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The Economics of Hunting and Species Conservation

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Tags The EnvironmentInterventionism

03/03/2016

Remember Cecil the Lion? It was a lion who was hunted and killed in Zimbabwe last year, and when photos of the dead lion appeared on line, scores of first-world suburban white people cried out in anguish that a cute big cat was killed. 

Well, according to the UK Telegraph, the backlash over Cecil may have reduced hunting in the region. But, as anyone familiar with how wildlife economics works, that hasn't saved any lions from death. It simply now means those lions must be culled by other means. That is, unless they're hunted down by wildlife management agents in the area, they'll die by some other, more painful, means. The conservancies simply can't handle the high cost of maintaining the larger lion population:

Bubye Valley Conservancy has more than 500 lions, the largest number in Zimbabwe’s diminishing wildlife areas. It has warned that its lion population has become unsustainable and that it may even have to cull around 200 as a result of what is being called “the Cecil effect”. Now Bubye is appealing for other institutions or wildlife sanctuaries to take some of its lions.

We can't blame anti-hunting efforts for everything, though. A worsening global economy, and a decline in oil prices has kept rich oilmen and other wealthy hunters away from trophy hunting . This means that the economic infrastructure that keeps these species alive has been weakening, with predictable effects. 

As discussed here, we've known for many years that trophy hunting is an important factor in sustaining endangered species like African lions. The fact that hunters are willing to pay large amounts to hunt certain species gives the animals economic value. And this economic value gives people incentives to preserve and protect the species from extinction. 

At the same time, this process of preservation can be very costly since a large amount of land is necessary for conservation. Animals must also be managed to a certain population size that is large enough to be profitable, but small enough to avoid the effects of overpopulation. 

Overpopulation leads to exhaustion of food supplies and the spread of disease, with some diseases decimating entire populations. 

Some diseases, like chronic wasting disease in the US fail to destroy entire populations, but merely fester for years, causing animals to die painfully from the disease. 

In many cases, overpopulation and a lack of hunting and predators facilitates this. 

Naturally, managers of private hunting preserves, zoos, and livestock populations all are therefore motivated to prevent overpopulation.

Thus, in the case of hunting preserves, animals cannot simply be left to multiply unfettered, since to do so would be to endanger other species with extinction or to spread disease and starvation. Thus, the animals must be culled by other means, usually through hunting by employees of the preserve. 

The Telegraph explains the many benefits of these private preserves: 

Bubye, along with some game parks in neighbouring countries, has been bucking the trend [toward rapidly declining lion populations], according to a recent study, with healthy lion populations in “small, fenced, intensively managed, funded reserves”. The conservation area was founded 22 years ago by Charles Davy, the rancher father of Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry’s former girlfriend. It is now majority-owned by Dubai World, the investment fund of the wealthy emirate’s government.

Millions of pounds were spent fencing 2,000 square miles of land previously cleared of wildlife by decades of cattle farming. The fence was then electrified and hundreds of people were hired to protect wildlife imported to the park.

Bubye also supports schools and clinics in several districts and provides meat every month for people nearby.

As well as its lion population, Bubye also has the third-largest community of black rhinos in Africa.

Government-managers of wildlife attempt to do the same thing, of course, although with perhaps less success. We don't need to go to Africa to see this. When hunters kill an insufficient number of elk in Wyoming, for example, government agents are called in to cull the population instead to prevent disease and starvation. 

None of this, however, stops some self-styled animal-rights warriors on Facebook, most of whom have never worked with livestock or wildlife, from decrying the supposed "cruelty" of not simply letting animals "run free" in a manner that will presumably lead to Eden-like happiness for the animals. 

The reality is something else entirely. 

When a lion, for example, is not killed by a hunter, this simply means it will die by other means, such as starvation, disease, accidental injuries, or injuries sustained in territorial disputes with other lions — all of which are more painful than being shot to death. 

A similar demise awaits all animals, in the wild, of course. Death comes largely through being torn to pieces by a predator, or, escaping that, through, disease or starvation. 

Indeed, the best any living animal — that's not a personal pet — can hope for is the quick death offered by a slaughterhouse using the pioneering methods developed by Temple Grandin

Perhaps most ironic is that many of the same people who vehemently want free-roaming animals, and who oppose "management" of animal populations, simultaneously demand draconian government controls and more widespread killing and sterilization of a specific animal species known as homo sapiens. Never mind the fact that humans are already self-regulating in this respect. 

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian. Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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