North Carolina Journal of International Law

Volume 43

Ecotourism in Southern Africa: Different Approaches on the Legality of Trophy Hunting

By: Katie Dryden













In southern Africa, “close links exist between the conservation and management of lions and international tourism and trophy hunting.”[1]  The trophy hunting debate in this region has two sides regarding how the government regulates the practice; depending on the quality of regulation, trophy hunting can have positive or negative implications for local economies.[2]  


Trophy hunting is the “practice of selectively hunting wild game animal,” and is usually carried out by wealthy individuals on vacation.[3]  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an international wildlife treaty that addresses this issue.[4]  The pro-hunters argue that the money received in exchange for permission to shoot exotic animals allows a positive economic impact to local communities.[5]  Opponents, however, claim that little of the profit is ever actually seen by locals[6]; instead, poachers use the money they receive to cover up other illegal activities.  Furthermore, the practice is criticized by the message it sends that the hunting of local wildlife is condoned for wealthy white men on vacation, while local individuals are economically disadvantaged.[7]


African countries with desirable wildlife to hunt have treated the legality of the practice differently. Botswana has banned trophy hunting; Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia have not.[8]  Several countries have instituted quota laws to attempt to regulate the practice; for example, South Africa has set the export quota for lion skeletons to 800.[9]  However, implementation and enforcement of the law and policies has proven difficult for local governments.[10]


Due to the rise in prized elephants—as a direct result of the trophy hunting ban—Botswana has moved military operations to the outskirts of its national parks.[11]  Poachers have been killed in their attempts to kill the animals.[12]  Botswana has also outlawed the locals from shooting the animals.[13] The government believes that allowing non-trophy hunting would permit poachers to have a “cover” to illegal hunting.[14]  Tourism in Botswana has been on the rise, with an expectation of $370 million by 2021—a figure greater than all of southern Africa receives from hunters to carry out trophy hunting.[15]


From 2009 to 2013, pieces of over 1,900 African lions (bred in captivity) were brought to the United States; in that same time frame, 15,518 African elephants were imported as “sport-hunted trophies,” internationally.[16]  Many airlines have banned the transport of trophies,[17] signifying a change in public perception of the practice. A growing number of countries which are parties to CITES have tightened import regulations or prohibited imports entirely to try address the polarizing issue.[18]  Countries in the region which attract trophy hunters continue to seek a balance between maintaining sustainable hunting practices while allowing local rural communities to maintain their livelihood.[19]


[1] See Arie Trouwborst et al., International Law and Lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore [hereinafter International Law and Lions], Nature Conservation (Sept. 13, 2017), at 85.

[2] Id. at 86.

[3] Avianne Tan, Beyond Cecil the Lion: Trophy-Hunting Industry in Africa Explained, ABC News, (Jul. 31, 2015),

[4] Id. at 83.

[5] See Mark Easton, How big game hunting is dividing southern africa, BBC News (Sept. 10, 2017), (“The Zimbabwean government argues that 75% of proceeds from trophy hunting goes towards wildlife preservation and anti-poaching initiatives.”).

[6] Adam Cruise, Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants?, National Geographic (Nov. 15, 2015),

[7] Tan, supra note 4.

[8] See Easton, supra note 6 (discussing Cecil the Lion background).

[9] Trouwborst, supra note 2, at 104 (Table 6 outlines the country year, quantity, and specimen).

[10] Id. at 106.

[11] Easton, supra note 6.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] See Tan, supra note 4 (discussing the ranging costs of hunting).

[16] Id. See also Easton, supra note 6 (discussing Botswana is home to over a third of the world’s “dwindling” elephant population).

[17] Airlines ban wildlife hunting trophies on board, BBC News (May 15, 2015),

[18] Trouwborst, supra note 2, at 103.

[19] Id. at 105.

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