Trophy hunting for conservation and development in Namibia? The limitations of economic benefits and the role of science

By Stasja Koot, 12 February 2019


Recent years have shown an increase in the, often heated, debate on trophy hunting, with some important developments taking place in southern Africa. To name just some that have accelerated the debate: In 2012, pictures of King Juan Carlos of Spain emerged in which he posed in front of his trophies, an elephant and two African buffaloes. As a result of the public outcry that followed, the King was dismissed as the honorary president of WWF Spain, which is ironic when realising that various WWF offices in southern Africa support trophy hunting in the name of conservation and development. Other important developments have been a ban on trophy hunting in Botswana in 2013, a very controversial hunt of a black rhino in Namibia for US$350,000 in 2015 and the infamous illegal hunt of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015. Royal connections of this hobby for the wealthy have a long history and continue today. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, for example, currently speaks out against the trophy hunting ban in Botswana.

Spains-King-Juan-Carlos-h-003Proponents of trophy hunting argue that it is good for conservation and for the development of marginalised people. In Namibia, a flagship country for so-called ‘community-based natural resource management’ (CBNRM), trophy hunting plays a crucial role in this programme; in CBNRM, local groups are targeted to contribute to conservation and to live together with the wildlife. In return, they receive economic and material benefits, such as jobs in tourism and conservation and the meat from the hunts. Moreover, to keep CBNRM financially healthy, a requirement is a continuous stream of income, and trophy hunting provides for such large revenues because the amounts that hunters pay can be enormous; in the Namibian Nyae Nyae Conservancy, one of the cases described in a recent paper of mine (Koot 2019), the price for a 14-day hunt of one elephant costs US$ 80,000,-.

So in Namibia, as in many other countries, conservationists, hunting operators and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) all argue that the hunting industry is very important not only for the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but especially for the development of marginalised rural populations. However, according to Economists at Large (2013) only 0,27% of the Namibian GDP is constituted by trophy hunting, and most of the revenues go to hunting operators, airlines, governments and tourism facilities. So how serious should we take the argument that ‘economic benefits’ are being created in Namibia for poor rural populations? This argument is problematic for various reasons; it masks differences within communities that are presented as if they are static, homogeneous entities and it masks power relations between segments of these communities and outsiders (such as NGOs, hunting operators, donors and government officials). I do not deny that economic benefits at times exist, but by focusing only on these as the success of trophy hunting, other dynamics are covered up, especially those in the social and human domain. Moreover, such a neoliberal discourse accounts for the idea that the local people do not yet understand how to do ‘proper’ conservation (MacDonald 2005), and therefore need to be taught how things work, strongly resembling colonial structures and power relations, based on paternalistic ideas about moral edification.


Elephant skull in Bwabwata National Park


San realities

An interesting group in this regard is the San (or Bushmen) in Namibia. As ‘former’ hunter-gatherers some San groups are today involved in CBNRM initiatives in which trophy hunting plays a crucial role. Take, for example, the Khwe San who live in Bwabwata National Park. When some Khwe tried to establish relationships with impatient, wealthy, white hunting operators, this was considered ‘bribery’ by a local NGO working on CBNRM and the MET, because officially contact with hunters is not allowed when the selection process for a tender is not yet finished. However, on the ground such negotiations often take place already informally. In another example, the Ju/’hoansi San of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy showed how the group that worked with one particular hunting operator felt stressed, suppressed and humiliated by the operator, all for a very low salary. When I asked them why they would not simply leave the job, the answer was that there are only few job opportunities in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Indeed, partly due to the CBNRM programme their possibilities to create other types of livelihoods (e.g. through agriculture), are very limited, and the distribution of meat has always been a problem because of the wide dispersal of the settlements in Nyae Nyae. According to the Ju/’hoansi labourers, WWF played a crucial role in choosing this particular hunting operator because he would pay the highest bid for the tender (and thus create the largest income for the CBNRM programme). This does not necessarily mean that jobs always have a bad meaning for people, since in another example with a subcontractor in Nyae Nyae people enjoy their jobs and even receive some extra benefits. Then again, the question remains if hunting operators are indeed the right people to be involved in development; a hunter in Bwabwata recently explained that the ‘lazy’ Khwe employees are mostly a hindrance to his business and he has no interest in community development.


Dried elephant meat in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy


Altogether, jobs can be received for good or ill, but to look at jobs and simply call them ‘benefits’ is not enough; it masks structural issues beyond and within labour relations and potential exploitation. Therefore, I argue for an expansion of the trophy hunting debate beyond economic ‘benefits’ (Koot 2019), for example by using environmental psychologist James Gibson’s (1979) theoretical framework of ‘social affordances’, in which the interactions between organisms create meaning (instead of pre-decided ‘benefits’). By doing so, local perceptions, meanings, multiple experiences and power relations are addressed, and the larger human domain is taken into account (of which the ‘economy’ is only a part). In fact, reducing ‘development’ only to ‘economic benefits’ creates a simplistic image of a much more complex reality. But this is not something that is only done in trophy hunting and it is of much larger importance in environmental issues globally; trophy hunting is a good example of what Robert Fletcher (2010) calls ‘neoliberal environmentality’, which entails a situation in which the environment is shaped based on economic incentives with the aim of economic growth (based on market mechanisms) only.


The role of science

What is worrying, is that a large stream of scientific papers that address CBNRM and trophy hunting in Namibia as a golden bullet, are written by practitioners from a variety of organisations whose work is to promote exactly this model (see, for example, Angula et al 2018; Naidoo et al 2016)! The papers originate from organisations such as WWF Namibia, WWF US, and the Nambian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO). Interestingly, they do not provide any information about the researchers’ position in relation to their respondents and, not surprisingly, the findings were overall favouring trophy hunting and CBNRM more generally, showing mostly how ‘successful’ the programme is (cf. Büscher 2014). The potential conflict of interest is, of course, important to be addressed in such cases and it is therefore necessary that researchers, including those originating in more ‘positivist’ traditions, explain their researcher position and reflect upon this when relevant. Moreover, the ‘success’ is all too easily taken over by the conservation movement and the private sector or parties representing their interest, such as the Namibian Chamber of the Environment (see, e.g. Brown 2017) and, especially, the Namibian Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA). The latter represents the interests of the trophy hunting industry, and has now fully embraced such scientific papers. For example, in their Position Paper NAPHA bluntly states:

“I shall leave it to an internationally respected conservation organisation, the WWF, to point out the benefits that trophy hunting brings to Communal Conservancies in Namibia through a study undertaken by them between 1998 and 2013. The title of this study is “Complimentary [sic] benefits of tourism and hunting to communal conservancies in Namibia”. It must be stressed that this study piece, unlike many of the pseudo – studies available on the internet, has been peer reviewed and independently verified.” (NAPHA 2016)

The paper that is being referred to by NAPHA has been written by WWF practitioners (Naidoo et. al. 2016) and addresses only economic benefits. It remains to be seen what research is meant with “the pseudo – studies available on the internet”, but the way in which NAPHA positions itself and uses ‘science’ to promote their own activities shows only a small part of the global trophy hunting lobby. Moreover, it shows that national and international power relations these days matter more than ever, and this includes scientific research that has the potential to feed neoliberal environmentality. I hope that the Duke of Cambridge is aware of the important realities on the ground that local communities experience and that he keeps this in mind when he negotiates to reinstate trophy hunting in Botswana. My gut feeling though, tells me he is just another puppet in a much bigger game.


Angula, H., G. Stuart-Hill, D. Ward, G. Matongo, R. Diggle, and R. Naidoo. 2018. Local perceptions of trophy hunting on communal lands in Namibia. Biological Conservation 218:26-31. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2017.11.033

Brown, C. 2017. The link between hunting and tourism in Namibia. (accessed February 12, 2019).

Büscher, B. 2014. Selling success: Constructing value in conservation and development. World Development 57:79–90. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2013.11.014.

EAL. 2013. The 200 million question: How much does trophy hunting really contribute to African communities? Melbourne, Australia: Report for the African Lion Coalition, prepared by Economists at Large.

Fletcher, R. 2010. Neoliberal environmentality: Towards a poststructuralist political ecology of the conservation debate. Conservation and Society 8 (3):171–181. doi: 10.4103/0972-4923.73806

Gibson, J. 1979. The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Koot, S. 2019. The limits of economic benefits: Adding social affordances to the analysis of trophy hunting of the Khwe and Ju/’hoansi in Namibian community-based natural resource management. Society & Natural Resources.

MacDonald, K. I. 2005. Global hunting grounds: Power, scale and ecology in the negotiation of conservation. Cultural Geographies 12 (3):259–291.

Naidoo, R., C. Weaver, R. Diggle, G. Matongo, G. Stuart-Hill, and C. Thouless. 2016. Complementary benefits of tourism and hunting to communal conservancies in Namibia. Conservation Biology 30 (3):628–638.

NAPHA 2016. Position paper: The importance of hunting towards conservation. Windhoek, Namibia: Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA).

9 thoughts on “Trophy hunting for conservation and development in Namibia? The limitations of economic benefits and the role of science

  1. Interesting thoughts on power imbalances in CBNRM. However, you seem to blame the CBNRM system directly for these power imbalances, as though these wouldn’t exist if conservancies didn’t exist. You also mis-represent the roles support NGO’s play in the tender negotiations process – they do not decide who wins the tender, they just advise the conservancy, who can take or leave their advice. The recommendations may not always be the best ones, but to lay the entire responsibility for this choice at the feet of WWF is stretching it, to say the least.

    What I am missing in this blog is your suggestion for the way forward. You seem to approve of Botswana’s hunting ban, so I will take it that this is your idea on the way forward (correct me if I’m wrong). I find this rather ironic, as the people group who suffered most due to the hunting ban in Botswana were the San people – those you purport to be fighting for. I suggest a field trip to the Wildlife Management Areas between the Kgalagadi and the Central Kalahari – go and speak to the San people living there about how they feel about the hunting ban – it will give you valuable perspective.

    You do raise some important challenges related to power imbalances in negotiations, and the heterogenous nature of local communities, that is lost when one does country-wide economic analyses. The social perspective is valuable, and should certainly be used to further refine work in the CBNRM sector in Namibia. I would encourage you to engage with the CBNRM support organisations in Namibia, rather than attack them. You will find that they are not bogey men, but people who care about communities as much as you seem to. Let’s work together to support communities, rather than attack each other. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Gail,

    thank you kindly for your response, much appreciated. I would first like to clarify that I do not consider anyone ‘bogey men’, and it was not my intention to ‘attack’ people/organizations. In fact, I made 2 points:

    1. I explain how a particular discourse (based on the rhetoric of success mostly through economic benefits) masks other, more structural, issues.

    2. The role of some practitioners/scientists is debatable in this discourse, because they have an interest in particular outcomes, which demands more transparancy on their researcher position and some self-reflexivity.

    Although you do not respond to these main points that I have raised, I am happy to respond to your queries:

    I agree with you that most CBNRM support organisations deeply care about communities, which is also what I have found in my own research in Namibia and South Africa, and I have met the most passionate and friendliest people in the field working for conservation organisations. However, paternalism, neocolonialism, race, socio-economic inequality, local elitism, gender, social security and labour conditions, just to name a few, are important issues that are hardly addressed by practitioners, which often creates a simplified presentation of CBNRM as successful, as if economic benefits are the same as ‘development’.

    About Botswana: I do not argue for a hunting ban in Botswana. What happened in Botswana was a total hunting ban, including trophy hunting and subsistence hunting which indeed affected various San groups. But subsistence hunting is something very different than trophy hunting (and the latter is what my blog is obviously about) and these should be differentiated. Today, the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, for example, are criminalised as poachers because the reserve is protected for conservation and tourism and hunting is not allowed anymore. Despite winning several court cases, the government of Botswana still pushes them out by refusing to provide any basic services. But maybe I get too far away from trophy hunting now; the point is that we should be careful to mix up trophy hunting with subsistence hunting, they cannot be easily taken together.

    Moreover, I do not “blame the CBNRM system directly for these power imbalances”; these power imbalances exist in society at large and what I say is that CBNRM, with its strong focus on only economic benefits, can cover up for these imbalances, and at times also does this. It can also provide a platform for perpetuating or even strengthening them, but of course this differs per project. The point you make that I “mis-represent the roles support NGO’s play in the tender negotiations process – they do not decide who wins the tender, they just advise the conservancy, who can take or leave their advice” is a clear sign of this; on paper what you say is indeed the case, but when you go to meetings with marginalised communities (such as the San where I did my research in Namibia), or when you interview them, layers of authority become visible. Often, the most marginalised hardly have a voice (most of the time the largest group), while those involved in CBNRM (including conservancy board members), NGOs, the government (mostly the Ministry of Environment and Tourism) and donors are dominating the process. Generally, these institutions are involved in paternalist relations (which I was too myself when I worked with Bushmen and when I did research amongst them, if interested you can check out this paper). This is not to blame anybody about this situation, or ‘attack’ as you call it, but you ask for the way forward and my suggestion would be to be open about these power relations, to acknowledge them because they are incredibly important, and, especially in research, be self-reflexive about it. When there is a conflict of interest when doing research, as I explain in the last part of my blog, this needs to be addressed, and ‘we’ (researchers and professionals) should not hide ourselves behind economic benefits and the illusion of scientific objectivity (my 2 main points).

    I hope this answer has been of use. Thanks again for responding!

    Best wishes, Stasja

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My apologies for assuming that you are on the attack, however, it is easy to come to that conclusion given that you raise only negative points about these organisations in this blog, without offering any balance about their positive impacts (which I believe are quite substantial).

    With regards to Botswana – I was not referring to the negative impacts on the San due to banning subsistence hunting – those were also substantial, and it would have been better if the ban only addressed trophy hunting. However, the groups I am referring to made most of their income as community organisations from agreements with external hunting operators (as with Namibia, these would hunt for trophies and/or meat), and the impact I am referring to here is the economic impact that they suffered as a result.

    There is certainly much more to conservancies than the economic impact – and no one is denying that, including the people who produced the papers on this topic. We are constrained, however, by our specific scientific backgrounds, and this is problematic throughout conservation biology, not only in the case of CBNRM. There is a great deal of research done on biology, ecology, and economics of wildlife, but too little in the social sciences. This is a well-known problem, and many people have called for more inter-disciplinary research in this field, and I would say that it is even more important for the sub-discipline of CBNRM. Consequently, I welcome your research, and so would others working on CBNRM.

    There is another point to note, though. The research aspect of CBNRM is not the only aspect, so just reading the published papers coming from WWF et al. doesn’t cover the ground of what they and other organisations are focusing on. Issues of governance, particularly elite capture, are recognised as a weakness in the system, and a good deal of time and energy is spent trying to figure out how to deal with those issues. Those doing this work are usually practitioners, rather than scholars, so their ‘lessons from the field’ are rarely captured. Indeed, there are few people in any of these organisations who publish, and those that do are from the fields of economics and biology, hence the apparent bias. The authors of these papers are not trying to hide their affiliations – these are given at the top of every paper, for all to see, and anyone who knows anything about the programme will know that they come from organisations that are part of the system they are studying. Perhaps they should give a statement in this regard somewhere in the paper, which will help readers not familiar with the system.

    Finally, economics isn’t everything, but it certainly helps. Without any revenue, a community organisation is hamstrung and can demonstrate very little tangible value to its members. This is the case in many non-financially-viable conservancies in Namibia, and most of the CBOs in Botswana post-ban. Without these funds, they are forced to rely on aid (either from government or NGOs), and that creates even worse power imbalances than when they have an income that they can decide how to use. There are intangible values, true, but we cannot really expect them to be happy with intangible benefits only.

    In Namibia, and certainly in the community meetings I have attended, the communities have freedom regarding how they spend their funds, and the NGOs simply observe them. In all the general conservancy member meetings I have attended (i.e. not the small tender-related ones), the support NGO representative does not speak unless specifically asked to do so, or if they have agreed before the time to present on a specific agenda point. MET representatives also speak up only when there is a serious need for intervention. Perhaps their presence influences the community, but it would be a bit ridiculous to work with a community and never attend their meetings!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you again Gail, it is interesting to share thoughts with you. I believe we agree on many points and disagree on some others, which is fine. I leave it at this for now 😉

    Cheers, Stasja

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Botswana closed safari-hunting on state land from the 2014 season – and subsistence hunting by Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an area set aside for them in 1961. Safari-hunting continues on land alienated from the Bushmen by the Motswana elite and then sold as game ranches. The closure of safari-hunting has greatly added to the stresses of local customary people, and has increased poaching levels. The Motswana hegemony is a rapacious genocidal force, its crimes against non-Bantu people far exceeding that of Afrikaner apartheid. Yet, William – he of the redundant British Crown – and his pards sup at Buck House with someone partly responsible for this, Ian Khama. And the mining and fracking continues in the CKGR as the Bushmen huddle in their tin settlements.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Trophy hunting is such a cruel, barbaric, horrible way go treat a y animal. If we haven’t proven by now that these animals feel emotions such as compassion, love of there fellow species and they also feel sad losi g a baby a sister. I’ve seen some heartwarming videos of these emotions. My favorite was the lioness who got lost from her pride for 3 days she layed there and cried, roared, untill on the morning of the forth day a pride appeared on the road, she peeked to make sure it was her pride. When there eyes met they all ran towards each other tails wagging,they spent the day head rubbing enjoying each other it was so heartwarming. I cry everytime I watch it. Please let the live there already short, very hard life without someone with to much money shooting it for a trophy. So very wrong. Have we not destroyed this planet enough.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s