skip to Main Content

Trophy Hunting and Conservation in Zimbabwe

By Gianni (Gee) Bauce

Defining Trophy Hunting

According to the Parks and Wildlife Act, 1996, 20:14 a “trophy” is:

  • Any horn, ivory, tooth, tusk, bone, claw, hoof, hide, skin, hair or other durable portion whatsoever of any animal, whether processed or not, which is recognizable as the durable portion of any animal; &
  •  The egg of any animal; &
  •  Anything of which the durable portion of any animal forms a part, which is declared to be a trophy.

“Trophy hunting” therefore means hunting an animal to achieve access to a part or parts of its body, generally for the personal pleasure of the hunter. (We are not discussing the reasons why someone might want to hunt a wild animal, nor the moral aspects of trophy hunting. We only want to highlight the benefits of trophy hunting in conservation and its importance for the future of our wildlife.)

The Hot Debate

The debate about trophy hunting is escalating and the arguments are becoming hotter and hotter, splitting public opinion into factions that seem to be incapable to finding common ground.  These apparently irreconcilable positions often arise out of insufficient knowledge about both conservation and trophy hunting and this ignorance (particularly in Western World) represents a serious risk for our conservation efforts. That is why it is important for every guide to be able to explain these topics clearly to clients. These explanations are not because we want to change clients’ minds in a particular direction, but because we want to give them the proper tools to be able to make the best decisions on strategic topics like the ban of the import of trophies into their countries, decisions that may severely affect our conservation programmes.

The History of Trophy Hunting

Trophy hunting is as old as humans. Cavemen used to hunt for meat, but soon they started to use animal parts for decoration, ritual tools or other non-food purposes. Jumping from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, trophy hunting was of great importance both in Europe and Africa. In Europe, royalty and nobles used to hunt actively and large tracts of land were converted to private hunting areas where these rich people could enjoy their hunting.

It is from this time that the term “game” came to refer to both play” and “wildlife”. In Southern Africa ivory and hides were traded with Arab merchants for centuries.  But the trophy hunting of the Middle Ages involved relatively inefficient weapons and was not on a large enough scale to affect the wildlife population of Africa, so trophy hunting remained sustainable for centuries.

It was only during colonial times, with the increasing efficiency of firearms and the massive exploitation of the natural resources of the African continent, that hunting started to affect the wildlife populations seriously. (Before talking about the benefits of the hunting business in modern times, I think it is important not to hide the disasters caused by trophy hunting for African wildlife during the Nineteenth Century.}


Uncontrolled hunting lead to the extinction of several species, such as the Blue buck (Hippotragus leucopaus), a close relative of Sable and Roan antelope, and to a dramatic decline of other iconic species, such as elephants and black rhinos.  In 1900, the elephant population in Africa was about of 10 million but in the 1960 this had fallen to only 550,000-750,000 elephants left roaming over the continent (a decline of 87%). There were more than 850,000 black rhinos in 1900 but in 1960 only 100,000 were left.  In The Angels Weep Wilbur Smith wrote, “We thought that all these were inexhaustible, but we were wrong.” When the devastation caused by uncontrolled exploitation of resources became clear, colonial administration tried to salvage the situation and new measures were put in place to protect wildlife. National parks, game reserves, hunting and protected areas were created to protect the wildlife that was left. Hunting came to be tightly regulated. What we nowadays call “conservation” was born. These “new” measures not only reduced the pressure of hunting on African wildlife, but also transformed the hunting business into a very efficient tool to sustain and help the conservation.

(Actually, “conservation” or “sustainable use of resources” was not an invention of modern humans.

The Khoi-San people of Southern and East Africa lived for thousands of years practising the sustainable use of resources. Around the 7th century A.C. the Bantu peoples came down from West Africa and colonised the Southern part of the continent and brought new methods to make the use of natural resources sustainable, such as Mutupo and Zviera among the Shona people.)

The Low Impact of Trophy Hunting

First of all, it is vital to understand that controlled hunting works on a very low harvesting rate, which does not affect the population numbers of the species concerned. A hunting area, in fact, is not a place where everyone can go and shoot every moving thing! Hunting in Zimbabwe is strictly regulated by the law, by means of the Parks and Wildlife Act, [Chapter 20:14] and several following Statutory Instruments. No one can hunt without a permit released by the relevant local Authority, on which the number, species, gender and many more details about the animal(s) to be hunted are clearly specified. Furthermore, nothing more than what is stated on the permit can be lawfully hunted. No one can hunt without being escorted by a Professional Hunter, who conducts the hunt and is fully responsible for it.

Internationally, the hunting business is regulated by CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) through the system of “hunting quotas”. Hunting quotas specify the number of individuals for each species that can be harvested in a year. This number is assigned to each member country, taking into account the local ecological situation of each species. Then, the local Appropriate Authority (in Zimbabwe this is the Scientific Office of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority) divides the country’s quotas amongst hunting concessions according to their local population and ecological status. As you can see, hunting is strictly regulated and controlled in order to produce a minimum impact on the environment.

Trophy Hunting’s Importance for Conservation

But how can trophy hunting contribute to wildlife conservation if it involves killing animals?

The hunting industry has important financial implications for conservation. It is a vital source of income, bringing valuable foreign currency into the country. It also provides income for the communities around the hunting areas and benefits them directly.  Hunting provides income for the National Parks & Wildlife Authority, which is the parastatal body responsible of wildlife and the conservation of habitat and wildlife in the country. About US$20 million is needed every year to run the complex machine of the Authority. They have to train, pay and support the rangers (the front line for our wildlife protection) and provide infrastructure, vehicles, boats, aircraft, fuel, weapons, ammunition, radios and all the important equipment needed to make the rangers efficient and ensure them a decent life and working conditions.

The hunting industry, through hunting concession holders, also provides an effective anti-poaching and law enforcement service, in collaboration with the Authority.  Every concession holder provides infrastructure and wildlife security maintenance within their concession, making the patrolling, surveying, logistics and (why not?) tourism easier and more efficient.

But the most important contribution of hunting business to conservation is the preservation of huge portions of land as pristine and unspoiled wildlife habitat. The notion that, if properly conducted, hunting is actually useful for wildlife conservation has been well known for centuries. During the European Middle Ages people used to say, “Wildlife thrives where the hunter hunts”, referring to the hunting preserves of royalty and nobles.  Nowadays, habitat loss is the main reason for wildlife population decline.

Hunting concessions represent an extraordinarily valuable means of ensuring that a large portion of land remains unspoiled for wildlife rather than being allocated to subsistence agriculture or resettlement. To dedicate a large portion of land exclusively for wildlife conservation also prevents and mitigates human/animal conflict, ensuring enough space for the animals to move and feed in. By the year 2000 trophy hunting was allowed in 23 countries in Africa and hunting areas covered almost 1,500,000 km2, much more than the area covered by all the national parks in the continent.

Evidence of this important role of the trophy hunting business is the aerial view of the Savé Valley Conservancy. The bright green colour of the Conservancy area contrasts with the yellow/brown colour of the surrounding settlement areas, meaning that the Conservancy’s lush wild vegetation is still pristine, while in the surrounding lands, trees have been cut down, ground cleared for agriculture and the landscape is increasingly desert-like. The absence of vegetation also implies, in its turn, the absence of animals.

The Savé Valley Conservancy is a brilliant example of how a hunting concession can effectively support conservation. The Conservancy is the largest private conservation area in the world, where, despite the practice of trophy hunting, wildlife successfully thrives. About 4,000 mammals from more than 20 different species freely roam in the Conservancy, including all the “Big Five” and some endangered species such as black rhino, cheetah and wild dog. If this land had not been allocated to the hunting industry it is pretty clear that elephants, lions, rhinos and painted dogs would today have been replaced by struggling maize crops and goats.

Trophy Hunting vs Photographic Tourism

We have already mentioned the low impact of trophy hunting due to a low harvesting rate, strictly regulated by national law and international conventions. However, trophy hunting (otherwise known as “consumptive tourism”) has often been compared to photographic tourism (or “non-consumptive tourism”) and criticized by animal welfare supporters and some conservationists because it depletes the wildlife population and also because of its low contribution to local incomes if compared to the photographic safaris. This impression needs to be corrected. In Zimbabwe, in fact, photographic tourism generates an average of US$ 1,750 million every year, versus an average of US $16 million generated by the hunting industry.

However, it is never a good strategy to try and get the full picture of a topic by looking at only one specific characteristic within the topic. In the case of a comparison between trophy hunting and photographic safaris comparison, we have to consider other important factors.

One of the most crucial factors is that each tourist (consumptive or non-consumptive) needs accommodation, needs transport to get into and around tourist areas, consumes food and drinks, and produces waste.  To provide accommodation, we need land on which to build camps, lodges, hotels and all the necessary infrastructure (roads, workshops, service stations, restaurants, toilets and ablution facilities, septic tanks, etc.). To provide food we need vegetables, fruit, meat and other domestic animal products, and the production of this food requires large areas of land. Where do we get all this land? The answer is obvious: we take the land from the wildlife’s habitat. Hence, each tourist (hunter or photographer, regardless) contributes, to a certain extent, to the depletion of the animals’ habitat.

In addition to the point about the space needed to accommodate tourists, we need to add the impact of emissions due to vehicles that directly transport tourists and the goods they require (food, drinks, equipment, fuel, etc.).  We also have to add the impact of waste produced by the tourism industry and, last but not least, the disturbance that the mere presence of humans causes to wildlife and the environment. As a consequence, the bigger the number of tourists, the higher the impact.

In Zimbabwe, an annual average of 2,000 hunters visit the country, contributing an average of US$ 8,000 each to the coffers. Photographic tourism brings into Zimbabwe an average of 2.5 million tourists every year, each of them spending an average of US$ 700. Hunters usually require more simple facilities than general tourists and the trophy hunting business employs between 10,000 and 20,000 workers, as opposed to the 2.5 million workers employed by the conventional tourism industry. It is easy, therefore, to figure out the impact of the two business on the environment and on its wildlife, but the following picture (representing the impact of each of the two industry) makes the point visually.

In short, no matter how one measures it, trophy hunting is revealed to have a much lower impact on the environment than photographic tourism, despite the fact that a hunter consumes a resource because his/her rifle or bow kills the animal, whilst the camera of a conventional tourist leaves the animal alive for other tourists to enjoy.

Here is a simple example of how the impact of tourism can modify the environment and the habits of wildlife, drawn from Hwange National Park and specifically from the well-known Nyamandhlovu Platform.  Ten or twenty years ago, thousands of buffaloes and elephants were visiting the water hole in a day, and at sunset, hundreds of gentle pachyderms were drinking, trumpeting, bathing and greeting each other, and generally giving a memorable show to the few people on the platform. With the increasing number of tourists and tour operators bringing clients to the platform for the sunset drink (and, honestly, I would add, with the lack of discipline in following the Park’s rules, including those about not disturbing the wildlife), nowadays, the number of animals visiting the platform at sunset has visibly decreased. (Many elephants come to the waterhole after 6 p.m., when the tourists are all back to their camps).

Nyamandhlovu Pan, 2012


It may seem surprising that conventional or photographic tourism is not the “Zero Impact” solution that many people claim, or at least not in the way such tourism is currently conducted. This does not mean, of course, that photographic tourism is not benefiting conservation at all, and that hunting is the only efficient solution. Both of them are still necessary and in many cases, one thrives where the other cannot. Some areas, for example, do not have good infrastructure (such as roads) or do not have scenic landscapes and an abundance of iconic wildlife, so that tourism cannot be effectively developed in these areas. But under these same circumstances the hunting business can find the perfect conditions to thrive and become a profitable and sustainable. An example here is the Niassa Game Reserve in Mozambique. And then there are other areas which provide the scenic views and the abundance of iconic animals and where photographic tourism is more profitable than hunting, for example, in Botswana’s Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve.

Both hunting and photographic tourism can be tools in conservation, and tools are selected from a toolbox as is appropriate to achieve the best job. Nowadays, the hunting industry is still essential for conservation, even though it involves killing animals, and photographic tourism is also essential even though it sometimes risks spoiling natural areas. Both are valid tools to support conservation, when managed properly. Both of them have reasons to be promoted, at least until new forms of more sustainable hunting or photographic tourism are developed.


Gee makes the point above that it is vital that a guide in this country be able to discuss the issue of trophy hunting versus ecotourism and “to be able to explain these topics clearly to clients. These explanations are not because we want to change clients’ minds in a particular direction, but because we want to give them the proper tools to be able to make the best decisions on strategic topics like the ban of the import of trophies into their countries, decisions that may severely affect our conservation programmes.”

Below is a summary of the arguments in this this important and controversial topic.

Arguments, Pro and Con: Trophy Hunting versus Eco-tourism – Roles in Conservation in Africa

Highly controversial subject involving two very different perspectives in conflict:

Animal welfare – focus on individual animals, outraged by pictures of wild animals shot dead by hunters. Advocate photographic tourism leaving animals alive.


Conservation – focus on Big Picture/total environment/all species, outraged by limited perspectives that will lead to wide-spread environmental destruction (Plus outraged by decisions being made by people/organisations 1000s of miles removed from the issues).

N.B. Habitat loss and poaching are the leading causes of wildlife declines in Africa (not trophy hunting).

Trophy hunting – pros (if done correctly/ethically, of course, e.g. targeting older, non-breeding-age males — in the case of elephants, animals who are on their last set of teeth that will starve to death in their old age)

  1. Economic

– Brings in large amounts of money- used by conservancies/govt. departments for conservation. Most African countries are economically unable to manage conservation without the revenue from trophy hunting;

– Is worth controlling strictly because of the huge economic advantages;

– Creates livelihoods (employment, money, meat, etc.) for local communities in remote, economically challenged rural areas;

– Provides economic and conservation value in remote areas that don’t have scenic features/iconic animal attractions for ecotourists tourists.

2. Environmental

  • Preserves huge areas of pristine bush – if these areas were not preserved for hunting they would be used for agriculture/pastoralism with resulting habitat and wildlife loss. Hunting areas make up two-thirds of Africa’s protected areas. (The protection of habitat preserves the full range of wildlife and vegetation biodiversity, not just favoured iconic species.)
  • Provides protection of bush and wildlife (e.g. anti-poaching/snaring)
  • Hunting concessions depend on maintaining large/healthy populations for the future of their business therefore build and maximise populations. (Ecotourism only needs to be able to see a few individuals of a species.)
  • Has a smaller footprint than ecotourism (higher income – fewer people/flights/infrastructure/less water use/vehicles – i.e. less environmental impact)
  • Can provide compensation, incentives and practical solutions for toleration of wildlife/human conflict (if the income is used well and goes to the right people). “Wildlife—especially wildlife that can kill you or take out an entire year’s crop overnight—will only have a future if it’s economically competitive with other forms of land use.”

Trophy hunting – cons

There are profound cons if trophy hunting is not strictly controlled – e.g. animals killed indiscriminately when too young to have bred, when still of an age to reproduce, when having offspring at the time, too many for the population to sustain, etc. Many African countries do not have the capacity to maintain strict controls. Also, often the money generated does not in fact go to the right places to protect communities suffering from living alongside potentially disruptive animals or the conservationists and rangers trying to protect the people and wildlife.

But also:

  • Increasingly emotionally and morally distasteful to people, especially to Westerners;
  • Creates anxiety in animal populations which affects demographics and can increase human-wildlife conflict;
  • Males with the best genes (e.g. biggest tusks, darkest manes etc.) father high number of strongest offspring – but are also most attractive to trophy hunters.

Ecotourism/photographic tourism – pros

  • Leaves animals alive to be seen and appreciated by other people;
  • Brings in income that can be spent on conservation (though not to level of trophy hunting).

Ecotourism/photographic tourism – cons

  • Has a larger footprint than trophy hunting (lower income per person – many more people/flights/infrastructure/more water use/vehicles – i.e. greater environmental impact)
  • More day-to-day disturbance for wildlife – e.g. vehicles approaching too close, frightening animals off a kill, disrupting breeding areas
  • Wildlife having to be destroyed because it is interfering with tourists

Overall conclusion

Trophy hunting and Ecotourism both have their place in the Big Picture of conservation in Africa.

​ Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, who is widely regarded as the world’s foremost expert on lions and an objective voice on the trophy hunting issue says: “The problem now is to find alternative sources of revenue, such as carbon credits or even biodiversity credits that would provide incentives to local communities to conserve them.”  That will require money at a time when the global economy is fragile, to say the least. But it provides a sensible framework for allowing hunting where it still pays the bills, while looking at other measures beyond both hunting and game viewing to address the conservation of African wildlife, especially megafauna which poses a direct danger to humans that live in its proximity.” Ed Stoddard,  “Trophy hunting, game viewing both have ecological and economic pros and cons”


The arguments above, put forward by Gee Bauche, are strongly reinforced by the articles recommended below.

  1. “Africa’s Conservation Conundrum” written by Rachel Nuwer for bioGraphic, 15th May, 2023

She is arguing, with examples from throughout subSaharan Africa, that the trophy hunting industry in Africa is dying, and that should concern all of us. What, if anything, replaces it will prove critical for the protection of the continent’s wildlife and wild places.

2. “Trophy hunting, game viewing both have ecological and economic pros and cons” written in the South African Daily Maverick by the journalist Ed Stoddard focusing on South Africa rather than Zimbabwe – but the issues are the same. Stoddard also highlights the misleading manipulation of data employed by anti-hunting activists.

Gianni Bauce

Gee Bauce - Safari guide specialising in guiding for Italian parties, and author of books on a wide variety of topics, including LPH support material.

Off On
Back To Top