One common misunderstanding of wildlife protection in Africa is the less protection means more wildlife. Not necessarily. There’s a growing body of evidence that when Africans receive certain benefits from protecting wildlife, the protection of wild animals improves — even when the incentives are payments to foreigners for the right to hunt animals.
To be sure, permission to hunt in the African wild is a controversial subject, not only because hunting means death to an animal but because organized “safaris” in Africa have a troubling history. In a new article provocatively entitled, “Shoot an Elephant, Save A Community,” Terry Anderson, executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, makes a persuasive case for providing “the the right incentives to protect wildlife and its habitat” in Africa. Central to those incentives is the sale of hunting permits. “Wildlife in Africa needs economic value to survive,” Anderson writes, and hunting permits provide a baseline for valuing wildife in monetary terms.
Anderson’s paper falls squarely in the mainstream of new approach to environmentalism that sees protection as a primary responsibility of Africans themselves. He echoes the findings of the landmark work of re-thinking African environmentalism, The Myth of Wild Africa, a classic study of how the power of local control of environmental resources can be directed at worthy conservationist aims. Anderson cites the experience of Zimbabwe, where elephant populations rose in tandem with managed hunting. Give communities a material reason to protect wildlife, and they will.
Just how many elephants should be sacrificed to fee-paying hunters remains a matter of debate. But for sure, do not kill an African elephant with a Kalashnikov. The activist Peter Thum has launched a compelling campaign against these deadly weapons, and recently he and his associates have tried buying some in the Congo to get them off the market. Thum’s group then destroys the weapons so, as he has tweeted, they will “never kill again.”
Curiously, Thum takes a page in his anti-Kalashnikov campaign for market-friendly environmentalists who long have argued that people need rewards for good behavior; we cannot rely on them to simply be good. Might the same be true for reducing deadly weapons in African countries? And if shooting elephants (selectively) helps elephant herds thrive overall, perhaps paying humans for their guns — and then destroying them — will help those without them.