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Trophy Hunting Helps Save Endangered Species

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UPDATE: Bizarrely, some readers have tried to argue, in the comments here and at Facebook, that people are only upset because the lion hunt noted here was illegal. That was obviously always untrue, and has now been confirmed by the fact that the outrage is nearly intense in response to photos posted by a hunter named Sabrina Corgatelli. Corgatelli has never been accused of any illegal hunt, but, a perusal of Twitter will make it abundantly clear that the sentiment behind the lion outrage was not "we don't like illegal hunting" but "we don't like hunting." (See "Idaho huntress Sabrina Corgatelli speaks out after her 'kill' photos spark outrage.") "Comments on her legal hunts include "you're a monster," "I hope you get eaten" "horrible old hag" and so on. But, the fact remains that without private ownership of this big game, helped by the economic incentives that come with trophy hunting, it is only a matter of time until these animals become extinct. Government prohibitions of such activities will work about as well as prohibitions on illegal drugs and on immigration. 

Original post:

Affluent Westerners on Twitter are outraged about the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe. When informed of this, a local Zimbabwean noted

"Are you saying that all this noise is about a dead lion? Lions are killed all the time in this country," said Tryphina Kaseke, a used-clothes hawker on the streets of Harare. "What is so special about this one?"

What's so special is that this one had a social media following. For Africans, however, lions are not novelties: 

As with many countries in Africa, in Zimbabwe big wild animals such as lions, elephants or hippos are seen either as a potential meal, or a threat to people and property that needs to be controlled or killed.

Zimbabweans, of course, have other things to worry about, including their 80 percent unemployment rate and a ruined monetary system that is only now starting to recover thanks to a relatively free (but primitive) market in money with nine legal tenders

But large predators really are a nuisance to the locals, as noted in some detail in this UN report about human-lion interactions. 

So, in certain contexts, an animal can be of little use or a nuisance, as in the case of a lion or elephant running unrestrained. On the other hand, the private market has done a lot of good work in providing more sanctuary for animals through private sector eco-tourism by placing animals into situations where they are valuable rather than destructive. In other words, an entrepreneur can take an animal that has negative value to some people, and by adding a fence and some land, make the animal valuable. Doug French provides several examples in this Mises Daily article

From the van leaving Hoedspruit airport to the Thornybush Game Preserve, we saw nothing but mile after mile of African savannah, enclosed in electrified fencing (and at one point an ape bounding across the road). Although government-owned Kruger National Park is nearby, the area is dominated by private game reserves, with ecotourism being the primary driver of the local economy.

If not for these private game reserves, a number of species would be extinct. Because people like the four in our party are willing to pay to see the "Big Five" and so much more, the populations of a number of these animals are thriving.

When attempting to preserve populations of threatened and endangered species, it's good to remember that "ownership means preservation." The private-sector farming of the American Bison for food has saved that species from the brink of extinction, and encouraging hunting for sport can be the best way to make a species more valuable to private parties, and thus, provide incentives to preserve the species. Peter Klein writes

[T]here are lessons here [in the Cecil the Lion case] about trophy hunting and endangered species. Not surprisingly to anyone who has studied property-rights economics, there is evidence that allowing trophy hunting is a good means of protecting endangered species. This is a version of the general argument that defining and enforcing property rights in scarce resources, including wildlife, provides incentives for individuals to protect and maintain those resources. (You’ve probably heard the quip that the world isn’t running out of chickens and dairy cattle.) Groups like PERC have produce dozens of studies on endangered species and private conservation more generally and there are plenty of nerdier papers too.

And, of course, the empirical data matters too. It turns out that:

“There’s only two places on the earth where wildlife at a large scale has actually increased in the 20th century, and those are North America and southern Africa,” said Rosie Cooney, a zoologist who is the chairwoman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group. “Both of those models of conservation were built around hunting.”



Contact Ryan McMaken

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

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