By Emmanuel Koro
While touring the town, I discovered through information provided by one of the Victoria Falls-based residents and a professional hunter that hunting companies employ almost 90% of the people owning and building modern houses that we see mushrooming there.
When these houses burst into sight as I was arriving in Victoria Falls from the local airport, I thought they belonged to bank managers and top government officials. I was wrong. A local professional hunter and a resident in the areas told me that bank managers and top government officials can’t afford them but employees of hunting companies who include professional hunters can. They are building the houses and also own the completed ones. They don’t need bank loans to build their houses. They use their salaries and also tips paid to them by visiting safari hunters to build the houses. Therefore, they are also debt-free.
Some of the hunting companies employees such as chefs and trackers have even gone further from owning beautiful houses to owning one of the big businesses in Victoria Falls and are sending their children to elite universities.
Such untold and refreshing socioeconomic benefits, together with the benefits we know hunting brings to conservation of wildlife and the wilderness areas and also rural socioeconomic developments constitute the most powerful but untold story that the world needs to know as we head to the USA hunting marketing season early next year.
Arguably, the American hunters who come to hunt in SADC countries would be pleasantly surprised to learn how their hunting fees are not only helping to incentivize wildlife and wilderness conservation and also to promote rural development but is as we now know refreshing benefiting employees of safari hunting companies in ways yet to be told to the world (making them proud and debt-free home-owners who are also running significant businesses).
This another big but unknown contribution of the hunting industry’s contribution to Africa’s wildlife economy that is compellingly shown by developments in Victoria Falls.
I then travelled to Victoria Falls, Livingston Town, Kasane and Katima Mlilo Town of Namibia to do further research on this story.
Generally, it was established that safari-hunting employees indeed own houses in urban areas and are enjoying life-changing experiences. The transformation ranges from being previously unemployed to being employed. Then in turn to look after both their immediate and extended families. The safari hunting employees also own houses with some of them elevating themselves from being employees to owners of safari hunting businesses and then employ other people.
Interestingly, some of these employees are very innovative. They avoid being idle during the hunting off-season by establishing shuttle companies, car repair businesses and food outlets. This brings extra income all-year-round. While making money for themselves, they are also paying tax to their governments. These are the stunning and untold benefits that flow from the safari hunting industry.
Address the issue about how such benefits could promote a conservation culture in urban areas, one of the beneficiaries remarked, “The more people in urban areas realize that hunting is bringing benefits as is happening in Victoria Falls Town, the more public support we should get from our urban residents to fight poaching in much the say way that rural communities benefiting from hunting are fighting poaching.”
The lesson learnt is that although previously thought to benefit rural communities only, the safari hunting industry is much bigger than we thought. It has crosscutting benefits that literally touch almost all sectors of the economy connected to the hunting value chain. The cross-cutting benefits can be felt from the moment a sport hunter jumps on a plane from New York or anywhere and arrives in Africa, shuttled to a local hotel where he/she stays wines and dines, samples his first beer, meal, makes a transaction at a bureau de change, sends his trophy to the taxidermist, gets its shipped to his home place. It’s whole value chain that is overlooked. Then of course the impact of his hunting fees towards creating employment. It’s same money that is banked and supports the banks and keeps them in business. It’s from the same money that big safari hunting business pay tax to the governments.
This, together with the benefits that rural communities continue to enjoy from safari hunting businesses and the subsequent conservation benefits, present a new and refreshing picture of the far-reaching and cross-cutting benefits of the safari
hunting industry in Southern Africa. Understood and appreciated from this viewpoint, it’s therefore insane for anyone to even suggest banning hunting. Such suggestions are no different from collapsing the economies of Southern African countries and creating unwanted job losses in the safari hunting industry and of course the airlines, hotels, shipping companies and taxidermists to name a few companies that are linked to the safari hunting industry value chain.
In Victoria Falls, the key contribution of the safari hunting industry was unpacked by showing the following scenarios of what would happen to that Town and the economy of if the hunting industry was banned (this no doubt would apply to other SADC countries as well):
1. The banking sector would be negatively impacted because safari hunting companies and employees support the banks by making significant deposits purchasing land and houses.
2. The Education sector would suffer as pointed out by the owner of a local private school who said that most of his learners are children of safari hunting employees and those working for companies that directly benefit from safari hunting businesses (taxidermists, shipping, shuttle services, airlines, hotels, restaurants, bureau de changes, petrol stations, etc. that sport hunters who use when visiting Zimbabwe and no doubt other SADC countries).
3. All the hotels and lodges that buy and sell game meat that is harvested through hunting would be negatively impacted because game meat-eating is one of the key needs for tourists visiting the area (especially the most popular the meat-eating place called The Boma Dinner & Drum Show where tourists pay US$56 per visit to eat without limits all kinds of meat, especially game meat).
4. The research concluded that hunting is an important part of the Victoria Falls economy and that this economy like those of other parts of SADC would struggle to survive without hunting. The conservation and development losses that Botswana experienced during the hunting ban at rural level were also cited as a good indicator of the negative impacts ban on hunting that sparked community outrage, prompting President Masisi’s intervention to lift the banning hunt to ensure that wildlife and human wellbeing wouldn’t continue to be compromised by the hunting ban.
5. Still on Botswana at rural level, communities are upbeat that the lifting of the hunting ban could bring more income. They say this would further create opportunities for conservation and development. They expect to sell one of the biggest trophy sizes for all species when hunting starts in 2020 because the animals hadn't been hunted for five years. This suggests that there should be monster-size- trophies of all types of species in Botswana right now, say community representatives.
In conclusion, the research established that the benefits and value of the hunting industry is not only felt at rural level but also in all sectors of the economy in both rural and urban communities in Southern Africa. Notably, some of the safari hunting employees are also emerging as investors who are opening businesses in transport, food industry and of course as safari operators. Additionally, the safari hunting employees are also supporting their extended families in both rural and urban areas. They are also building houses in their rural homes. The safari hunting companies additionally, pay tax to governments. This shows that the revenue from safari hunting is being felt at different levels in SADC countries involved in hunting. This suggests that attempts by the British Government to ban hunting under the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson are a big threat to conservation and development in Southern Africa.
Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-Based Environmental Journalist