Nairobi — Kenyans are debating whether the Government should lift its 30-year ban on trophy hunting. While the talk continues, the elephant population in Kenya continues to drop.
Meanwhile, elephant populations in countries such as Namibia and South Africa are increasing, a resurgence that is due surprisingly, in part, to trophy hunting. More importantly, our research in Namibia has found that as elephant populations rebound, so do the fortunes of the people.
What can Kenya learn from Namibia?
In the early 1990's, the Namibian government instituted a policy known as Community -Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM). CBNRM gives people who live on communal land the rights to manage wildlife and to build businesses based on ecotourism and similar activities.
WHILE TROPHY HUNTING IS A major source of cash income for conservancies, other forms of direct wildlife utilisation provide important cash and noncash benefits for conservancy members.
In 2005, there were 12 trophy hunting concessions across 16 Namibian conservancies, providing approximately US$495,000 in income to conservancies, making trophy hunting the second highest source of income for conservancies.
In Namibia's programme, the ministry of Environment and Tourism sets quotas to hunt threatened or problem animals. Conservancies that have these quotas can then contract with professional hunters, who bring paying hunters to the area to track and shoot the animals. In the contracts, conservancies can specify what benefits trophy hunting will give the conservancy and its members beyond just income.
The Namibia Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organisation (NACSO) reports that by providing some jobs, income, and meat to conservancy members, trophy hunting can "strengthen local support for wildlife and conservancies because people see the link between wildlife and conservation in the form of a tangible, immediate benefit." Strengthening these links is vital for countries seeking to protect endangered species.
The ministry also requires conservancies to develop plans to distribute benefits. Conservancies may pay out cash benefits after they have paid out conservancy operating costs, which may include vehicle maintenance, salaries, and other expenses, such as relocating wildlife or maintaining water holes. Some conservancies have distributed cash to households.
As valuable as trophy hunting is to the conservancies, it is not only activity that conservancies undertake. In fact, as the Namibian conservancies work to diversify their sources of income, trophy hunting is playing a smaller, though still important, role in conservancies' management strategies.
Even though trophy hunting can provide important economic and social benefits, the practice also creates tension and conflict if there isn't a transparent process for using the income or distributing the meat. In addition, because hunters often place a premium on hunting potentially destructive animals, such as elephants, local people may experience human/wildlife conflict from having animals that outsiders desire in their conservancies.
THE KEY TO NAMIBIA'S SUCCESS in managing the tension over trophy hunting lies in the fact that the local people of an area decide whether to permit trophy hunting. With CBNRM the Namibian government has recognised that those most affected should have the right to decide their fates, a right currently denied to the people of Kenya.
While lifting the trophy hunting ban in Kenya could be a vital step in increasing the fortunes of both the elephants and the people, it is just a step. With greater legal empowerment and a devolution of rights to manage wildlife, Kenyans too would experience what the people of Torra Conservancy, Namibia, are now experiencing: an improving environment and economic development.
Karol Boudreaux is lead researcher for Enterprise Africa, a joint project of the Mercatus Centre at George Mason University, Virginia, US.