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There are two places in the world where conservation has been especially successful – North America and southern Africa. In both regions, sustainable use hunting plays a vital role in wildlife management. Contrary to what the anti-hunting community portrays, the science behind sustainable use can stimulate population growth while providing the necessary revenue and incentive for conservation. Hunting has helped facilitate the recovery of a number of wildlife species, saving some from the brink of extinction.
North American Model of Wildlife Conservation
Under the North America model of conservation, wildlife is publicly owned rather than a private commodity. Here, where the modern conservation movement was born, funding for conservation comes from the fees, permits, and taxes on hunting licenses and other sporting equipment. Popular game species, from white-tailed deer to wild turkeys, have made incredible recoveries thanks to this hunting-based model.
Bighorn sheep are another great example. As few as 25,000 bighorns remained in North America around 1950. Today, thanks to restoration efforts led by hunter-conservation organizations like SCI Foundation and our partners at the Wild Sheep Foundation, there are well over 80,000 across the continent’s mountain tops. Other game species from elk to pronghorn and waterfowl have benefited from the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
Hunting in Africa Gives an Economic Value to Wildlife
In Africa, more land is conserved by hunting concessions than all formally protected areas on the continent combined. That’s 1.4 million square kilometers, exceeding the total national park area by 22%, or more than twice the size of Texas! The diverse wildlife of southern Africa has rebounded because hunting has given them economic value that funds and offers incentives for conservation.
The southern White Rhino is perhaps the best recovery story in all of Africa. This rhino species was nearly extinct in the 1900s, with only 30 individuals surviving. As a result of increased value derived from sustainable rhino hunting, the species has made an amazing recovery to around 21,000 rhinos today. According to IUCN’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, “Not only has rhino hunting clearly been sustainable, it has played an integral part in the recovery of these species”.
Black rhinos have also benefited greatly from sustainable use hunting. Namibia’s black rhino population has more than doubled in the past 15 years. In the 1960s, fewer than 100 individuals were left in the wild. Today, the population has increased to nearly 2,000. Namibia’s southwestern black rhino subspecies is the only population to be listed as Vulnerable, rather than Critically Endangered, on the IUCN Red List. The country is currently allotted an annual quota of 5 post-reproductive male rhinos by CITES. This limited and regulated harvest of a few selected dominant post-breeding age males allows younger males a chance to breed, actually stimulating population growth. Rhino hunting also brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in badly needed conservation funds that support anti-poaching patrols and habitat management.
The Bontebok and Blesbok are two lesser-known antelope subspecies native to South Africa. The Bontebok, once on the verge of extinction with fewer than 20 remaining, has increased in population to over 2,300 animals. Blesbok also suffered in the early 1900s, declining to around 2,000. Conservation efforts led by private land-owners facilitated a widely successful recovery for both species, due to the economic value provided by hunting. There are now an estimated 240,000 Blesbok, 97% of which occur on private land.
The Hartman’s Mountain Zebra offers yet another inspiring recovery story in Africa. Namibia, which recently vowed to prohibit hunting bans, observed a recovery of this species from fewer than 100 zebras as late as the 1980s, to more than 20,000 today. This remarkable recovery was enabled by Namibia’s system of community-based conservation in which local people derive benefits from wildlife on their land, largely through hunting revenue.
Community-Based Conservation is Catching on in Central Asia
A third region, the rugged highlands of Central Asia, has also seen a resurgence of wildlife, thanks to the economics of hunting. The incentive that hunting revenue is giving communities to conserve, rather than poach their wildlife is saving several species.
The Markhor, a large mountain goat native to Central Asia, is threatened by poaching from local pastoral farmers. However, community-based conservation models that incorporate hunting, such as the Torghar Conservation Project in Pakistan, are seeing increasing populations. Within these conservancies, former poachers are paid as game guards from the revenue brought in by hunting. CITES allows an annual export quota of 12 markhor from Pakistan’s community-managed hunting areas.
This hunting-based conservation model is being applied across the region and is benefiting other species like Urial and Argali Sheep. In Mongolia, where SCI Foundation completed a study on Argali sheep, regulated hunting is used to pay for anti-poaching activities. The Gulzat Local Protected Area has seen an increase in sheep numbers from just 161 in 2003 to an estimated 1,541 in 2014. Similar results are happening in Tajikistan.
According the IUCN red list assessment, “Stable and increasing populations [of markhor] are restricted to areas with sustainable hunting management. Were these conservation activities to cease in the future, poaching would increase, changing positive trajectories.” There are currently 10,000 markhor in the region.
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