By Sharon Atieno

Though the government views regulated and sustainable hunting as an important conservation tool in managing wildlife in South Africa, majority of tourists and locals disagree, a new survey finds.

South Africa is the second largest exporter of trophies of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)-listed species globally, exporting 16% of the global total of hunting trophies, 4,204 trophies on average per year, according to a 2022 report by Human Society International/ Africa dubbed Trophy Hunting by the Numbers.

The top five species exported as trophies from South Africa are African lion (mostly captive), chacma baboon, southern lechwe (captive, non-native), caracal and vervet monkey.

Of the 6,738 captive-source trophies exported during 2014-2018, 90% were African lion or non-native southern lechwe.

The Trophy Hunting survey by World Animal Protection and Floods found that three in four potential tourists drawn from 10 countries including United Kingdom (UK), Germany, United States, France and Australia among others, will be put off visiting a country that encourages trophy hunting- killing of animals for pleasure.

In most countries, the tourists (about 84% )agree that the South African government should prioritize wildlife friendly tourism over trophy hunting as a key part of the country’s economy and conservation policy.

Majority of the 10,900 tourists surveyed feel that keeping wildlife in sanctuaries and zoos and doing activities such as watching and photographing are more acceptable conservation practices than killing wildlife for sport or entertainment.

In South Africa, about 70% of the 1,111 participants drawn from nine provinces in the country do not agree that trophy hunting should be a key part of the country’s economy.

Most of them  (70%) agree that South Africa would be a more attractive tourist destination if it banned trophy hunting.

Additionally, majority of the citizens according to the survey feel hunting of wildlife for sports or entertainment is not acceptable as a conservation practice and instead prefer watching or photographing wildlife or keeping them in zoos and sanctuaries.

According to Edith Kabesiime, Wildlife Campaign Manager for Africa, World Animal Protection, trophy hunting is not beneficial and there is not much scientific evidence to show that it is helping in conservation.

She noted that there were more alternatives to conserve animals that countries with an abundant supply can opt for, including restocking animals in places where they were existing but their populations declined.

An economic review in eight countries in Africa, including South Africa, showed that the total economic contribution of trophy hunters was at most about 0.03% of gross domestic product (GDP), whilst overall tourism accounted for between 2.8% and 5.1% of GDP in those eight countries.

Nick Stewart, Global Head of Campaigns for Wildlife at World Animal Protection said the Republic of South Africa needs to take decisive action to move towards a more wildlife friendly future.

“It’s not too late for them to grasp the opportunity to make a clear stand, by fully embracing non-lethal wildlife-friendly alternatives, including responsible wildlife tourism, which is clearly what international tourists and local people are seeking. It’s time to make public, time bound commitments, starting with killing off trophy hunting – for good,” Stewart said.

According to the World Animal Protection despite the decision from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment of South Africa in May 2021, announcing new measures to halt the domestication of captive lions, as well as the phasing out of the commercial captive lion industry, this process has stalled, with little progress taking place in the year that has followed.

The organization is now calling for the Republic of South Africa to reject cruel, lethal practices such as trophy hunting as a default approach to sustainable development and conservation, make a public commitment to end trophy hunting and invest in other non-lethal economic alternatives, including wildlife-friendly tourism instead.