Trophy Hunters’ Willingness to Pay For Wildlife Conservation and Community Benefits
There is probably nothing about trophy hunting (let alone hunting in general) that would be seen as ethically justifiable for animal advocates. However, in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, conservationists are increasingly finding themselves considering the idea of permitting a certain amount of trophy hunting in order to boost overall support for conservation efforts. This study sets aside the obvious ethical issues with such hunting, and examines how the trade-off between trophy hunting and conservation might function.
“Trophy hunting is still regarded as controversial by many conservationists, and negative impacts of hunting on, for example, species of conservation interest have repeatedly been reported,” begins this study that examines possible ways that trophy hunting can be parlayed into positive outcomes for conservation. The researchers note that, in the battle to stop important land being turned over to crop growing and grazing for farmed animals, permitting trophy hunting may be one way that land could be valued more highly for its habitat potential than for its use as farmland. The authors note that “revenue from hunting may contribute to rural economies and thus motivate people living in or adjacent to wildlife areas to be supportive of their conservation.” However, the question is – how much are trophy hunters willing to pay, and is it enough to make the tradeoff “worth it”? Across much of Africa, the question is a moot point, as trophy hunting is not allowed. However, it is permitted in Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. So, to better understand the conditions under which trophy hunting could facilitate the conservation of wildlife, researchers surveyed hunters using a hypothetical choice scenario, with Ethiopia as a case study.
Their findings show some interesting tendencies. “Most participants expressed a strong interest in nature and conservation, and a slightly less strong interest in Ethiopian culture,” say the authors. When presented with various options, the researchers found that respondents were “on average willing to pay a sizeable premium for hunting packages that featured revenue sharing with local communities and for hunting in landscapes with a lot of wildlife, as opposed to landscapes dominated by farm livestock.” Therefore, the trophy hunters not only “value” these natural landscapes, they are also willing to pay a premium to conduct their business there. Of course, ethical questions loom that the authors touch upon. “Although a study such as ours does not examine the morality of trophy hunting, it offers insights into the potential relationships between hunting and conservation that may be relevant to other countries with developing hunting industries,” they say.
“A stronger hunting industry, which builds on revenue sharing and actively involves local people, could make managing land for hunting more competitive relative to other land uses, which are less conducive to wildlife conservation,” the authors conclude. This is not a comfortable suggestion for wildlife advocates to stomach. In a world where virtually all of the natural world is seen as a “resource” for humans to use, the “management” of those resources is proposed as the primary way to address and solve problems. If land can be more efficiently used to provide a suitable environment for wildlife (while allowing for some trophy hunting), it may well give a higher net benefit to more animals than clearing the same land for crops or grazing. However, given humans’ track record with “resource management,” it is clear that this type of proposal may not be a successful course of action either.
In the face of fundamental land-use changes, the potential for trophy hunting to contribute to conservation is increasingly recognized. Trophy hunting can, for example, provide economic incentives to protect wildlife populations and their habitat, but empirical studies on these relationships are few and tend to focus on the effects of benefit-sharing schemes from an ex post perspective. We investigated the conditions under which trophy hunting could facilitate wildlife conservation in Ethiopia ex ante. We used a choice experiment approach to survey international trophy hunters’ (n = 224) preferences for trips to Ethiopia, here operationalized as trade-offs between different attributes of a hunting package, as expressed through choices with an associated willingness to pay. Participants expressed strong preferences and, consequently, were willing to pay substantial premiums for hunting trips to areas with abundant nontarget wildlife where domestic livestock was absent and for arrangements that offered benefit sharing with local communities. For example, within the range of percentages considered in the survey, respondents were on average willing to pay an additional $3900 for every 10 percentage points of the revenue being given to local communities. By contrast, respondents were less supportive of hunting revenue being retained by governmental bodies: Willingness to pay decreased by $1900 for every 10 percentage points of the revenue given to government. Hunters’ preferences for such attributes of hunting trips differed depending on the degree to which they declared an interest in Ethiopian culture, nature conservation, or believed Ethiopia to be politically unstable. Overall, respondents thus expressly valued the outcomes of nature conservation activities—the presence of wildlife in hunting areas—and they were willing to pay for them. Our findings highlight the usefulness of insights from choice modeling for the design of wildlife management and conservation policies and suggest that trophy hunting in Ethiopia could generate substantially more financial support for conservation and be more in line with conservation objectives than is currently the case.