Pro-hunting group Safari Club International (SCI) recently published material entitled ‘The Conservation Equation’. The claimed ‘equation’ is a simple one – that trophy hunting equals conservation of African wildlife and habitat. 

SCI’s claims are based on a commissioned study by consultants Southwick Associates. This study estimated the economic benefits of trophy hunting in eight African countries – Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe (Southwick, 2015). They claim that the overall economic benefit from their estimated 18,815 trophy hunter visits is $USD 426 million to the studied eight countries, and that trophy hunting directly and indirectly supports 53,000 jobs. 

In fact, trophy hunting contributes significantly less to the eight study economies, job markets, and African conservation. Reviewing the study behind The Conservation Equation, this analysis finds that:

• Economic benefits have been heavily overstated, with Southwick (2015) claiming that trophy hunting contributes $426 million; a more realistic estimate is less than $132 million per year.
• Marginal contribution from trophy hunting to employment is not 53,000 jobs, as claimed by Southwick (2015), but more likely in the range of 7,500 – 15,500 jobs.
• While overall tourism is between 2.8% and 5.1% of GDP in the eight study countries, the total economic contribution of trophy hunters is at most about 0.03% of GDP. 
• Foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1% of tourists on average.
• The adjusted value of Southwick’s economic contribution of trophy hunting ($132 million or less) amounts to only 0.78% or less of the $17 billion in overall tourism spending in the studied countries.
• Trophy hunting tourism employment is only 0.76% or less of average direct tourism employment in study countries.


Southwick (2015) employ methods that substantially overstate the size of the hunting economy. The main methodological problems are:  
1. Ignoring the opportunity cost of resources used for hunting activities by assuming that land and wildlife resources have no substitute uses at all. Clearly there are alternative uses, such as nonhunting tourism. Analysis that ignores the existence of alternative uses and industries cannot contribute to the key question of whether hunting is the most economically valuable use of resources in the regions where it occurs. 

2. Non-hunting tourism by trophy hunters is attributed purely to trophy hunting. While this and other pro-trophy hunting economic studies proclaim that trophy hunters are motivated by more than just the hunt, and that trophy hunters value outdoor wildlife experiences in exotic locations, these same studies assume that no trophy hunters would visit these countries if not for trophy hunting, and that no non-trophy hunting activities would occur if hunting ceased.  
3. Using multipliers to determine total economic contribution. This method of analysis assumes that not only would all businesses that earn revenue from trophy hunters find no alternative income sources, but neither would their suppliers, and their suppliers’ suppliers, and so forth up the value chain. This method is unrealistic, and no longer an accepted method of economic analysis.

Adjusting the Southwick (2015) estimates to account for these problems helps provide an indication of the marginal economic benefit of trophy hunting. In other words, what is the benefit that hunting provides over and above what an alternative use of the land, wildlife, labour and other inputs would generate. This is the economically correct approach to assessing the value of an industry.

Making these adjustments, this marginal benefit would be less than $USD 132 million, depending on alternative wildlife uses. In terms of employment, the likely marginal effect of trophy hunting is in the range of 7,500 – 15,500 jobs, rather than the 53,000 claimed by Southwick (2015). A summary of the effect of adjusting for these methodological issues is in Figure 1. The graphic illustrates how Southwick (2015) was able to reach the inflated and inaccurate figure of a $426 million economic benefit and 53,000 employment benefit to the eight countries studied.  


Although often reported to be economically significant, or even critical, the gross tourism expenditure from trophy hunters claimed by Southwick (2015) is around 1.9% of overall (non-hunting and hunting) tourism expenditure in the study countries (while the marginal contribution from trophy hunting is far less). The tourism sector overall is between 2.8% and 5.1% of GDP in the study countries, meaning that the current total economic contribution of trophy hunters from their hunting-related, and non-hunting related, tourism is at most about 0.03% of GDP. Foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1% of tourists on average.  
The comparison of tourist arrivals, spending, and direct employment of tourism overall, and the claimed contribution of trophy hunters in Southwick (2015) is in Figure 2, which shows clearly that the economic significance of trophy hunting is exaggerated. 
In terms of the wider tourism economy, which relies heavily on wildlife resources, trophy hunting is relatively insignificant. Overall tourism spending grew by as much as the claimed direct value of the trophy hunting industry ($326 million) every four months on average in the eight study countries between 2000 and 2014. The average increase in tourist arrivals over 9 days in Botswana exceeded the total annual foreign trophy hunter arrivals as estimated by Southwick (2015). For the more established hunting markets of Namibia and South Africa, this was 54 and 60 days, meaning that just the growth over a year in tourist numbers is about six times larger than a year’s worth of hunting tourists.

Thus, at the country level the overall financial contribution of trophy hunting is minor, though perhaps significant in a few small select regions. Some African countries have already instituted trophy hunting restrictions. Kenya, for example, banned almost all hunting in 1977 and has seen high growth in tourism industries, and a pushback by large eco-tourism operators against the reintroduction of hunting. In 2014, Botswana followed Kenya’s example. Trophy hunting may actually deter growth in other forms of tourism, and these costs may overwhelm any economic benefits (already recognized to be minor) of the trophy hunting industry.


SCI claims that the economic benefits estimated by Southwick (2015) implicitly support their “conservation equation” view that hunting equals conservation because it generates economic activity which can help pay the cost of conservation. Yet the report only offers claims of total economic contribution, with no details provided on how much of the inflated total of $426 million actually goes to conservation. Instead, published studies have consistently shown that trophy hunting can have a detrimental effect on wildlife populations. 

It is not impossible for conservation areas in some cases to have some amount of sustainable trophy hunting. But trophy hunting does not itself automatically lead to effective conservation. With minor exceptions, the causal link SCI claims simply does not exist. A well-regulated system is required for trophy hunting to be sustainable. For example, it must be void of corruption, offer accurate and regular monitoring of populations, ensure that hunting quotas are based on science, be properly regulated and enforced, etc. Given the complex political climates of many of the eight study countries – some of which are in fact extremely corrupt, lack accurate population monitoring, base quotas on factors other than science, ignore age restrictions for hunted animals, and allow hunting to disrupt social stability in animal groups – this perfect operating system is unattainable and therefore sustainability cannot be ensured.  This presents clear evidence against SCI’s conservation equation view. Southwick’s (2015) findings that just an estimated 6 to 9% of economic benefits are potentially available to be directed towards conservation similarly undermines that view. 

Read the full report: Economists_at_Large_Lions_Share_Trophy_Hunting_Report_2017

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