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Why some African countries support trophy hunting

June 24, 2024

There are conflicting theories about how to best conserve Africa's wild animals. Should some countries continue to permit professional hunting as a means to generate income and minimize human-wildlife conflicts?

A young elephant walks in the grass.
Image: Marc Schmerbeck/Zoonar/picture alliance

Botswana, home to the world's largest elephant population, has been a staunch critic of attempts by some European nations to ban the import of hunting trophies from Africa.

The government of the United Kingdom is close to passing a new law that would ban the import of hunting trophies — the body parts of animals hunted for sport in Africa. The legislation would prohibit the import of body parts from elephants, bears, lions, hippos and zebras into the UK. But critics say the UK should drop the issue, since paid-for hunting finances efforts to combat poaching, provides tourism-related jobs to Africans and reduces the number of conflicts between animals and humans. 

The debate over the new law highlights the ongoing conflict between conservation efforts and the livelihoods of communities in African countries where trophy hunting plays a crucial economic role.


Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi looks in the camera, speaking.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi is in favor of trophy huntingImage: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Other countries in Europe have also proposed simlar bans on trophy hunting, including Germany. In response, Botswana's president Mokgweetsi Masisi made a headline-inducing threat to send 20,000 elephants to Germany.

"It is very easy to sit in Berlin and have an opinion about our affairs in Botswana" Masisi told German media. "We are paying the price for preserving these animals for the world" he said.

Some southern African countries, including Botswana, also depend on trophy hunting to keep wild animal populations in check. The country is home to a third of the entire African elephant population, and many residents of the country say the population of wild elephants has gotten out of control.

Elephant conflicts

There are currently around 130,000 to 140,000 elephants in Botswana, which has a population of 2.6 million people — that's around one elephant for every 15 people. "People in Botswana are saying that there are way too many elephants for this country," DW correspondant Florian Nusch said.

Nusch says most locals support trophy hunting, as it helps keep elephant populations under control. "There is a lot of human-elephant conflict going on. That can range from getting your crop fields trampled over, getting your mangos or watermelons eaten by elephants that were meant to be traded," explained Nusch. "It might result in your hut getting pushed over. It might even result in human death — and that happens on a regular basis. If an elephant approaches your crop field and you're trying to chase it away...it might end up being fatal for you."

Botswana vows to send 20,000 elephants to Berlin in hunting row

Trophy hunting was banned in Botswana in 2014 with authorities citing a diminishing elephant population. The decision was celebrated by animal rights groups but condemned by many locals who said the measures led to fewer jobs and a resurgence of elephant-inflicted damage to properties and crops.

However, after pressure from local communities, the ban on trophy hunting was lifted in 2019. The situation remains dire in the eyes of the government and many citizens. To reduce the number of elephants, Botswana has even tried giving 8,000 elephants to neighboring Angola, and has offered hundreds more to Mozambique.

"Trophy hunting is basically only a controversy outside of Botswana," said Nusch.

Hunting rules

The DW correspondant has covered professional huting in Botswana and has seen first-hand how it is done.

Safaris take place under the guidance of a licensed professional hunter and clients are typically from the US, UK and Europe. They pay a high price to attend such hunting excursions, which typically last a minimum of ten days, he explained.

Nutsch says there are strict rules when it comes to hunting. Shooting animals at watering holes is forbidden, as is the use of technical equipment such as drones.

The animals being hunted must also meet specific criteria, according to Nusch: "It always has to be a single, older male, since elephants live in matriarchal societies," he added.

An elephant holding another elephant by its tail.
There are strict rules that must be followed when hunting for sport in BotswanaImage: Tommy Mees/Pond5 Images/IMAGO Images

Hunting quotas in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the government is also trying reduce conflicts between humans and elephants, and will soon announce hunting quotas for 2024. 

Privilege Musvanhiri, a DW correspondent based in Harare, said the announcement of a quota was welcome by many.

"On average, we have 50 people a year who are killed by elephants in Zimbabwe," he told DW. People who live near national parks, many of which are already at capacity, are especially at risk, he added.

How Botswana is growing its elephant population

What solutions are available?

Anglistone Sibanda, aconservation expert in Zimbabwe, said the country has an ivory stockpile it is not allowed to sell due to a ban on the international trade of elephant tusks. However, if this was not the case, the revenue could have gone to support government conservation projects.

"The government has had to divert funds from other sources to finance conservation projects...that puts Zimbabwe in a quagmire," he said.

Sibanda said conservation efforts related to elephants in southern Africa have become something of a curse, since local communities are negatively affected by elephant herds. 

"And yet someone in Berlin, someone in London who enjoys seeing elephants does not understand the cost of conserving that animal," he told DW.

"You have the neoliberal approach, the neoliberal countries that are driving the agenda. They care about elephants at the expense of ordinary people who are suffering. Those that think they care so much about the elephants are not feeling the heat," he told DW.

Eddy Micah Jr, Florian Nusch in Botswana, and Privilege Musvanhiri in Zimbabwe contributed to this article.

For more on this topic, listen to the AfricaLink Podcast: Trophy Hunting in Africa 

Trophy hunting in Africa