Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy

Hunting and tourism can work together for conservation: the Namibian experience

Chris Brown

There is much confusion and misconception, particularly in the urban industrialised world and thus by most western tourists that visit Namibia, about the role of hunting in conservation. Urban industrialised societies, and I include many biologists and recognised conservation organisations in this grouping, see hunting as undermining conservation, or the anathema of conservation. And they see protecting wildlife and removing all incentives for its consumptive use as promoting and achieving good conservation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The wildlife situation in Namibia provides a very good example of this. When the first western explorers, hunters and traders entered what is now Namibia in the late 1700s, crossing the Orange/Gariep River from the Cape, the national wildlife population was probably in the order of 8-10 million animals.  Due to wasteful hunting and competition with livestock on grazing land, by the 1960s wildlife numbers were at an all-time low in Namibia, with perhaps fewer than half a million animals surviving. In response to declining numbers and growing dissatisfaction from farmers, a new approach to wildlife management was introduced. In the 1960s and 1990s, conditional rights over the consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife were devolved to freehold and communal farmers respectively, the latter under Namibia’s well-known conservancy programme. This policy change led to a total change in attitude towards wildlife by land owners and custodians. Wildlife suddenly had value. It could be used to support a multi-faceted business model, including trophy hunting, meat production, live sale of surplus animals and tourism. It could be part of a conventional livestock farming operation, or be a dedicated business on its own.

Today there is more wildlife in Namibia than at any time in the past 150 years, with latest estimates putting the national wildlife herd at just over 3 million animals. And the reason is simple – wildlife is an economically more attractive, competitive form of land use than conventional farming in our arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid landscapes. Markets are driving more and more farmers towards the management of wildlife. This is good for conservation, not just from the perspective of wildlife, but also from the broader perspective of collateral habitat protection and biodiversity conservation. The greater the benefits that land owners and custodians derive from wildlife, the more secure it is as a land-use form and the more land there is under conservation management. Therefore, all the component uses of wildlife, including and especially trophy hunting, must be available to wildlife businesses. These uses include the full range of tourism options, live sale of surplus wildlife, and the various forms of consumptive use – trophy and venison hunting and wildlife harvesting for meat sale, value addition and own use.

Today, Namibia has well over 50% of its land under some form of formally recognised wildlife management (but probably over 70% if informal wildlife management is considered), including one of the largest contiguous areas of land under conservation in the world – its entire coast, linking to Etosha National Park and to conservation areas in both South Africa (Richtersveld) and Angola (Iona National Park) – over 25 million ha.

The greatest threat to wildlife conservation, in Namibia and globally, is land transformation. Once land is transformed, often for agricultural purposes, it has lost its natural habitats, it has lost most of its biodiversity and it can no longer support wildlife. Hunters and tourism operators should and must be on the same side – to make land under wildlife more productive than under other forms of land use. They are natural allies – both consumptive and non-consumptive – can take place without one impacting negatively on the other.  In most areas, eco-tourism cannot substitute for hunting. The loss of hunting revenue cannot be made up by eco-tourism revenue. Indeed, we need to optimise all streams of wildlife derived revenue to make land under wildlife as competitive as possible.

Conflicts between hunting and tourism are simply failures of management and communication, nothing more profound than that. But the onus should be on the hunting outfitters to ensure that there are ongoing, good communications.  The onus is also on hunting outfitters, professional hunters, and the hunting sector to always maintain the highest ethical and professional standards, and to be mindful of the sensitivities of many people to the issue of hunting. It is also the vital task and duty of tourism operators and guides to educate visitors from the urban industrialised countries about conservation in this part of the world. Visitors need to understand what drives conservation, the role of incentives, markets and what is meant by sustainable wildlife management. It is the task of the tourism industry to help visitors understand why Namibia has one of the most successful conservation trackrecords of any country in the world.

Wildlife has a comparative economic advantage as a land use over agriculture in low rainfall areas (see Figure 1). On the left side of the graph, in areas of rainfall below about 800 mm per year, returns from “indigenous production systems” – i.e. wildlife, are greater than the returns from “exotic production systems” – i.e. farming. However, this only applies if the policy environment is supportive i.e. if the rights to use wildlife are devolved to land owners and custodians. Markets then create a win-win situation for optimal returns from land and for wildlife conservation in these more arid areas. However, if utilisation rights are not devolved, then wildlife has little value to the land owner and custodian, and people will use the land for other activities. On the right side of the graph, above about 800 mm, the lines cross over and here conventional farming outperforms wildlife management.  Most of the western, industrialised world falls into the right side of the graph. Conservation agencies and organisations from countries on the right side of the graph, and areas where rights over wildlife are not devolved to land owners, are so conditioned to resist and fight against market forces having negative conservation impacts in their countries, that they automatically carry the fight across to those countries falling into the left side of the graph and which have devolved wildlife rights, not realising that in these conditions, markets are working for conservation.

Chris Brown Figure 1

Figure 1. Economic returns to conventional farming (yellow line) and to wildlife management (green line) in areas of different land productivity, with rainfall being a good proxy for productivity.

This is the important message that we must get across to policy makers, conservation organisations and the broader public in the urbanised and industrialised countries. And in some other parts of Africa. Kenya, for example, with its Eurocentric protectionist conservation approach, has less wildlife today than at any time in its history (see Figure 2). People need to understand the conservation drivers, incentives and markets, as well as the role of sustainable use within good conservation policy and practice.

Chris Brown Figure 2

Figure 2.  Wildlife numbers in Namibia and Kenya over the past 50 years. These trends are driven by different national wildlife policies, one creating wildlife value for land owners and custodians (Namibia), the other removing value from wildlife (Kenya).

Namibia’s record of environmental accomplishment speaks for itself. Through the implementation of appropriate policies, it has created incentives for wildlife conservation, unmatched anywhere in the world. But wildlife must have value otherwise land owners and custodians will move to other forms of land use. And it must have the greatest possible value to be as secure a land use as possible, over the largest possible landscape. And that is why I strongly support well-managed and ethical hunting. It is good, and in some cases essential, for the conservation of wildlife, of habitats and of biological diversity.


Dr Chris Brown is from the Namibian Chamber of Environment and can be contacted at

A longer version of this article and associated references originally appeared in The Conservation Imperative newsletter 2017

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