salaam, also intended for Chinese naval officers. The same phenomenon occurred when Chinese President Xi Jingping paid an official visit to Tanzania. Prices of ivory doubled during the period the presidential delegation were there. The large Chinese government and business delegation on the visit used the opportunity to procure a substantial amount of ivory, transporting it to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane.

Even as far back as 2006, the EIA uncovered Chinese Embassy Staff as major buyers in ivory, while in 2012 Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete was handed a list of top businesspeople, government officials and MPs heavily implicated with the ivory trade. To date nobody on the list has been investigated let alone arrested. Last year former Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Khamis Kagaheki, named four prominent MPs in the government actively involved in the ivory trade, and again nothing was done apart from Kagaheki being unceremoniously sacked from his post.

Tanzania is also accused of widspread hunting malpractices. A documentary by HBO’s Real Sports called Blood Ivory aired in November 2015, has correspondent David Scott expose the sport in Tanzania. Teresa Hagerman, a former co-owner of a large hunting outfitter there, told Scott that hunters often adopt illegal and unscrupulous practices and routinely killed more than the allowed quota. She believes that trophy hunters have illegally killed thousands of elephants over the years.

Hagerman says that many hunting outfitters allow clients to kill extra elephants because they can double, triple and sometimes quadruple their money depending on how many extra elephants are killed, even though they have violated the official government quota of permits. Bribing government officials in charge of permits with cash and prostitutes, says Hagerman, was a constant and easy exercise. At one time she handed over US $30,000 to an official to issue additional permits illegally.

In Tanzania, elephant trophy hunting occurs in Game Reserves, Game Controlled Areas and community-owned Wildlife Management Areas, where trophy hunters pay license fees of US $7,500-$25,000, depending on the tusk size and type of weapon used. In 2010, the recorded annual legal off-take of elephants was reported to be 0.7 percent of the population, which was considered sustainable since it fell within the expected rate of increase of the population. However, the 2010 figures were based on figures published before the registered decline of 60 percent of the elephant population, which was announced by the Tanzanian Government from findings by the Global Elephant Census (GEC) in June 2015. It means that trophy hunting elephants in Tanzania not only isn’t sustainable, but is accelerating the demise.

Based on information that trophy hunting was contributing to elephant population declines, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on 4 April 2014 a suspension of imports of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Tanzania (as it did with Zimbabwe) to the United States during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 calendar year. “Questionable management practices,” were cited as well as “a lack of effective law enforcement, and weak governance [that]have resulted in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines” (USFWS, 2014).

One of the major reasons why Tanzania continues with trophy hunting despite losing most of it’s elephants to poaching is that the country gets heavily funded to continue by the international community like IUCN and NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund. Their thinking is that trophy hunting is an effective preventative measure to combat poaching. However, Sam Wasser, Director at the Centre for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has been conducting DNA sampling of 15 large ivory seizures of over 0.5 tons around the world between 2006 and 2014, believes that aid to fund anti-poaching measures only helps to promote killing more elephants, enabling countries like Tanzania and Mozambique to profit financially rather than holding them accountable for the scourge.

For example, in 2014 the World Bank approved a US $46 million grant to Mozambique to bolster tourism and alleviate poverty. US $700,000 of that was directly earmarked to promote trophy hunting of elephants and lions. Under the Bank’s initiative, 80 hunting permits at US $11,000 each will soon be issued annually for elephants.

But it has been structured that the bulk of the revenue from sales of the permits will go directly to the Mozambican government, which is notorious for corruption and embezzlement. Transparency International ranks Mozambique at 119 out of 175 countries on its corruption index, demonstrating “minimal budget transparency.” 20 percent of income from trophy hunts is supposed to be redistributed to communities living alongside conservation areas but one report, by Hassanali Thomas Sachedina of Oxford University (2008), shows that in neighbouring Tanzania only 3 to 5 percent of hunting revenues are shared with communities in the vicinity of parks.


Zambia boasted of one of the largest elephant populations in Africa south of the Sahara in the late 1960s. It is estimated that the elephant population at that time was over 200,000. In 2013 the African Elephant Database (AED) showed that the population is less than 10,000. Combinations of survey results backed by law enforcement reports and anecdotal observation have documented a precipitous decline between 1976 and 1986 because of excessive poaching and sport hunting. Consequently Zambia banned elephant sport hunting in 1982. Local trade in elephant products continued while elephant population continued to decline until 1989 when the species was uplifted from Appendix II to Appendix I.

Zambia is allowed trophy hunters an annual export of 80 elephant trophies (or 160 tusks). This despite the “official” 1982 ban on hunting elephants.

In 2005, the Zambian government felt that trophy hunting of elephants should pay for the cost of conservation. Proceeds from elephant trophy hunting would be “re-invested into elephant conservation and sustainable development in local communities for the benefit of the people living in wildlife areas.”

In 2010, Zambia petitioned CITES to sell its accumulated 24 tons of ivory, but experts who evaluated the proposal noted a worrying reduction in trophy tusk sizes in consecutive years between 2005 and 2010. Katarzyna Nowak, a research fellow in anthropology specialising in elephants and primates at Durham University, wrote in an article for National Geograhic (16 September 2014) that this was a direct result of hunters targeting the mature bull elephants. It’s “akin to that famously described by John Whitfield in Nature in 2003 with regards to big-horn sheep”, she says. The taking out of the most impressive rams meant imminent harm to the species’ gene pool. The same has happened in Zambia with elephants. “There are very few large bulls left,” a Zambian professional hunter told Nowak.

Many hunters argue that large bulls are past their breeding age and are therefore fair game. “Prime” breeding age is considered mid-40s to around 50 years old. But Vicki Fishlock, the resident scientist at Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya says old and experienced individuals are crucial to elephant social behaviour. “They are so much more than ‘a breeder’—by the time these animals reach 50, they have been parts of social networks for five or six decades and have accumulated social and ecological experience that younger animals learn from.”

Plus, research shows that younger male elephants can become aggressive when older bulls aren’t around, much in the way juvenile delinquency in our own cultures has been attributed to the absence of fathers, said Caitlin E. O’Connell, a professor at the at the Stanford School of Medicine and an elephant expert.

A separate study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management by Sellier et al. (2013) in the Greater Mapungubwe area that spans Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa found that the selective removal of a few large trophy or older males led to destabilization of social structures and loss of essential social knowledge. The consequences were infanticide, reproductive females using sub-optimal habitats and changes in offspring sex ratios (this is not just true of elephants, but rhinos big carnivores and many species of antelope).

Due to the depleted numbers in elephants, the CITES panel of experts rejected the proposal to sell the stockpile but bizarrely quadrupled Zambia’s previous trophy hunting export quota from 40 tusks to 160. Nowak believes it was to soften the blow of the rejection of Zambia’s petition to sell its stockpile.

Nowak also noted that numbers in Kafue National Park, home to Zambia’s largest elephant population, had declined from 6,306 in 2004 to 3,549 in 2011. She calculated using the model of the Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE) against the natural elephant birth rate that there was a net decline in the population of 0.65 percent. CITES, by their own standards, are only supposed to sanction trophy hunting quotas that are, or are less than, 0.5 percent of the decline in the standing population.

Preliminary results from the GEC in 2015 have not been encouraging either. They show that, overall, elephant numbers in Zambia are stable, and even increasing in some areas, but in the southwest, especially in the 3,100-square-mile (5,000 square kilometers) Sioma Ngwezi Park between the Zambezi and Kwando Rivers, the declines have been catastrophic.

Of the resident elephants counted earlier by the nonprofit Elephants Without Borders, the new survey estimates a 95-percent drop of elephant numbers in the park.

The survey team wasn’t counting just live elephants but dead ones too—280 carcasses, 48 live elephants. Normally, a carcass-to-live-elephant ratio of no more than 8 percent is considered viable for an elephant population to remain stable. But Sioma Ngwezi had a staggering 85 percent ratio. By comparison, the carcass ratio in Tanzania and Mozambique, which have also seen drastic declines, is under 40 percent, less than half that of Sioma Ngwezi.

“The Kwando area of southwestern Zambia is experiencing the worst poaching of any major savanna elephant population.” These are the words of Mike Chase, the coordinator of the Great Elephant Census.

The collapse is due almost exclusively to poaching, but again with such a drastic decline, shooting what little remains in the name of trophy hunting only exacerbates the problem.

South Africa

South Africa’s elephant populations have exhibited sustained growth since the 1890s due to a combination of proclamation and fencing of national parks, natural population growth, establishment and stocking of new parks and reserves, some immigration from Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe and recently, the establishment of small herds in private reserves and on game ranches (Carruthers et al., 2008; Blanc et al. 2007).

With low poaching statistics on elephants, South Africa can set it’s own quota on trophy hunted elephants for 2015 (300 tusks per annum). However, the UNEP-WCMC review on trophy hunting elephants revealed the South African quota was exceeded in 2004 when the quota was set at 120 tusks, and again 2011 and 2012 with the new quota.

The country’s annual reports are submitted on the basis of permits issued rather than actual trade. Not all permits issued are used, which explains the unusual discrepancy between higher export figures than figures posted by importers for all years except 2005 and 2010 (See Chart 10). In 2005 the data was almost identical (99 and 98) but in 2010, according to data submitted by importers, there was an import discrepancy of 60 tusks (or 30 elephants) more than the export figure submitted by South Africa.

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Chart 6: Global direct exports, as reported by the importers and exporter (South Africa), 2003-2012

The 2010 datum may indicate a rising trend in South Africa. While poaching levels remain relatively low, South Africa has recently been found as an exit point for ivory from other parts of Africa for the illicit market in Asia. South Africa’s quota may serve as a loophole for the export of illegal ivory similar to what was discovered with the domestic trade in rhino horn in 2009 (see page 20).

There is another worrying trend developing. In May last year, the first confirmed elephant poaching incident was reported in the Kruger National Park. It was the first time in over 10 years that an elephant in South Africa had been illegally killed for its tusks. A year later, in 2015, 19 elephants had been poached for their tusks with 12 killed in September and October alone. This raises the question as to whether the poaching epidemic that has plagued other African countries in recent years has begun in South Africa.

The South African National Parks (SAN Parks) General Manager of Communications & Marketing, William Mabasa, in a media statement said: “Given the situation in the rest of the continent pertaining to widespread poaching of elephants, we cannot allow this destabilization of our keystone species to continue further.”

If elephant poaching has begun in the Kruger National Park and given that the rhino poaching avalanche, which began in 2008, is yet to be stemmed, then trophy hunting elephants, which commonly occurs along the unfenced private game parks that border the western and northern boundaries of the park, will probably destabilize the species further, especially if the big bulls are targeted as they have been elsewhere. The National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa (NNSMESA) generally prohibits elephant trophy hunting except for solitary males (females may be hunted only if they are deemed “problem animals” but still cannot be shot by trophy hunters).

Michelle Henley, principal researcher for Elephants Alive, a research group that has collected data on Kruger’s elephant populations for more than two decades, said in an email, that “selection pressure by trophy hunters for large tuskers who wander out of the protection of our National Parks may increase as the demands increase with the scarcity of their quarry.” In November 2015, the Letaba Herald reported that it was in possession of documents and voice recordings of illegal hunting through underhanded selling and reselling of permits at Letaba Ranch, a private game reserve that borders the unfenced western boundary of the Kruger National Park.

It’s not just west of the Kruger National Park that faces these issues. Beyond the northern boundary of the Kruger National Park is Zimbabwe and the hunting conservancies like Chiredzi where the big bull elephant was shot. Zimbabwe, as has been established, doesn’t consider elephants to be protected species. The eastern boundary is largely fenced except in the northern sector where most of the elphants in the Kruger National Park have been poached. Hunting elephants occurs in Mozambique’s neighbouring Parc do Limpopo. Elephants have been decimated there, which may explain the trend of poachers to target those in South Africa and like in Zimbabwe it does not stop hunters shooting them if they wander across the border as they frequently do. The Kruger National Park and private parks to the west are home to the country’s largest population of elephants.


Namibia is allowed an export trophy hunting quota 90 elephants (or 180 tusks). Unlike other countries, except South Africa, elephant numbers in Namibia are increasing (See Chart 1). Namibia’s success has been attributed to its conservancy model, in which local communities are put in charge of wildlife.

In 1996 the Namibian government, with the financial assistance of the USAID and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), created the Communal Wildlife Conservancy Programme in which the Government of Namibia introduced legislation giving communities the power to create their own conservancies. The legislation allows local communities to manage and benefit from wildlife on communal land and to work with private companies to create and manage their own tourism market.

The latest government statistics indicate that approximately 5,800 trophy hunters from different parts of the world visit Namibia annually, with the estimated economic contributions from trophy hunting being in excess of US $70 million. The vast majority of this income is returned to operators and spin-off benefactors of the industry (i.e., airlines, hotels, tourism facilities, etc.) but, according to government, there is a trickle-down effect.

In the year 2000, the total income and benefits for communal conservancies from all of the above forms of game utilization, including income from trophy hunting, amounted to US $165,000. By 2006, this had increased by almost tenfold to US $1,330,000. It still seems small compared to the overall income of US $70 million from trophy hunting but, according to government figures, one in eight Namibians get an income from a communal conservancy of an average US $75 per month. Precisely, how much of this amount is as a direct result of trophy hunting is unknown. Even so, it’s a paltry sum.

One of the common arguments in favour of trophy hunting in Namibia is that conservancy lands given over to trophy hunting have the added benefit of keeping the wild wild. If these areas were given over to agriculture, for instance, the incentives for conservation would undoubtedly wane, and wildlife numbers would decline from habitat loss. Community conservancies offer hunt operators land largely devoid of people—a draw for hunters who want an African wilderness experience. Camps are small, with few overheads other than equipment and licenses. The ecological footprint of trophy hunting—even of a safari lodge catering for groups of wildlife watching tourists—is far lighter than that of commercial farming.

The Namibian model is not without its critics though. While different from Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE programme in that there is less corruption, government officials have been reported to have handed out extra elephant hunting permits in an effort to get political support from rural communities, especially in the Kunene region, which is both traditionally against the ruling party and renowned for its rare desert elephants.

Nambia’s export quota of 90 elephants doesn’t include permits to hunt “problem animals.” Under Namibian law, permits to shoot elephants deemed to be in conflict with people can easily be obtained. According to a CNN report in 2014, these permits are sometimes granted even before a “problem” animal has been identified. A hunter can then shoot any elephant a community declares to be a problem, whether it’s a problem or not. CNN reported that several desert elephants have been shot either for their meat or for the cash from the hunt fees.

Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) strongly deny these claims. They also regard desert elephants as nothing more than common savanna elephants but just in a desert envronment and therefore they don’t deserve special protective status. 

  1. RHINOCEROS, Southern White (Ceratotherium simum simum) & Black (Diceros bicornis

Rhinos are in a desperate race for survival. According to The IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG), throughout Africa there are just over 5,000 black rhino and 20,000 southern white rhino exist in the wild (northern white rhino are extinct in the wild and as of November 2015, there are only three left in captivity).

Currently, CITES have issued a maximum trophy hunting export quota of five black rhino trophies per year for each of South Africa and Namibia despite that black rhino are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. There are no export quotas for white rhino as the overall population is much bigger (around 20,000) and is mainly applicable to South Africa where the bulk of the population of white rhino is distributed.

The United States has imported 511 southern white rhino in the last 15 years, 22 in 2015 alone; and two critically endangered black rhino.

South Africa

South Africa is the stronghold of both rhino species with over 80 percent of the total population (over 90 percent for white rhino). Yet, since 2008 poaching rhino for horn has increased exponentially in the country with each year posting a significant increase on the previous year. In 2014, an unprecedented 1215 rhino were poached, with a similar number posted for 2015. Indications are that, at current rates, both species of wild rhinos will be extinct within a decade.

Despite the heavy poaching levels, trophy hunting of black rhino and white rhino in Namibia and South Africa is legal. Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are not allowed to hunt rhinos and in Mozambique they were completely extirpated by 2012.

In 1977, all African rhino species were listed under Appendix I, and all international commercial trade in rhinos and their products was prohibited. However, following an increase in numbers, the South African population of southern white rhino was downlisted in 1994 to Appendix II, but only for trade in live animals to “approved and acceptable destinations” – and for the export of hunting trophies.

In 2009, in response to to a sudden spike in poaching, a moratorium was issued on domestic trade of rhino horn by the South African Department of Environment (DEA). The moratorium specifically concentrated on the sale of individual rhino horns, derivatives or products within the country under Section 57(2) of the ammended National Environment Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) in February 2009. The moratorium was overturned by a Pretoia High Court on the 26th November, 2015 after two private rhino farmers contested the ban. The court ruled that the DEA failed to follow mandatory consultative procedures before introducing its moratorium. The DEA appealed the ruling, but that too was overturned. At the time of writing, further appeal is pending, this time in the nation’s Supreme Court.

White rhino are listed in South Africa as a Protected Species in the Biodiversity Act, for which it is specifically prohibited to sell, buy, give or donate rhino horns internationaly but a permit can be obtained to carry out activities such as sport hunting where a horn can be ‘exported’ by the hunter as a trophy. The export of rhino horns as part of a hunting trophy is limited to one hunt and one rhino per person per year. The activity is largely conducted on private lands with only 10 of the 116 annually hunted animals coming from state controlled protected areas. White rhino trophy hunts have traditionally been sold primarily to international hunting clients from the United States and Europe for roughly US $20,000 each.

In spite of the strict legislation limiting hunting, South Africa exported 2205 trophies and horns from wild rhino between 2003 and 2013. That’s almost as many rhinos hunted as poached over the same period (See Chart 7). The data excludes over 1000 other ‘non-trophy’ hunted rhino parts exported, such as skull, skins and even genetalia. These figures could be an overestimate. Even though the CITES data specify rhino hunted in the wild, the South African authorities have not always made the distinction between wild and captive bred meaning that many of the rhino shot have been on private farms and hunted in a semi-state of captivity.

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Chart 7: Rhino Trophies and Horns Exported versus Rhinos Poached

Of another concern is trade in both trophies and trophy parts in most years, as reported by South Africa, exceeded that registered by importers. The main reason is South Africa’s CITES annual reports were compiled on the basis of permits issued rather than actual trade. The principal importers were Canada, the United States but, for the first time in 2009 and just after poaching rhino began to escalate, Vietnam – the country most implicated in the illegal trade of rhino horn.

Government reports in 2012 showed that the requirement for conservation officials to attend all hunts was not implemented effectively in at least two provinces. It appears to be a common oversight in many private hunts, which is fertile ground for unscrupulous hunting practices. While CITES do not consider trophy hunted rhino horn a commercial commodity, there is no tracking the product once it enters into private hands. This opens the door for trophy hunting of rhino horn to be exploited for commercial gain.

From 2003 onwards, hunters from countries without a tradition of sport hunting were noted to be increasingly exploiting loopholes in South Africa’s legislation, to obtain rhino horn reportedly for a revived trade in Asia. The occurrence of ‘pseudo-hunting’, the use of legal hunting permits as a cover for obtaining rhino horn, was associated with the observation that Vietnamese nationals accounted for 48 percent of the 384 foreign nationals who hunted rhino in South Africa between July 2009 and May 2012.

The Vietnamese nationals, and some commercial rhino breeders were caught after they obtained horn with CITES permits under the guise of trophy hunting and sold them illegally on the Asian black market. Vietnam remains a major importer of trophy hunted rhino horn. In January 2013, the Vietnamese government belatedly issued a decision to prohibit the commercial import, export, buying and selling of white rhino specimens and products. However, the decision means that hunting for trophies is still allowed, although it can only be permitted following development of Co-operation Agreements with the exporting country

With about US $65,000 per kilogram of rhino horn selling on the black market the export database numbers of trophy hunted rhino horn that were exported represent a small forturne, which could, and does, fuel the illicit trade in the product.

At CITES CoP16, Kenya proposed a zero quota for hunting trophies of white rhino in South Africa until at least CoP18. The justification was that hunting trophies offered a legal pathway like pseudo-hunts for criminal networks to obtain rhino horn. However, the Scientific Authority of South Africa issued a “non-detrimental” finding for white rhino despite record losses. The non-detrimental finding deems that the legal international trade in export of hunting trophies poses a low risk to the survival of white rhino in South Africa and should be allowed to continue.


On March 26, 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced its intention to issue two permits for the import of sport-hunted black rhinoceros trophies, both from Namibia.

In 2003, Namibia instituted the Black Rhino Conservation Strategy with specific management goals in the areas of “range expansion, biological management, protection, policy and legislative framework, capacity-building and sustainability.”

According to the USFWS the removal of limited numbers of males has been shown to stimulate population growth in some areas. They maintain that ‘removing specific individuals from a population can result in reduced male fighting, shorter calving intervals, and reduced juvenile mortality.’ Black rhinos are very territorial and Namibia regards the removal of post-reproductive males or males whose genes are already well represented in the population essential in ‘reducing competition with younger bulls, potentially providing those younger bulls with a greater opportunity to reproduce, enhancing the survivability of the overall population.’ This is a notion endorsed by the IUCN/SSC African Rhino Specialist Group.

All known black rhinos in Namibia are ear-notched to assist in identification and monitoring. This ear-notching system makes it possible for the Namibian government to select specific individuals for culling based on age, reproductive status and other factors that may contribute to the overall health of the population. The USFWS says Namibia’s black rhino population more than doubled between 2001 and 2012

Further, the Namibian government requires a significant contribution to the Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF) for any sport hunting of black rhino. Money accrued, which has so far amounted to US $550,000, goes to fund annual counts, improve rhino crime investigation and prosecution, and ensure the traceability of all rhino horn owned by Namibia.

In May 2015, a Texan hunter who paid US $350,000 for one of the permits shot a black rhino in the northern part of the country. This was committed amid frenzied media hype and brought widespread international condemnation. The hunter intends to import its head into the USA, which the USFWS has approved.

The USFWS had already approved a permit for a second hunter Michael Luzich, a Las Vegas-based investor, to bring a back the carcass of a black rhino he shot in Namibia in 2014. He paid US $200,000 directly to the Namibian government. The case has been less high profile but it was the first time in more than 30 years since the US previously allowed a black rhino trophy to be imported.

This begs the question: If hunting critically endangered black rhino is that good for conservation, why has the USFWS only issued permits in 2015 and not before, especially if Namibia introduced its much-lauded successful Black Rhino Conservation Strategy in 2003?

Also, as Jason Goldman asks in an article in Conservation Magazine, “can the message that an auction for the hunting of an endangered species like the black rhino brings possibly be reconciled with the competing message that the species requires saving?”  Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, thinks not. He told The Telegraph that the Texan’s hunt sends a mixed message. “When the global community is working so hard to stop people from killing rhinos for their horns, we are giving a stamp of approval to a special class of privileged elite to kill these majestic animals as a headhunting exercise.”

This view was recently echoed by Professor David Bilchitz of the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, who asked in a paper presented at Harvard: “Why should poor individuals in Mozambique refrain from killing rhinos to support their families when wealthy Americans are granted permits to shoot them on the game farms of wealthy South Africans [and Namibians]?” (2016)

On 15 December 2015, a San Francisco art dealer was sentenced to over a year in prison after attempting to sell a pair of black rhinoceros horns to an undercover federal agent for US $55,000. Lumsden W. Quan, 47, was sentenced in a Las Vegas federal courtroom for violating the Lacey and Endangered Species acts, which protect vulnerable and rare animals like the black rhinoceros.

After serving his prison sentence, Quan must also serve three years of supervised release, during which he will be banned from working in the art and antique businesses. Quan was also ordered to pay a US $10,000 fine.

This incident is the latest of 2963 trophy import related violations in the USA since 2010. As with the incidences of Vietnamese ‘pseudo-hunters’ in South Africa, the overwhelming transgressions of illegal trade of imported trophies in the United States raises serious questions over whether the ‘sport’ is routinely used by poachers as a cover to sell endangered and threatened wildlife on the black market.

Then there is the scientific contention that taking out mature bulls is good for the overall health of the population. Many scientists have challenged this approach from a conservation perspective. As with elephants, large trophy or mature males led to destabilization of social structures and loss of essential social knowledge as well as infanticide in some cases. Will Travers, President of the Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, has said “each old rhino may have survival knowledge to pass on or cultural intelligence, important for social cohesion.” Travers insists that each individual matters “because they are not the pawns of one species—our own—bent on playing God and dressing it up as modern wildlife management.”

As Bilchitz argues: “rhinos only matter to the extent that they are useful to humans. By this ethic, individual animals have no moral worth other than in terms of the money we can gain from their deaths (through hunting).” Conservation, in this form, is only about ensuring there will be rhinos in the future that humans can exploit for trophy hunting.

  1. LEOPARDS (Panthera pardus)

There are no reliable continent or nation-wide estimates of population size of leopards in Africa, and according to the IUCN Red List the most commonly cited estimate of over 700,000 leopards in Africa (Martin and de Meulenaer, 1988) is flawed. Figures are most likely considerably less.

What is known is that leopards are declining in large parts of their range mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, but also due to hunting and ‘pest’ control. The IUCN Red List views these threats significant enough that the species could soon qualify for Vulnerable from its current listing of Near Threatened.

The Red List categorically states that ‘trophy hunting leopards may have negative impacts at the demographic and population level, especially when females are shot.’ Leopards are listed as Appendix I but, as with rhinos and elephants, legal hunting trophies is still allowed under the CITES quota system, which is current in 13 African countries. South Africa and Zimbabwe have set their own – 150 and 500 respectively.

Zimbabwe tops the list of most leopard trophies exports posting a haul of 2,764 in the decade; Tanzania is next with 2,494; then Namibia – 1,736; South Africa – 1,270; Zambia – 837 and Mozambique – 502. Again, these quotas have been set despite there not being a proper and effective national leopard census conducted in any of the six countries surveyed.

According to the NBC Investigative Unit report, the United States alone has imported 6,737 leopard trophies in the past fifiteen years; 217 for 2015.

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Chart 8: P. pardus Trophies Exported 2003-2013 (from CITES Trade Database)

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Chart 9: Export Quotas for P. pardus 2003-2013 (from CITES Annual export Quota List)


A paper by T. Grant for the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group in 2012 reports that ‘no density or spatial ecology data exist for leopards in Zimbabwe.’ Zimbabwe has one of the highest annual leopard trophy hunting quotas in Africa, but the sustainability of which has not been assessed.

Every year Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority conduct workshops with wildlife stakeholders – farmers, hunters, rural councils and tour operators – to decide the number of leopards to be put on the annual hunting quota. Without any reliable scientific study, the stakeholders came up with 500, a figure CITES approved.

Grant’s study represents the first robust leopard density and home range assessment for Zimbabwe. His results indicate that the current hunting quota of 500 issued is grossly unsustainable and recommends halving the national leopard quota to maximum of 250, at least ‘until a full national leopard census is completed.’

There’s also an interesting ‘by-catch’ affecting leopards with the trophy hunting of lions. Researchers from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru) have noted that due to an over-stocking of lions for trophy-hunting purposes in the Bubye Valley Conservancy has shown that high densities of lions can negatively affect leopard population density, demographic structure, cub survival and spatial ecology.


Like Zimbabwe, Tanzania has an unproportionately large export quota for trophy hunted leopards – also 500.

In a paper entitled Effects of Trophy Hunting on Lion and Leopard Populations in Tanzania, Packer et al. (2011) determined that in an effort to establish sustainable management strategies for the carnivores, hunting trends needed to first be analysed across Tanzania’s 300,000 km2 of hunting blocks. The team placed their findings ‘in context of the rapidly growing human population in rural Tanzania and the concomitant effects of habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and cultural practices’ and found that where leopard numbers declined the most, it just so happenened to be where trophy hunting was most prevalent.

The researchers found that when it came to regions in Tanzania that had the highest leopard trophy harvest, data showed the steepest declines in the overall population. The scientists concluded as a result of their quantitative analyses that hunts should be limited to one leopard/1,000 km2 of hunting area. This is almost a third less nationwide (300 leopards per annum) than the CITES allowed export quota of 500 leopards per annum. The findings begged the question as to what data CITES were basing their quota on.

Also, by law Tanzania only allows males to be hunted as trophy hunting, because according to the IUCN Red Data list, there are major impacts at the demographic and population level when females are shot. Yet, females comprised 28.6 percent of 77 trophies shot between 1995 and 1998 (Spong et al. 2000).


A study in 2007 on trophy hunting in Mozambique’s Niassa Reserve by big cat researchers, Coleen and Keith Begg, found that only 6 percent of the leopards hunted were significantly over four years of age. This is of particular concern given that male age at optimum reproduction is four years.

Young incoming male leopards commit infanticide with cubs if the dominant territorial male is removed. The study also expressed concern that hunting blocs be more widely spread across the entire hunting concession and not focused on a narrow band along the Lugenda River.

The year 2007 was the first time a study on trophy hunted leopards occured in Mozambique. In that year, the export quota on trophy hunted leopards was 60. In 2008 Mozambique requested to double its quota to 120 at the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP14), despite the knowledge that leopard populations were declining everywhere, that most leopards hunted were either female or under age or were shot in a concentrated hunting area.

A strongly worded recommendation (2008) at CoP14 by the Species Survival Network (SSN), an international coalition of over eighty NGOs committed to the promotion, enhancement, and enforcement of CITES laws, recommendations and directives, found that under CITES Resolution Conf. 9.21 (Rev. CoP13), Mozambique had to provide the Parties with a scientific basis for the proposed increase in the quota. SSN discovered that ‘little research had been conducted into the status, distribution or ecology of the leopard in Mozambique’ and pointed that there are ‘no detailed field studies’ in order to raise the quota. To estimate population size, Mozambique applied the discredited Martin and de Meulenaer (1988) model, which used extrapolations of the percent of the country containing suitable leopard habitat and the average annual rainfall. They concluded that ‘it is probable that the leopard population of Mozambique exceeds 20,000.’ Document 37.1, which was Mozambique’s proposal to CoP14, stated that a potential sustainable harvest is 5 percent of the population outside protected areas, a population of this size could support an annual harvest of around 1,000 leopards. Therefore, the document estimated populations of leopards in areas where hunting occurs based solely on the availability of leopard habitat, not actual leopard counts.

SSN found conclusively that the use of the Martin and de Meulenaer (1988) model and Document 37.1 did not provide a sound scientific basis for the doubling of Mozambique’s annual leopard export quota. Document 37.1 also ‘did not provide information on leopard population trends, or the effect of the existing export quota on leopard populations.’ SSN also noted that Mozambique exceeded its export trophy quota in 2005 and stated these transgressions ‘call into question the ability of Mozambique to manage its export quotas.’

Yet, CITES accepted to the proposal and doubled the export quota, which still remains in place. SSN at the time warned that ‘there has been an unwelcome tendency for the CoP to approve proposals to establish or increase annual export quotas for CITES Appendix I species without the necessary scientific basis being provided.’

According to the trade database figures, Mozambique export data for trophy hunted leopards was 19, 50 and 21 for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively (See Chart 10). But those years also witnessed a sharp spike in leopard skins and skulls registered seperately from trophies. This trend was not prevalent before and if one adds them to the trophies – 147, 188 and 131 – it would appear that Mozambique once again exceeded its export quota

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Chart 10: P. pardus Export Quota and Exports for Mozambique 2003-2013 (from CITES Annual Export Quota List)


Zambia banned trophy hunting of big cats in 2013 because of declining leopard populations due to over-harvesting, hunting of underage and female leopards and depletion of habitats. Zambian Tourism and Arts Minister, Jean Kapata cited that ‘big cat numbers were too low to have a sustainable hunting industry.’ The Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) specifically introduced the leopard ban due to ‘a lack of serious monitoring lapses.’

However, after just two years the country lifted the ban on leopards and hunting could commence for the 2015/16 season. According to a recent CNN report the lifting of the ban was ‘because the government needed the money to fund conservation.’ Kapata said profits from hunting the big cats could benefit wildlife conservation as well as the livelihoods of rural communities. She told the Zambia Daily Mail that based on fresh information from the field, the government would adopt prescribed guidelines. ‘Some of the regulatory methods are currently being used in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. These have been found to be effective,’ she said.

Conservationists believe the lifting of the ban was a result of pressure from the powerful international hunting lobby. Zambia’s Green Party president Peter Sinkamba told The Times of Zambia: ‘Much as we are aware that the PF [Patriotic Front] government is facing serious budget deficit challenges, it is extremely outrageous to resort to unleashing safari hunters on to limited populations of big cat species, regardless of the fact that safari hunting is allegedly most profitable.’ ZAWA’s public relations officer Sakabilo Kalembwe admitted the lifting of the ban on hunting of big cats ‘will ensure a great improvement in Government revenue.’

Minister Kapata explained to the Zambian parliament that the country had about 4,000 leopards in three clusters namely Luangwa valley, Kafue and Lower Zambezi ecological systems. But Sinkamba disagrees that there are that many. ‘We all know that the number of lions and leopards in Zambia’s major parks are depleted and limited due to poaching and other anthropogenic activities.’ He said the total population of leopards were unreliable estimates since successive governments have not sustained a continuous wildlife census system and urged government to reverse lifting of the ban and instead come up with other revenue generating schemes.

South Africa

South Africa has exported 1,270 leopard trophies between 2003 and 2013, less than half of Zimbabwe and Tanzania. However, it’s still a significant number. In 2015, the country found that trophy hunting of leopards ‘poses a high risk to the survival of the species’, and consequently has recommended restrictions on trophy hunting.

In January 2016 total ban for trophy hunting leopards for the year was enforced.

Like elsewhere, an accurate number of leopards in the country is unknown and because of this, a directive was issued by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) stated in the Government Gazette that leopards have a ‘negative non-detrimental finding.’ In other words, because of a lack of scientific data, trophy hunting could have a negative effect on leopard populations. Until January 2016 hunting of leopards under a local permit system had a national export trophy hunting quota of 150 cats per year.

According to John Donaldson, who chairs the Scientific Committee of South Africa, the reason for not considering the ban before was that most leopard ranges are on private property. The Scientific Authority favours regulation of trophy hunting over banning it outright because they still think it offers a greater chance of conservation success.

Leopard ecologist and researcher Carolyn Dunford explains the thinking: “If the animal has no commercial value, the animal might be killed without a second thought,” she said. This could ultimately lead to an untraceable and unsustainable decrease in leopard numbers. By giving a commercial value to the animals, it can “enhance the conservation of the species because people will encourage its presence on their land and won’t shoot on sight.”

Dunford believes that reforming the hunting system is step one in the protection of leopards. In July 2014 it was agreed by government, conservationists, hunters and relevant stakeholders that all female leopards could no longer be trophy hunted. As a result landowners can apply for a CITES permit to shoot males. Names will be electronically drawn to decide which land owner gets to sell the hunt of a leopard to a foreign client, who can then export the trophy. The aim is to restrict the area in which the hunt can occur and allows the ‘hunting zone’ system to spread out. It also allows the landowners to profit from the hunt which encourages them to protect the leopards on their land.

However, the quota for trophy hunted leopards – and now the ban – only restricts the number of leopards that can be exported. Currently there is no cap on how many permits can be given to those deemed ‘problem animals’ or ‘damage causing animals’ (DCAs). According to the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations of NEMBA (87.3(c), hunting clients cannot shoot DCAs, only landowners or professional hunters chosen by a provincial authority have permission. But the regulation is still a worry. Dunford reveals that landowners persecute carnivores in direct proportion to abundance. It is not related to perceived nor true predation. Furthermore, DCA permits are notoriously difficult to monitor and it has been discovered that 85 percent of animals killed in the name of ‘predator prevention’ are not the target species. Often local landowners claim an animal was a problem when it was simply for financial gain from a ‘hunting client’.

For hundreds of years leopards have been considered in South Africa to be vermin and an economic threat to livestock farming. They are usually shot, poisoned or trapped without the landowner having to jump through bureaucratic hoops to obtain a DCA permit. This attitude is unlikely to change.


The export quota for leopards in Namibia was set at 100 animals until 2004 when it was increased to 250 animals at the 13th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP13).  As with South Africa, Namibia found that less than half of the leopards destroyed annually were trophy-hunted, the rest were due to landowners and community farmers trapping, poisoning or shooting leopards deemed a hazard to livestock.

A paper published in the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group states that CITES’ decision to increase Namibia’s quota was based on insufficient ecological information that guides ‘appropriate decision-making on leopard utilisation’ (Stein 2011). The paper stated that there was a lack of scientific data determining quotas on a regional and national level and there was uncertainty on the effects of removal on the demographics of a leopard population.

In its proposal to have the export quota increased, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) argued unscientifically that ‘killing a problem animal has no financial benefit to the farmer as these skins may not be exported and the local market for leopard skins is very limited.’ Therefore, the country ‘encourages trophy hunting of animals that would otherwise be destroyed in any case as problems.’

That quota, however, was not filled for six years because the Ministry of Environment and Tourism was concerned the increase in the export quota had little scientific justification. The MET wanted their quota system to be adequate for the population of leopards present.  Still, in 2009 Namibia exported 328 leopard trophies (excluding skins and skulls) – 78 more than it’s legal quota and 228 more than its intended quota (see Chart 11).

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Chart 11: P. pardus Export Quota and Exports for Nambia 2003-2013 (from CITES Annual Export Quota List) 

As a direct result of the discrepancy, the MET issued a leopard hunting moratorium in 2010 and put the hunting industry under review. It was reported that in some areas whole populations of leopard and cheetah were being wiped out. Illegal hunting due to unregulated hunting operators were running illegal leopard and cheetah hunts with dogs, as well as canned hunts – in some cases canned leopard hunts with dogs. Widespread human-predator conflicts was also an issue. But the moratorium only remained in place for one hunting season.

Belatedly, in 2011 the MET in partnership the SCI Foundation (the investment wing of one of the largest international hunting bodies, Safari Club International) launched a census programme ‘to manage the sustainability of the leopard population.’  A questionnaire was distributed to 1,500 farmers to assess the distribution and relative abundance of leopards throughout Namibia. There were only 400 replies. These were extrapolated which produced a national estimate of 14,154 leopards. Unsurprisingly the pro-hunting census-takers consequently recommended the quota ‘remain at the current level.’

Namibia has a significant problem with human-leopard conflict where studies have shown that leopards favour farmland over game parks because of the abundance of prey. As most of the conservancies’ occupants are livestock farmers, the presence of predators such as leopards represents the potential for loss of income.

Trophy hunting is therefore encouraged because, as Gail Potgieter, a carnivore conservationist in the Kunene region points out, ‘the value given to predators by trophy hunters is much easier to explain to local farmers than the nebulous concept that eco-tourists enjoy seeing these species.’

Concerns are that small livestock farmers may not be patient enough to apply for a permit just to shoot or ensnare a leopard eating his livestock. It means, even with the so-called revenue trophy hunting may bring in for a rural community, leopards will continue to be persecuted as vermin and killed ‘illegally’.

Accurate information of illegal take-off is virtually non-existent in Namibia, neither is reliable information on leopard numbers, distribution and trends.

  1. CHEETAHS (Acinonyx jubatus)

While cheetahs still occur widely, yet sparsely, in Africa, Ray et al. (2005) estimate that cheetahs have disappeared from 76 percent of their historic range on the continent. The IUCN Red List reveals that a decline of at least 30 percent is suspected over the past 18 years (or 3 cheetah generations). The decline is primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as killing and capture of cheetahs as livestock depredators, trade and trophy hunting.

The Red List states that cheetahs have been extirpated from large areas in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Namibia and Botswana are the cheetah’s regional stronghold. This regional estimate breaks down as follows: Namibia – 2,000; Botswana – 1,800; South Africa – 550; Zimbabwe – 400; Zambia – 100; and Mozambique <50. There may be about 700 in the Serengeti/Maro/Tsavo areas in Tanzania but the population is shared roughly equally with Kenya giving Tanzania an estimate of 350 (see Chart 12).

A CITES Confererence of the Parties decision taken at CoP16 in 2013 allows legal trade in hunting trophies under an Appendix I quota system in two countries: Annual quota for Namibia is 150 and Zimbabwe 50. As with leopards, this was accepted by CITES as a way ‘to enhance the economic value of cheetahs on private lands and provide an economic incentive for their conservation.’

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Chart 12: Population Estimates for A. jubatus

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Chart 13: A. jubatus Trophies Exported 2003-2013 (from CITES Trade Database) 


Apart from the occasional hunt in Zimbabwe, Nambia is practically the only country in the world where cheetahs can be legally hunted. Almost 1,200 wild cheetah trophies were exported in the decade 2003-2013, more than half the current population of the country. The country twice exceeded it’s annual quota (150) of trophy hunted cheetahs in 2008 and 2009 (see Chart 14) and, as with leopards whose export quota was exceeded in 2009, a moratorium was introduced by government for hunting cheetah for the 2009/10 season. The moratorium was based largely on the illegal use of dogs to hunt them.

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Chart 14: A. jubatus Export Quota and Exports for Nambia 2003-2013 (from CITES Annual Export Quota List)

Even though cheetah are a protected species in Namibia, farmers and game ranchers are allowed to ‘remove’ them if they pose a threat to livestock. The Red List states that human conflict is the major threat to cheetahs in southern Africa (Purchase et al. 2007). Cheetah are persecuted because they are a perceived threat to livestock, despite that they cause relatively little damage compared to other predators like jackal and caracal. Research has shown (Marke, 2002) that cheetahs were only responsible for 3% of livestock losses to predators.

The Red List states that ‘very large numbers of cheetahs have been live-trapped and removed by ranchers seeking to protect their livestock.’ Cheetah ecologist, Kristin Nowell, analysed government permit records and calculated that over 9,500 cheetahs were killed this way between 1978-1995. While removal rates have since fallen, in part due to intensified conservation and education efforts, many landowners and livestock farmers still view cheetahs as a Damage Causing Animal.

Population decline directly from trophy hunting in Namibia could have serious knock-on effects as cheetahs, especially males who tend to operate in coalitions. Individual cheetahs are not as effective hunters or breeders as the cats, being diurnal, are vulnerable to prey detection and other predators. Typically, because of the difficulty of finding them, cheetah hunts are mostly done on an encounter basis, meaning that hunters are not selective. Cheetahs get shot as soon as they are encountered. If a male member of a coalition is shot, the surving member often is practically doomed as well. And, as with leopards, off-take of females seriously hampers breeding, which, among cheetahs is slow. The species also exhibits remarkably low levels of genetic diversity in comparison to other big cats.

The USA will not allow imports of trophies of cheetahs. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has deemed that cheetah trophy hunting is not conducive to the conservation of the species, which has it listed as endangered under its Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In 2000, the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the Namibian Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA) and the Safari Club International (SCI) petitioned the USFWS to reclassify the cheetah from Endangered to Threatened in order to allow for the importation of the cheetah trophies into the United States. However, the USFWS determined it was ‘not warranted because available information is inadequate to determine that the factors that caused the cheetah to become endangered have been reduced sufficiently.’ The USFWS response went on to specify that ‘the lack of reliable, long-term population estimates for cheetah in Namibia make it impossible to determine whether the population is of adequate size to withstand most natural catastrophes or whether the population is increasing, decreasing, or stable.’

The pro-hunting bodies continue to push to have the USFWS as well as the CITES listing of Vulnerable downgraded. They are expected to lobby the Parties at CoP17 to be held in Johannesburg in 2016.

  1. LIONS (Panthera leo)

Free-ranging wild lions are in a drastic decline with the latest IUCN Red List figures suggesting that there are fewer than 20,000 individuals on the continent. Half of the current standing number of lions were legally hunted and their trophies exported in the decade 2003-2013.

Even though lions are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, African range lions in all six countries are listed under Appendix II, which means all lion products may be commercially exported under a permit system. Permits are granted ‘if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.’

Lions are considered amongst the most valuable trophy species, and the price of lion hunts was reported to be increasing faster than most other trophy species (Hunter et al. 2013).  Wild lion hunting generated outside South Africa, has significant returns at US $60,000 to US $120,000 per lion hunt.

South Africa, because of it’s discounted captive-bred hunting program (US $5,000- $25,000/lion), is the highest in terms of most trophies exported. The country has registered an average of 748 lion trophies per year. Tanzania is next with an average of almost 150 lion trophies exported per annum followed by both Zimbabwe and Zambia -between 60-70 per annum – while Mozambique – 22 per annum – and Namibia – <20 per annum brings up the rear (see Chart 15).

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Chart 15: P.Leo Trophies Exported 2003-2013 (from CITES Trade Database)

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Chart 16: Wild and Captive bred P. leo populations per country (based on data from

There is a wealth of mainstream scientific analyses revealing, in varying degrees, that trophy hunting of lions is detrimental. A UNEP-WCMC technical report on trophy hunting published in August 2015 noted ‘concerns in many areas’. Palazy et al. (2011) considered scientifically established hunting quotas, regulated at an international level, combined with improved protection methods to be urgently required.

Likewise, Hunter et al. (2013) considered that urgent and comprehensive reforms of lion management was required, and recommended the implementation and enforcement of age restrictions (6 years or older); improved, independent trophy monitoring and adaptive management of quotas; restriction of harvest to males; and a minimum length of lion hunts of at least 21 days (to allow time for selection and to maximise revenues). Packer et al. (2011) recommended sustainable off-take level of one male lion per 2,000 km2. LionAid (2011) considered trophy hunting to be highly unsustainable when depending on unknown source populations, and recommended a total ban of all lion trophy hunting, until independent assessments of all populations within hunting concessions have been made and such populations have stabilised.

Lindsey et al. (2013) listed the following key problems of lion hunting in Africa: arbitrary bases for quota establishment, excessive harvesting, a lack of enforced age restrictions, the prevalence of fixed quotas, the lack of minimum hunt lengths, concentrated hunting areas especially alongside game parks and a lack of funding for effective law enforcement.

A recent report produced for the CITES Periodic Review acknowledged that a ‘high demand for lion trophies has caused trophy off-takes to be too high in most countries’ with recent national measures to restrict lion hunting established in response to ‘dramatic declines in lion harvests that resulted from over-hunting’ (AC27 Doc.24.3.3). The 2015 IUCN Red Data analysis on lions (authored by Packer et al), reveals there is concern that current management regimes in terms of trophy hunting as it is one of the main contributions (along with habitat loss, poaching and human conflict) to an astonishing decline of 42 percent of the continent’s total lion population.

The United States has imported 7,297 lion trophies in the past fifteen years, of which 405 occurred in 2015.

There have been a number of attempts to curtail trade in lion trophies by NGOs, scientists and even governments in an effort to alleviate hunting pressure. At CoP13 in 2004, Kenya submitted a proposal that lions be listed as Appendix I but failed in their bid.

In 2011, a consortium of US-based non-governmental organizations petitioned the United States government to list lions as Endangered under its Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service decided in October 2014 that lions were not endangered but did propose to list it as Threatened to take effect in January 2016 (African lions were not listed because under the ESA, there are only two listings: Endangered or Threatened).

In January 2016, the service also implemented a 4(d) rule for African lions, which allows a permitting mechanism for the importation of sport-hunted African lion trophies into the United States ‘provided that they are established as originating from countries with a scientifically sound management plan for the African lion.’

Concurrent efforts are underway in the European Union to ban lion trophy imports. Recent pressure for trade bans have coincided with increasing evidence of negative ecological impacts associated with lion hunting. In November 2015, France became the first EU nation to ban lion trophies. The country received more than 100 lion trophy imports between 2010 and 2013.

According to the UK’s environment minister, Rory Stewart, the UK will ban imports of lion trophies by 2017 unless the hunting industry cleans up its act. Stewart told an audience at Westminster Hall on 24th November 2015 that: “Unless there is a significant improvement in the performance of the hunting industry and of those [African] countries, this government will move to ban lion trophies.”

In March 2015, Australia banned the import of all trophy hunted lions. The Australian government deemed trophy hunting of lions to be unsustainable and unethical.

The CITES listing of lion is currently undergoing a Periodic Review. The IUCN Red Data survey for 2015 has recommended a change in categorization from Vulnerable to Endangered. If that lions are list Endangered, CITES may be prompted to list lions under Appendix I, which will halt the trade in lion products (see South Africa) but as we have seen with the other species listed Appendix I (leopards, cheetahs, black rhinos, and elephants in Tanzania and Mozambique), that listing does not guarantee the days of hunting lions for trophies will be over. 

South Africa

South Africa tops the list but most of the lions hunted for trophies (two thirds of the country’s total lion population) are what the government terms ‘captive bred’ or ‘ranch’ lions. According to a spokesperson at the South African Department of Environment (DEA), less than 10 wild lions are hunted in South Africa per annum.

This, it has been argued, reinforces the fact that by deflecting trophy hunters to shooting the ranch lions of South Africa, there exists a crucial protective layer safeguarding the country’s wild lion population from serious damage.

An 18-month national study on the wildlife ranching sector of South Africa by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), an NGO that protects southern Africa’s threatened wildlife species, found that wildlife ranching is being conducted on a large scale in South Africa, with an estimated 9 000 wildlife properties covering an area approximately 17 million hectares, which is 2.2 times greater than the state protected game parks of the country, and found, as a whole, it benefits biodiversity in South Africa.

But, as EWT lead researcher Andrew Taylor admits, there are glaring problem areas in the industry that need to be urgently addressed. The study estimated that around 6% of the area used by wildlife ranching comprises intensive breeding camps for high trophy hunting value species such as lion. According to EWT, the issues of concern with intensification “is that the remaining land is not being managed for biodiversity conservation.” Intensification may lead to increasing amounts of fencing, which fragments the landscape further, and may also result in breeding management practices that select animals according to human preferred characteristics rather than naturally selected traits.

The most controversial form of intensification is the practice of breeding of lions for canned hunting.

In South Africa at the present time there are almost 200 breeding facilities where lions are raised exclusively for trophy hunting. Lions are kept in small enclosures and are habituated to humans making them easy targets for hunters. The practice has come under fire recently with the release of the film Blood Lions. As Ian Michler, the documentary’s main narrator, says “it’s about breeding wildlife as intensively as they can, as quickly as they can, to make as much money as they can.”

The commercial gain extends beyond just money accrued from hunting clients. In a research report (Williams et al. 2015) jointly commissioned by WildCru and TRAFFIC (a joint program of WWF and IUCN to monitor the trade in wildlife), the lion hunting industry in South Africa has been exposed as the main source of commercial lion bone trade.

In 2008, Asian traders began taking an interest in Africa’s lions when the decline in tigers became acute. With the demise of tigers, lion bones began to fill the gap. There was suddenly a sharp increase in lion products in the markets of Asia. A lion breeder in South Africa is now able get paid anywhere from US $5,000 to US $25,000 per captive-bred lion shot, but now, according to statistics released by the DEA, a breeder can boost his earnings by selling a lion skeleton, which is worth another US $1,260 to US $1,560 per set without skulls, and up to US $1,890 to US $2,100) with skulls (depending on the size of the skeleton, which is sold on weight). Skeletons are sold to Chinese dealers in Durban or Johannesburg, then shipped to Asia where the product, once boiled down and bottled, could fetch a market value exceeding US $20,000.

The practice is endorsed by government. The DEA has exercised their right to trade in lion products under the Appendix II listing. The country views captive lion farming and trading lion bones as economically viable and actively ‘promotes sustainable legal trade in lions and lion products’ using a CITES regulated permit system. South Africa is now the primary source of lion bones sold to East–Southeast Asia. The report reveals that ‘from 2008 to 2011, the official number of skeletons legally exported with CITES permits totaled 1,160.’

But Williams et al. caution ‘there are flaws in the regulatory systems that have created opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the legislation.’ Permits to hunt lions in South Africa are issued to registered professional hunters who are obliged to record all completed hunts in an official inventory. From 1977 to 2011, South Africa issued permits to export 7,014 lion trophies. A trophy normally consists of just the head and pelt of the dead lion (bones are excluded). Exported figures should be less than the number of lions hunted since not all hunters take their trophies home.

However, according to Williams et al., when one compares the number of lions hunted (indicated by the hunting register) with the number of trophies exported (indicated by CITES permits) between 2004 and 2010, there is a large discrepancy of 1,138 more trophies exported than lions hunted.

Furthermore, 250 kilograms of trophy hunted lion bones were exported to Lao Peoples Democratic Republic for the first time in 2009, despite no records of Laotian clients having hunted lions in South Africa previously. It was also the only recipient nation for lion bones in that year. Since 2010, the number of permits issued to export lion trophies to Laos has increased exponentially and currently dominate the export market for this commodity to the region. In 2011, 127 lion skeletons were exported from South Africa to Laos.

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Chart 17: Trophies (skulls and skins), skeletons and bones of captive-bred hunted lions exported from South Africa 2003-2013

These trends have left many wildlife conservationists deeply concerned.

Pieter Kat, a lion ecologist and trustee with LionAid, warns that ‘the South African government’s desire to facilitate trade in lion bones will be to the detriment of wild lions.’ He maintains that ‘by stimulating an Asian market for lion products, increased demand will affect lions across the continent as they now have value for poachers and illegal traders.’

Adam Welz of WildAid, a global organisation that works to reduce consumption by persuading consumers against buying wildlife products, compares the lion bone trade with the tiger bone trade. “Breeding thousands of tigers in captivity has not halted the decline of wild tigers, in fact it’s created a supply of tiger parts to an increasingly visible market which has stimulated consumer demand for products like tiger bone wine,” he said.

Coincidentally, Williams et al. noted that poaching of wild lions and the illegal lion trade ‘seems to have escalated since 2008.’

Another concern in the WildCru-Traffic report is that lionesses and sub-adults formerly had little or no value to breeders from a trophy hunter’s perspective. But now the growth of the lion bone trade ‘has generated a previously unexploited value for females and cubs.’ The report, therefore, has flagged a potential problem that there may be an ‘incentive to breed lions solely for the lion bone trade.’ Thus, the trophy hunting industry has become the primary source for a burgeoning trade that could potentially have a deep impact on the wildness of Africa’s lions.


Zimbabwe’s situation, as with all countries except South Africa, is worse because trophy hunting directly targets the vulnerable wild lion population. Researchers, co-ordinated by a team at the Nicholas School of the Environment and partially funded by National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI), revealed in 2012 that wild lion populations in that country ‘are in trouble’.

Almost 700 lion trophies were legally exported during the decade but the current population, according to the 2012 survey, stands at only 850. This means, like cheetahs, at the current rate and if free-ranging lion numbers don’t increase (which is unlikely), in another decade trophy hunters alone will have wiped out nearly all remaining lions in Zimbabwe.

According to Pieter Kat ‘baiting of lions due to a lack of viable specimens is now a standard means of hunting lions in Zimbabwe.’ It also has become common practice to hunt alongside parks. According to an unnamed source it ‘indicates a level of desperation by the hunting operators. No big male lions remain in their hunting concession areas, despite their claims of “sustainable” hunting practices.’

Lion researchers have been conducting a long-term study on behalf of the WildCru specifically to measure the impact of trophy hunting along the unfenced boundaries Zimbabwe’s premier game park Hwange. Even before Cecil the lion was shot by an American hunter outdide the park in July 2015, the researchers were lamenting the legality that allows hunters to hunt so close to the park boundary as they inevitably hunt the big male photogenic lions with the biggest manes that have flourished within the protection of the park. This, according to the researchers, causes a huge disturbance to the prides in the park.

The research project found that 34 of 62 tagged lions died during the study of which 24 were shot by trophy hunters. Trophy hunters in the safari areas surrounding the park killed 72 percent of tagged adult males from the study area. This caused a decline in numbers of adult males in the population. Principal WildCru researcher Andrew Loveridge says that “hunting predators on the boundaries of National Parks such as Hwange caused significant disturbance and knock on effects such as infanticide when new males entered the prides.”

Loveridge states that a more recent study conducted on the socio-spatial behaviour of lion population following the perturbation by trophy hunting, shows there is also growing evidence that lion populations that are socially disrupted may be more prone to coming into conflict with human communities on the boundaries of protected areas. This is largely because movement patterns become erratic and lions are more likely to leave the park.

“These cats are complex”, explains Loveridge, “which is why disturbance of their social system has such far reaching knock on effects.”

Paradoxically, lions in fenced-in private hunting conservancies are thriving.

On their website, one of Zimbabwe’s largest private wildlife areas, Bubye Valley Conservancy, state: “Sustainable trophy hunting provides the incentive and revenue to achieve this amazing conservation success.” The conservancy boasts that there “are more lions at much greater population densities in hunting areas than anywhere else in Zimbabwe. Lions thrive when given the resources and protection incentivised by trophy hunting.”

However, recent reports say that, Bubye is suffering from an overpopulation of lions. The conservancy has more than 500 lions and has warned that its lion population has become unsustainable.

Dr Pieter Kat of LionAid, says the “overpopulation appears intentional”. The 3 400 km² conservancy has about 15 lions per 100 km². The natural density of lions, for example, in the Kruger National Park is about 5-6 per 100 km² in the north, which is similar in habitat to Bubye, and 7-8/100 km² in the south. Bubye therefore is more than double the natural density for lions.

Bubye management have admitted they may even have to cull around 200 individuals as the lions are decimating populations of antelope, along with other animals such as leopards. Bubye now realize they have too many lions primarily because they are eating into their stock of other valuable hunting species.

As with other species, trophy hunting is not a viable conservation tool for lions in Zimbabwe. A failure to strictly monitor age and sex and a lack of penalties as has been seen with the prosecution of the professional hunter and land owner over the Cecil the lion case. These problems represent a serious threat to all wildlife, but especially when is comes to large felines.


In Zambia an average of 65 trophies per annum are exported. According to a regionally-based research paper (Riggio et al. 2012) most parks are registering free-falling numbers. A park like the 3,866 sq/km Liuwa Plains National Park has just 3 individuals.

The majority of lions are reported to occur in protected areas in three ecosystems: the Kafue, the Luangwa Valley and the Lower Zambezi but excessive trophy hunting in these areas is also having negative impacts on the population density with lion numbers declining alarmingly. For example, in 2005 3199 lions were counted in Kafue (Bauer et al). By 2015 there were only 264 (Midlane et al). Monitoring the South Luangwa lion population from 2008 to 2012, Rosenblatt et al. (2014) found lions declining sharply. There was severe depletion of adult males, and a senescing adult female population. The primary cause was considered to be trophy hunting. Hunters were also reported to use bait along the park borders of the Lower Zambezi (Becker et al. 2013)

As with leopards, the collapse of their lion population prompted the Zambian authorities to ban trophy hunting of lions in 2013. Leading lion researchers and scientists in the country at the time recommended maintaining the total ban until at least 2016. They also suggested that should hunting resume, ‘quotas be substantially reduced, with strict age restrictions and effective management mandated’.

But following a parliamentary debate Minister of Arts and Environment, Jean Kapata, announced that lion hunting will resume in the 2016/2017 hunting season with quotas that allow two lions to be hunted in the three prime hunting areas. The same reason for lifting the hunting of leopards ban was given namely that hunting was needed to pay for conservation.


Nambia exports less than twenty lion trophies per year. But that country’s lion population is considerably smaller at just 600 individuals. It indicates hunting still has a detrimental impact on the population as a third of the current total number during the decade are exported as trophies.

Lindsey et al. (2013) have argued that in Namibia ‘quotas are generally not established in a scientific manner and there is an over-reliance on subjective personal opinions during the process, including those of hunting operators.’ The size of quotas is apparently determined partly on the extent and location of problem animals, as is the case with elephants, leopards, rhino and cheetahs in Namibia. These findings need not have a close relationship to wildlife abundance.

Namibia is the only country of the six that legally allows the hunting of lionesses. Hunting of females, as established with cheetahs and leopards, creates risks that dependent cubs will die, removes the most reproductively productive individuals, can increase the vulnerability of prides to loss of territory to neighbouring prides and can render cubs more vulnerable to infanticidal males.


In Mozambique, lion numbers in the Niassa National Reserve, the country’s largest game park, may actually be increasing. This is according to Colleen Begg of the Niassa Carnivore Project. She said in an email to The Associated Press in July 2015 that it was because of the heavy poaching of elephants, which has provided ‘the carnivores with a bounty of carcasses to eat as well as vulnerable elephant calves to hunt.’

However, an earlier study (Begg C. & K. 2007) revealed that only 33 percent of all lions shot were of ‘acceptable trophy age’ (over the age of 6 years old is commonly considered the sufficient breeding age). The off-take in neighbouring hunting concessions has had noticeable effects on the population structure of lions both in the hunting areas and in the neighbouring protected area, which reduced the density of adult males, increased infanticide, increased turnover of territorial males and is thus considered unsustainable. This, the study finds, is why hunters ‘are struggling to find lions of the right age as they are probably not available in sufficient numbers to support the current quota.’

The study also found that the situation is made even worse when only a small percentage of each hunting concession is utilised, as is the case with hunting of leopards in the same area.

Further south lions are disappearing rapidly. A separate study of lions (Jacobson et al. 2013) in the northwest Tete Province of Mozambique suggests 185 lions exist in the region, down from the 2009 survey of 295 lions. The Gorongosa National Park that once had over 200 lions now has less than 30 indivudals.

In recognition of the country’s fast declining numbers due to trophy hunting CITES have enforced an export quota on lions of 60 trophies, which has been in effect since 2012. Mozambique is the only African lion range state to have a quota enforced. Yet, given the lack of mature male lions depleted from trophy hunting a blanket quota is not working to help arrest the decline of lions.


Tanzania has the largest wild lion population of all African nations. Still, almost 1,500 lion trophies have been exported in the decade following 2003 with overall numbers declining rapidly (see Chart 17). In the Katavi National Park, for example, 1,118 of the big cats were counted in 1993. By 2014 there was not a single lion remaining.

Lion populations, however, increased in the Serengeti. It just so happens that the Serengeti experiences less trophy hunting and greater non-consumptive wildlife watching or photographic tourist activities.

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Chart 17: Inferred lion population trend based on census data from 1993- 2014 in five monitored lion subpopulations in Tanzania (Bauer et al. 2015)

Lindsey et al. (2012) noted that recent studies indicated a notable negative impact of trophy hunting on populations of lions in Tanzania while lion expert, Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, found the results of their research in 2009 that the trophy hunting rate of big cats throughout Tanzania ‘had consistently been too high.’ Packer predicted that the future population of lions in Tanzania would be seriously decimated unless fewer big cats were killed by trophy hunters each year.

Trophy hunting was also reported to have contributed to population declines outside protected areas in Tanzania (Lindsey et al. 2013) and was considered by Packer et al. (2011) to pose the greatest threat to the populations in trophy hunting areas. They recorded significant declines in four out of the seven hunting areas studied, with particularly steep declines in hunting areas with highest harvest levels, concluding that the hunting quotas (currently 320 nationwide), were unsustainable.

LionAid (2011) considered the quotas allocated at the time, to be excessive, with the species overhunted in concessions and concluded that trophy harvest levels were unsustainable. Kiffner et al. (2009) found evidence to suggest that the intensity of hunting outside park boundaries, like in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, had an impact on the abundance of lion within protected areas. Hunting of lions was considered to be responsible for the skewed sex ratio and low abundance in edge areas outside of the Selous population (Brink et al. 2012).

In 2014 the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (in litt. to UNEP-WCMC, 2015) announced that its Wildlife Division, in collaboration with TAWIRI (Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute) had launched a national large carnivores survey to monitor the status and population trends of lions in the tourist hunting areas of Tanzania. But the UNEP-WCMC review on lions in Tanzania and Zambia noted one expert claimed that there was a lack of transparency around trophy hunting in Tanzania and had questioned whether TAWIRI had the resources and independence required to monitor lion populations (Anon 2, 2015). Another expert questioned the impartiality of the entities responsible for carrying out survey work underway in Tanzania (Anon 1, 2015a).

Currently, the principal importers of lion trophies are the United States, Spain and Germany. Importer-reported trade in trophies grossly exceeded that reported by Tanzania in every year between 2004 and 2013 further implying that Tanzanian authorities lacked the ability or will to protect lions from trophy hunting.

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Chart 18: P. leo Export Quota and Exports for Tanzania 2003-2013 (from CITES Annual Export Quota List) 


The common-held mantra that trophy hunting benefits conservation is in serious need of revision. As the CITES figures and abundant academic research shows, trophy hunting poses a significant threat to the very survival of Africa’s big cats, elephants and rhinos. Similarly, considering that all these animal’s numbers are rapidly declining, especially in recent years due to unprecedented levels of poaching and habitat loss, the hunting-as-conservation view begins to unravel.

By the IUCN’s own admittance (UICN/PACO, 2009) in a definitive study on the contribution of trophy hunting to conservation, the economic results of big game hunting are low, if not insignificant. The number of salaried jobs generated (15,000 for the whole of Africa) is negligible considering that almost 150 million people live in main game hunting countries, and that hunting takes up 16.5% of their territory. Basically, the hunting sector takes up a lot of space without generating corresponding socio-economic benefits. The report goes on to state: ‘The local community’s share is around US $0.10 per hectare explaining their lack of interest in preserving hunting areas and their continued encroachment and poaching.’

With the formal creation of these countries’ wildlife industry during the 19th century, British, German, Dutch and Portuguese settlers’ displaced indigenous pastoral and nomadic peoples, occupied their land and introduced the notion of private property. Indigenous people were systematically denied access to this land and its natural resources, a pattern that still largely exists today in Namibia and South Africa, or in the case of Zimbabwe, the land owners have switched from the white to the politically powerful black elite. In South Africa, privately owned land is increasingly fenced off for the creation of wildlife habitats and spaces to host and accommodate foreign trophy hunters.

Brandt and Spierenberg (2014), did research on the lives of farm workers, and transformation of social relations in the commercial farming landscape of the Eastern Cape province. As part of her research, she learned that there has been no real change in the distribution of wealth between land owners and workers because of trophy hunting. ‘Farm conversions reconfigure relations in the countryside in a manner that puts into question the potential for transformation of social relations.’ Black people are still displaced from commercial farms, in fact more so, as farms grow bigger and labour demands shrink.

Few rural people, she says, find employment as trackers, skinners and domestic workers on game farms. And if they do, the circumstances and conditions of farm work often remain shaped by paternalist and racist ideologies. Farm worker minimum wages have been set to just US $170 a month and as a casual labourer on a trophy-hunting farm explained to her: “…the most important thing is at the farms, you work yourself to death… For a little bit money, and after you get older, or you get injured, you are thrown out like an old shoe.” These issues raise a series of questions about the true economic and social value of trophy hunting in Africa.

Trophy hunting brings in miniscule revenue into national tourist sectors compared to non-consumtive wildlife watching tourism. For example, the total hunting revenue in Africa is a paltry 1.8 percent of the total tourism revenue. In comparison, non-consumptive wildlife watching tourism, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO), has a return of 80 percent of the total tourism revenue in Africa. Therefore, trophy hunting by abetting in the decline in wildlife, not only fails to provide a significant benefit for the overall revenue of range states but is harming the future of wildlife watching tourism as the majority tourists come to Africa exclusively for the iconic species that trophy hunters so favour.

From the CITES trophy hunting export quota perspective, a paradox exists. Fixed export quotas and hunting permits are enforced even if the animals are listed Appendix I (CITES) or Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List). This has sent mixed messages to the global community on the one hand trying to stop people from killing endangered wildlife but on the other giving approval to trophy hunters to skim even more off populations on the brink of collapse. It is astonishing that export quotas are given for trophy hunted animal products by the same organisation that has banned those products from international commercial use, like lion bones, leopard pelts, rhino horns and elephant tusks, principally because demand and the illicit trade are fueling the unprecedented decline in all five species. This paradox is doing little to contribute to saving species.

Then there is the prevalence of corruption. In Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe the levels of corruption are extemely high especially when trophy hunting has been linked to the illegal trade in wildlife. There is an extremely close link between legal hunting and poaching. Trophy hunting, particularly with Zimbabwe, fuels land-grabs and revenue from hunting only benefits those in power. Zambia’s and Namibia’s governments make policy decisions based on advice of influential hunting bodies like Safari Club International and there attempts to win over local rural support by allowing communities to kill rare animals for meat and a little financial gain. South Africa is not exempt from levels of corruption either. There remain question marks over the permit system, especially with rhino horn export permits to Vietnamese hunters, while the captive bred lion hunting program and the government sanctioned lion bone trade are accelerating the demise of wildlife populations in a country long-regarded for good conservation practices.

Since trophy hunters prefer to kill the most beautiful, the biggest and the rarest it further places undue pressure on already vulnerable and rapidly declining populations. Many ecologists and scientists argue that systematically hunting the most mature members of an animal population, even without the ravages of poaching and other factors, adversely affects the gene pool and reduce the average size of future generations which threaten the ability of the species to thrive. Killing off the adult males of any species may decrease the survival odds of the surviving young, something that is particularly prevalent with lions, cheetahs and leopards. It may also destabilize the population by creating a shortage of males. If females are targeted, hunting can mean the loss of the survival knowledge, breeding rates and calf or cub protection.

Trophy-hunting-as-conservation arguments tend to be based on outdated theories largely based on an economic speculation that the practice will prevent human-animal conflict by providing financial value to an animal commonly thought of as a danger, problem or damage-causing without acknowledging the abundance, or lack thereof, of the species targeted.

In the past trophy hunting has often been held up as the answer to sound conservation management practices and the only solution to saving a species but in reality trophy hunting is an activity that fuels corruption, it encourages the unfair redistribution of the wealth generated without adequate involvement of communities, causes the loss of healthy individuals that are still key for reproduction and social cohesion but, most importantly, it contributes to the decline of all five species analysed in this report.

With such rapid declines there will soon come a point where every single individual animal counts. In the words of Professor David Bilchitz of the University of Joannesburg South Africa, “an alternative view to conservation recognises that an essential part of an effective strategy involves developing an understanding of the worth of and respect owed to individual animals. This is important, not only because morally animals are deserving of such respect in their own right, but also because respect for individual animals is essential to preserving the species as a whole. The one cannot be divorced from the other.”

In the minds of public opinion, judging by the global condemnation over the killing of Cecil the lion, that point may have arrived. It’s up to the politicians and legislators to realise it too.


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[1] South Africa’s official figures differ greatly from AED’s. The country has published figures of at least 26,000 elephants. At least 17,000, according to South African National Parks, inhabit the Kruger National Park alone.

[2] These figures are according to a survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society as part of the Great Elephant Census 2014.


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