Legal hunting for conservation of highly threatened species: The case of African rhinos

03 March 2022

Conservation Letters

’t Sas-Rolfes, M., Emslie, R., Adcock, K., & Knight, M. (2022) Legal hunting for conservation of highly threatened species: The case of African rhinos. Conservation Letters, e12877.

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Legal hunting of threatened species—and especially the recreational practice of “trophy hunting”—is controversial with ethical objections being increasingly voiced. Less public attention has been paid to how hunting (even of threatened species) can be useful as a conservation tool, and likely outcomes if this was stopped. As case studies, we examine the regulated legal hunting of two African rhino species in South Africa and Namibia over the last half-century. Counter-intuitively, removing a small number of specific males can enhance population demography and genetic diversity, encourage range expansion, and generate meaningful socioeconomic benefits to help fund effective conservation (facilitated by appropriate local institutional arrangements).

Legal hunting of African rhinos has been sustainable, with very small proportions of populations hunted each year, and greater numbers of both species today in these countries than when controlled recreational hunting began. Terminating this management option and significant funding source could have negative consequences at a time when rhinos are being increasingly viewed as liabilities and revenue generation for wildlife areas is being significantly impacted by COVID-19. Provided that there is appropriate governance, conservation of certain highly threatened species can be supported by cautiously selective and limited legal hunting.