The Critical Role of Hunters in Protecting Biodiversity

Hunting helps reduce the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss by preserving forest and ground cover, and preventing burning and conversion to agricultural or grazing. See above (photo credit: Mike Angelides) the stark contrast in protected game reserve to converted community area. 

Increasing the worlds biodiversity is critical to sustaining healthy ecosystems, protecting global wildlife, and maintaining the benefits of natural resources. The world’s current decrease of biodiversity is a major threat to the health of both humans and wildlife. The issue is much more complicated than just planting trees to reduce carbon emissions; biodiversity entails the full conservation of an ecosystem from plants and insects up to megafauna. Through participation and management, hunters play a key role in ensuring increased and sustainable global biodiversity levels, particularly in Africa. 

International goals have been set at conserving 30% of the world’s land and waters by 2030, with many turning first to conservation in Africa. An effective biodiversity strategy must be based in scientific data and include all stakeholders. Most importantly, as human populations continue to expand, the solution to biodiversity must involve coexistence between humans and wildlife. 

In order to effectively conserve large land areas, an incredible amount of funding and local support is needed. Hunting, particularly like that of southern Africa, is a low-impact, high revenue generator; hundreds of thousands of dollars are generated from a relatively small number of hunters. This funding goes towards conservation of the land area, employment through conservation jobs in local communities, anti-poaching initiatives, and a sustainable way for communities to mitigate human wildlife conflict. 

These efforts by hunters and communities make a significant impact, with the total land area conserved by hunting equaling 344 million acres in sub-Saharan Africa, areas that exceed the total size of the region’s national parks by 22%. These areas are successfully conserved, not just land area set aside; see the photo above by Mike Angelides showing a game reserve protected through hunting compared to the immediate area outside the boundaries. Similarly, hunting areas frequently border national parks and act as wildlife buffers for communities, both increasing the total area’s biodiversity and mitigating human-wildlife conflict outside of the park. 

recent study led by Paul Scholte in central Africa has shown that it is not enough to simply protect large swaths of land to conserve animals, and by extension, biodiversity in Africa. In fact, massive land areas without strong financial support structures actually led to a decrease in megafauna populations. According to the article from Ohio State University, large protected areas are extremely difficult for central African governments to manage, and that “tourism in those regions has collapsed due to insecurity, reduced trophy hunting, and more recently, COVID-19, and the international community has not stepped in to fill that funding gap.” Countries in Africa with the most successful international hunting programs in place are also home to the largest successfully protected areas and have the highest populations of megafauna. 

Africa currently faces intense pressure from the United States and European governments and organizations to protect huge land areas, conserve all wildlife, and develop sustainably. Unfortunately, these same groups attempt to dictate the management of African wildlife without providing the necessary resources and often are vehemently anti-hunting. This takes away the best and most sustainable conservation structure. SCI is fighting to put science and the rights of Africans at the forefront of this debate to create effective, lasting conservation of biodiversity in Africa.