Influence of Trophy Hunting on Wild Animal Ecology and Conservation in Zimbabwe



Modern-day conservation is influenced not only by ecological principles but by other factors including socio-economic settings, green movements and political ideologies that challenge the very existence of sustainable use principles that recognises the utilitarian value of wildlife. For so long, conservationists have embraced the use of trophy hunting as a sustainable wildlife conservation tool or use option. Though the economic significance of trophy hunting as a conservation tool is widely recognised, this extractive form of wildlife use is faced with a plethora of problems emanating from ecological, socio-economic and political perspectives. By interfacing society, ecological science and policy imperatives, this study embraced the sustainability science approach to investigate the ecological and socio-economic trade-offs of trophy hunting as a conservation tool. Specifically, the objectives of the study were to: (i) investigate the effects of trophy hunting on the behaviour of wild ungulates in isolated and insularised semi arid ecosystems, (ii) determine the trophy size and harvesting patterns of wild herbivores in tropical semi-arid savanna ecosystems, (iii) determine habitat selection by wild herbivores occurring in a semi-arid tropical designated hunting area, and (iv) examine the evolution of trophy hunting as a conservation tool in Zimbabwe and the emerging issues at local to global scale in modern day conservation. The study focus, research problem, aim and the objectives are introduced in Chapter 1. This Chapter outlines the two paradigms in natural resource stewardship and differentiate between wildlife conservation and preservation and how trophy hunting as a form of conservation originates and is construed in modern day conservation. It further explore the significance of trophy hunting as a conservation tool whilst at the same time presenting a study framework that integrates the ecological and socio-economic dimensions of trophy hunting as a conservation tool. Chapter 2 is a review of the socio-ecological, physiological and genetic trade-offs of trophy hunting as a conservation tool and further tease out the theoretical framework of the study within the context of sustainability science theory. Like predation, trophy hunting may induce behavioural responses by wild herbivores that may interfere with the way wildlife species respond to human presence in natural ecosystems. In Chapter 3, the behavioural response of wild ungulates to trophy hunting pressure in isolated and insularised ecosystems was investigated. Flight behavioural responses of three ungulate species (impala (Aepyceros melampus), greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and sable (Hippotragus niger)) were assessed using standardised behavioural field procedures between March 2013 and November 2014 in a Hunting Area (Cawston Ranch) and Tourist Area (Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve). Results showed that flight initiation distances for the studied ungulates were higher in the Hunting Area compared to the Tourist Area. Though wildlife species may exhibit elevated levels of vigilance and initiate flight early in hunting areas compared to non-hunting areas, they tend to maximize their fitness by saving energy and reducing their flight length in response to human presence. This study showed that trophy hunting increases perceived risk of wild ungulates in closed hunting areas, whereas ungulates in non-hunting areas are less responsive and somehow habituated to human presence. The selective nature of trophy hunting may cause changes in desirable phenotypic traits in harvested species. In Chapter 4, the trophy quality trends and harvesting patterns of Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), African elephant (Loxodonta africana), greater kudu and sable) for the time period 2004-2015 in Matetsi Safari Area, northwest Zimbabwe were examined. Trophy sizes for Cape buffalo and African elephant were below the Safari Club International (SCI) minimum score. Offtake levels of African elephant and Greater kudu declined whilst the quota size did not change between 2004 and 2015. The quota size for sable increased whilst the offtake levels fluctuated without changing for the period 2004-2015. Inferentially, the trophy size recorded in this study may be a reflection of unsustainable harvesting regime patterns subjected to target wildlife species and as such may compromise the sustainability of trophy hunting as a conservation tool in Matetsi Safari Area. Habitat selection theory posits that wild herbivores prefer utilising areas that increase their fitness and survival. Chapter 5 explores habitat selection by large herbivores (Cape buffalo, African elephant) and medium sized herbivores (greater kudu and sable) in a semi arid tropical hunting designated area, i.e., Matetsi Safari Area. In this chapter, the influence of surface water availability, habitat quality and roads on the spatial distribution of wild herbivores in a hunting area using maximum entropy (MaxEnt) modelling was ascertained. Medium sized herbivores were affected by distance from the roads indicating that they are more sensitive to human disturbances compared to large herbivores. Roads tend to expose wildlife species to human disturbances and as such habitats patches close to roads are avoided as they reduce fitness of individuals through reduction in feeding time and increasing vigilance levels. The results in this study showed that large herbivores in human mediated ecosystems may not necessarily utilize larger habitat patches over medium sized herbivores due to the habitat homogenizing effects of water provisioning in hunting areas. The acceptability of trophy hunting as a conservation tool is highly contested and polarized in modern day conservation with many opinions arising on the morality and ethical astute of the practice. In Chapter 6, mixed methods (i.e., documentary analysis, personal observations, interviews and secondary data) were used to examine the interface between trophy hunting, conservation and rural development as well as the key challenges, emerging issues and future interventions in modern day conservation. It was established that at local to international level; global policies and belief systems shape the way human societies view or perceive trophy hunting issues and that it is mostly based on emotions albeit void of scientific facts but still influence conservation policy enactment. More so, it emerged that trophy hunting is still considered as an important tool for conservation in areas endowed with wildlife as it offers conservation incentives and contribute immensely towards conservation financing and rural development. However, the future of trophy hunting as a conservation tool may be bleak unless consented efforts by conservationists to re-brand the practice are made. It was concluded that: (i) trophy hunting increase the perceived risk and do shape the landscape of fear of wild ungulates in closed ecosystems, (ii) the current harvesting patterns in Matetsi Safari Area are to a large extent not sustainable and not commensurate with ecological and sustainable use principles and as such needs redress, (iii) in designated hunting areas, human mediation may reduce heterogeneity of habitat patches and as such reduce variability in habitat selection by large and medium sized herbivores, and (iv) despite the new dispensations questioning the morality and ethical standing of trophy hunting, this wildlife utilisation option still play a crucial role in wildlife conservation and rural development especially in developing economies where conservation financing is limited. Based on these findings, it is recommended that: (1) trophy hunting using rifles be minimised in promotion of bow hunting to reduce the disturbances associated with the sound of firearms, (2) the quota setting be reviewed and strengthened in line with ecological and sustainable use principles to ensure that the harvesting patterns are sustainable, (3) managers could develop water provisioning as well as the fire management plans that are constantly reviewed to achieve sustainability as these influence the distribution of wildlife species, (4) efforts be made towards a re-branding process of the trophy hunting practice to address the unethical, morality and sustainability concerns in line with modern day conservation ethos. Further research may focus on the following: (i) examining the behavioural and physiological stress responses of target wildlife species to human presence in hunting areas, (ii) investigating the linkages between trophy size and genetic variability in selected wildlife species in hunting areas, (iii) interrogating the temporal and spatial variability of surface water supply and fire occurrence in hunting areas on the heterogeneity and habitat selection by wild herbivores in semi arid savanna ecosystems, (iv) assessing the possible impacts of net conservation benefits for positive conservation efforts and reduced trophy hunting off-take levels through the use of wildlife conservation credits.