The Safari Experts
hunting safari

Trophy hunting in Africa


In this section we talk about recreational hunting, also known as big game hunting or trophy hunting.

We do not offer any hunting safaris. We do not approve of the killing of animals for pleasure. But we are obliged to co-exist with hunting operations in many parts of Africa and have come to understand that hunting might actually be an essential part of conservation in Africa, at least for the foreseeable future.

Hunting Safari : History

The 'discovery' by Europeans of large parts of the African continent was very much driven by the desire to hunt the great beasts of the interior. It is a sorry tale whose previously adventurous exploits now generally repulse a modern audience. But you cannot hope to understand modern day hunting without this context.

When the Cape Colony was founded in 1652, virtually the whole of Africa was rich in wildlife. In fact the settlers used to go on hunting expeditions south onto the Cape Peninsular to hunt elephant in the forests of Hout Bay. As traffic increased around the Cape, so the demand for agricultural produce increased and the settlers turned their attentions inland, establishing Stellenbosch in what is now the Cape Winelands in 1679. To get there was a serious expedition into uncharted game-rich territory, with wild lions and elephants posing a constant threat. Hard to believe these days as you speed along the A2 highway across the heavily urbanised Cape Flats.

Over the next century, as the settlers spread from the south into what is now South Africa, the wildlife was systematically decimated. The great springbok herds of the Karoo, which once contained herds of a million and more animals, were largely shot out by a wave of farmers and prospectors.

Ahead of this wave rode a vanguard of what became known as 'great white hunters', whose company ranged from titled members of the aristocracy in search of thrills, to simple adventurers out to make their fortunes. These men expeditioned into the interior in search of the big game and it soon became not uncommon for a man to have single handedly killed over 1000 elephants. The products of these massacres, various choice bits of animal, were portered back to the coast and shipped off, largely to adorn the fine houses of Europe or be worn by the fine ladies of the day.

It does have to be remembered that back then the resources of the world were considered to be infinite and there to be tamed and plundered in any way which man saw fit.

As the slaughter continued, the thought that it might be unsustainable was held back by the commonly held concept of a 'dark interior' ... an Africa so apparently vast and unexplored that most of it continued to elude the cartographers of the day. But unsustainable it most definitely was and as the hunters returned to the killing grounds, each year they were forced to push on further and seek out new territories. No surprise therefore that it was the hunters themselves who made the first small noises about conservation and quotas.

But the era of the great hunting safari was still to come. In 1909 American president Franklin Roosevelt arrived in Kenya for the first of a sequence of safaris that was to capture the world's imagination. He travelled in lavish style, with hundreds of porters carrying an enormous and comfortable camp out into the bush, where he stayed for weeks on end, shooting an enormous amount of wildlife. It is a reassuring sign of how far we have come as a species that the murderous achievements of this man and others like him now appal most people, but back then the world was mighty impressed. The fashion for safari was firmly established.

The period from 1910 to 1935 was the boom period for the hunting safari. In Kenya the British authorities encouraged their aristocracy to colonise by tempting them with "a winter of big game hunting in Africa on your own private estate". The game was absolutely decimated. In Tanzania adventurers would drive out to the Serengeti and shoot 20 or 30 lions over the course of a week. There were very few controls and virtually no monitoring of resources.

It was during this period that we meet the first real signs of conservation. In South Africa the first national park, Kruger, was established in 1926, whilst at the same time in East Africa controls over land use started to come into effect.

After the Second World War the landed aristocracy in Europe and America was a little less able to afford such lavish expeditions and the appetite for killing had perhaps subsided a little. By now the pressure on resources had become obvious and the move was towards the establishment of national parks and other conservation areas, led by the Serengeti in 1948.

By the time independence came to most African countries during the 1960's, most had an established network of conservation areas and a system of monitoring and control of hunting. But the great innovation of this period was the popularisation of photographic safaris. At first the idea of heading out into the bush and not shooting animals seemed quite bizarre and it certainly took the commercial hunters a good deal of time to get their heads around the idea. The facilitating factors were the proliferation of lower cost air travel and the easy availability of decent camera equipment. But the main inspiration was the film Born Free in 1966 ... it would be difficult to overstate the impact of this movie, it real did inspire a generation to become interested in African wildlife. Another major source of inspiration since that time has been the advent of the wildlife documentary on television, which has caused so many people to take an interest in wildlife in Africa ever since.

In the half century since the advent of the photographic safari, its popularity has grown consistently, to the extent that it now generates significantly higher revenues than hunting in most areas.

At the same time there has been a rising tide of opinion against the morality of hunting. In most socially advanced societies hunting large animals for pleasure is generally considered to be abhorrent. The majority of trophy hunters these days tend to come from emerging economies in Eastern Europe, Arabia, Asia and South America, although the industry is still heavily dependent upon business from North America, most notably those states where there are relatively low population densities and hunting is still considered a reasonable leisure activity.

Whilst the general trend continues to be a conversion from hunting to photographic safari, it is probably safe to say that there will always be people out there who feel that killing wild animals enhances their personal prestige and are willing to pay to make it happen.

Hunting Safari : Ranches

The first type of hunting commonplace these days in Africa is the hunting ranch, which are most common in South Africa and Namibia. These are private farms which either raise 'wildlife' or purchase stock in from other breeders specifically in order to be shot by visitors. The tone of these establishments varies enormously.

The best of these hunting ranches are huge tracts of virtually wild land which is stocked in a way which attempts to reproduce the wildlife populations that would naturally have been there before extermination. The revenue from hunting is therefore used to help re-wildify the land and so can be viewed as a method of conservation. The style and tone of the hunting safari on this type of property will usually be much more considered and less gung-ho.

The worst of the hunting ranches tend to be much smaller and are stocked with wildlife to higher densities and with less intent to match pre-extermination balances. These are not conservation projects, but simply commercial enterprises which seek to maximise hunting revenues out of the land. The tone of the hunting safari tends to be much more of a killing fest, with bands of deranged guests dressed up like para-troupers, armed to the teeth, pumping with blood lust and keen to mow down as many animals as they can in the shortest possible time.

Hunting Safari : Wild

The second type is wild hunting, which offers an experience much more like that of the old days, with guests camping out in the bush for weeks on end and preying upon genuinely wild animals. This type of hunting is much more expensive and is much more common in the less developed countries to the north, most notably Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania.

The hunter is required to purchase trophy licenses from the relevant government body. To give you some idea, the 2012 prices for shooting licenses in Tanzania were US$23,000 for a large elephant with over 32kg of ivory, US$5640 for a lion, US$4030 for a leopard and US$1380 for a zebra. With your small change you can get a beautiful serval cat for just US$350, or why not go for one of your closest living relatives and bag a baboon for just US$130.

The hunter is also obliged to book a safari of a minimum duration for the type of animals he wants to kill. If you want an elephant then you have to pay for a minimum 21 day safari. Generally speaking hunting safari is even more expensive than the top photographic safari, so you can reckon that this kind of safari might cost a further US$50,000 for two people. So safaris costing US$100,000 and more are not at all uncommon. There's a lot of very rich people out there prepared to pay huge amounts to kill animals.

Again the range of tonality in this type of hunting varies enormously ...

The best of them offer a really earthy safari experience which immerses the hunter into the African bush in a style that is probably deeper and more intense than anything offered on photographic safaris. The hunter is obliged to hunt ... to pursue game on foot through the bush, to learn the art of tracking and to ultimately take on a significant amount of risk when going in for the kill. The prey animal is treated with a certain degree of reverence and respect, although not ultimately enough to leave it living.

The worst of them are truly despicable. Animals are tracked by vehicle, hunters are not obliged to track the animal but can instead be called in by radio when it is time to kill, sometimes cats are bated and shot from the safety of vehicles or hides ... we have even had reliable reports of automatic weapons being used to take out whole prides of lions in one burst. Hunters on this kind of safari often pay for the required 21 days, but only fly into camp for a single day to squeeze the trigger a few times, get a photo with the deceased and jet right out.

Hunting Safari : Upsides

It might seem counter-intuitive that hunting is actually good for the conservation environment in Africa, but there certainly are some very big positive effects, most significant amongst which is the fact that the hunting institutions provide protection to vast areas of land, often creating essential buffer zones around core national parks.

By far the most important challenge facing wildlife conservation in Africa is the threat of human encroachment. We can no longer think of Africa as a wild place. Human populations and activities have now increased to such an extend that wilderness areas are starting to become the exception rather than the rule. The race is to bring and maintain under protection as much wild land as possible. In order to do this it is essential that we maximise the revenue that the wilderness can generate. Hunting is a significant component of this revenue.

In Tanzania hunting areas are managed by a different government body to national parks. Whilst it is suspected that the fast increasingly revenue from photographic safari has long since overtaken than of hunting, the amount of land under conservation for hunting is considerably greater. Whilst national parks tend to occupy the richest and most scenic areas, hunting blocks are often made up of much more bland and marginal landscapes. Many national parks serve as core conservation areas, buffered from human encroachment by huge hunting blocks. This is true of Serengeti, Tarangire and Ruaha national parks in particular. The Selous Game Reserve in the south of the country is actually a mixed use area in which only 10% of the land is allocated to photographic safari, the remainder being for hunting.

One might anticipate that as time moves on, an increasing proportion of the land presently being used for hunting will be transferred over to photographic usage. The trouble is that the two agencies which control hunting and photographic have their own agendas, each seeking to increase or at least maintain their interests. The last thing that the hunting agency wants is to lose land to photographic.

Nevertheless there have been notable victories in the battle to convert hunting areas to photographic. In 2007 an American philanthropist managed to take control of a significant hunting block in the Grumeti area of the Serengeti, providing important protection for the migration when it passes that way. But there has been little other sign of movement in this direction.

In the Selous hunting and photographic areas are actually under the control of the same agency, so the potential for conversion is greater. Indeed this has been the case with a number of hunting blocks having been converted to photographic in recent years. The main problem is that it takes 5 to 10 years for the wildlife in the area to repopulate and become suitably habituated to vehicles to provide decent gameviewing ... in the first few years all you tend to see is fast-moving backsides at five hundred metres. That is to say, the smart guys who learned how not to get shot.

But at least the hunting areas are protected from human encroachment. Even if the wildlife is mismanaged or exterminated, it will still be possible in the future to repopulate it with game. It is remarkable how even elephants can repopulate an area, it seems that African mammals have fast recovery as part of their genetic make-up, probably due to the vicissitudes of the climate. This has recently been well demonstrated by the lionesses of Skeleton Coast in Namibia which were recorded as having multiple litters of a dozen or more cubs in a single year.

Hunting Safari : Downsides

The three main reasons why we feel hunting is bad for conservation are that we feel it is fundamentally wrong to take pleasure from killing animals, that it greys the area between conservation and consumption and that some of the relevant authorities in Africa are extremely inefficient at managing their wildlife resources.

This is obviously an area for potentially complex and heated debate. We are not seeking here to claim that we have a monopoly on the right answers, but we are simply stating our position, one which we have arrived at after a good deal of personal experience of the realities of hunting on the ground in Africa.

The first reason why we feel hunting is bad for conservation is that we think it is fundamentally wrong to take pleasure from killing animals. We think that it represents a very unhealthy view of the world as being a place which is there simply for our pleasure. We prefer to think of mankind's role on the planet moving to one of benevolent stewardship rather than animalistic self-gratification.

The second reason is that hunting greys the line between conservation and consumption. If rich foreigners are allowed to kill animals in the protected areas, then why should the people of the local villages not also be entitled to some similar benefit? Similarly, if people are permitted to shoot animals so that they can have their heads stuffed to hang on the wall back home, then why should Chinese medicine be deprived of also harvesting the various the bits of animals that are so desired in the Far East? Once you break the rule of absolute conservation, the wheels can quickly fall off. Poaching is fast returning to epidemic problems in Africa at the moment, we fear that if an enormous worldwide conservation effort is not made soon the days of the great African wilderness may be seriously under threat.

The third reason is that wilderness hunting is widely considered to be grossly mis-managed and utterly corrupt. We cannot refute or deny such accusations, other than to say that we have heard reports to this effect from many different sources, some of which we consider to be reliable. In 2011 we travelled to an area which had been recently converted from hunting to photographic use. After driving through the bush for a couple of hours it became increasingly evident that there was very little game, none in fact, there was virtually no spoor, hardly any dung, therefore very few insects, hardly any birds and certainly not many larger animals. The whole ecosystem had been so thoroughly decimated that it would take years to recover. Apparently the hunting company which occupied it up to the handover made the most of the last few months of their tenure by illegally shooting the crap out of every living thing. That's not the kind of people who have conservation in their hearts. Hunting companies are quick to talk about how their quotas represent 'sustainable harvesting' of wildlife, but we suspect that might be the exception rather than the rule.

Hunting Safari : Future

Many people instinctively hate hunting because they feel empathy for the animals being shot. In order to take that natural instinct to the next level it is important to develop a coherent argument as to why hunting is actually bad for conservation. Even we might accept the killing of a small number of elephants if it were to guarantee the survival of a large and healthy population. Hopefully this little article will have helped you a little in this direction. Get your arguments in line and be ready to gently debate them when the opportunity arises.

But by far the most important thing that we all need to do is to continue increasing the revenue from photographic safaris. Only by doing this will free market pressures come to bear on the future use of land. We need to get as many people as we can to go on safari and to spend as much money as possible doing so. Only then can we compete with both hunting and human encroachment in the scramble for land in Africa. It may seem rather convenient for us to effectively say that the best way to conserve wildlife is to spend more of your money with us, but that is exactly why we set up this company in the first place ... to protect African wildlife for future generations.
Your Trip
Get in touch with us now and we will get right back to you
with a set of individually tailor-made sample trips
From there it should be easy
to fine tune to your perfect african adventure
Trip Search
All the trips we have ever built are here for you to browse
Select a location or experience and a price range to get started
Jay Hanson
Jay Hanson, Senior Safari Consultant
There's no time too soon
to get in touch,
please don't feel that you have to
have everything all lined up
before giving us a call.