If you want to increase the number of large animals like elephants and rhinos, allow them to be privately owned and hunted

Kenya and South Africa have taken dramatically different approaches in how to protect large animals.

May not make sense, but I have a plan for you if you want to protect big critters, like rhinos, lions, leopards, elephants, and buffalos (the big 5) along with antelopes and zebras.

What to do? Take South Africa’s approach and allow private ownership of the animals and allow other people to pay the owners of the animals to hunt them.

Like I said, it doesn’t make sense, but incentives matter. And if you want to protect big animals, give individuals incentives to do so.

Kenya and South Africa provide a natural experiment to see which approach works best.

The following information is from two articles:


Kenya bans private ownership of large animals and bans hunting. The country focuses on conservation with funding provided by eco-tourism.

How has that worked?

Wildlife count is down 80% since Kenya banned hunting in 1977. Elephant population is down 76% and rhinos are down 95%. Overall, the large mammals are declining 4% a year.

Visit Kenya occasionally and you too can watch the big animals die off.

South Africa

Africa allows both hunting and private ownership.  Private ownership of large animals has been allowed since 1991. Hunting has been allowed since 1968.

How has that turned out for the animals?

Number of large animals in the country was 575,000 back in the early ‘60s and is around 24,000,000 today.

One large animal rancher now has 1,000 large mammals on his farm. He allows 8% to be hunted in any one year, primarily old male antelopes.

South Africa now has about 20,000 white rhinos, the most common type of rhino. That’s 80% of the world’s total population.

The industry is worth $1.1 billion a year.

Hunters after a lion will spend $24,300. Getting an owner to let you hunt one of his buffaloes means you will leave behind $8,800 during your trip.

Why does it work that way?

If you give big animals a commercial value and allow individuals to somehow realize that value, those individuals will have huge motivation to get animals, treat them well, raise lots of them, and carefully sell the right to hunt a few of them to hunters.

If animals have no value, individuals won’t do anything to protect them and will even shoot them if they harm domesticated animals or eat crops. Nobody is motivated to care for them and increase the herds.

The Bloomberg article says:

Giving wildlife a commercial value is key to the country’s success in boosting populations, said Barry York, a neighbor of Oberem who converted his cattle farm into a wildebeest-breeding ranch in 2010.

“Rural people will only keep wildlife if the sustainable use thereof can give them a better return than other land-use options,” he said. “People must choose. Would you rather see the rhino extinct than see people like us, or poor African people, profiting and making a living out of them?”

Which approach is nicer to animals? Which is more humane? Which will actually preserve animals?

Okay, you tell me, which is nicer?

Option 1:  Watching the population of large animals die off, seeing the number drop by 80% in the last third of a century, and now almost all the white rhinos are gone?


Option 2:  Seeing the number of big animals increase by a factor of 42 in half a century (that means there are 42 animals today for every 1 that was walking around back then), with an exploding white rhino population?

The obvious conclusion

If you want to protect big animals, then you should favor private ownership and hunting. If you want to kill them off, then you favor prohibition of private ownership and private hunting.

As for me, I’d rather have lots and lots of healthy, protected, thriving big critters around. I’d rather not get rid of them.

What would be your preference?

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