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Three developing nations move to ban hunting to protect vanishing wildlife

MAfrican elephants on the Chobe River in Botswana. From 2014 on, hunting will no longer be allowed in Botswana's public lands. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
African savannah elephants on the Chobe River in Botswana. From 2014 on, hunting will no longer be allowed in Botswana’s public lands. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

Three developing countries have recently toughened hunting regulations believing the changes will better protect vanishing species. Botswana has announced it will ban trophy hunting on public lands beginning in 2014, while Zambia has recently banned any hunting of leopards or lions, both of which are disappearing across Africa. However, the most stringent ban comes from another continent: Costa Rica—often considered one of the “greenest” countries on Earth—has recently passed a law that bans all sport hunting and trapping both inside and outside protected areas. The controversial new law is considered the toughest in the Western Hemisphere.

“The shooting of wild game purely for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna as a national treasure, which should be treated as such,” Botswana’s President, Ian Khama, said in last year’s state of the nation address.

Botswana’s ban will go into effect in 2014 for the country’s vast public lands. Although notable, this is not the first time an African nation has banned trophy hunting: Kenya has not allowed hunting since 1977. After 2014 wildlife will only be allowed to be hunted in Botswana if they are considered “problem animals,” however, the ban will not affect the country’s few private reserves.

Although Botswana contains more elephants than any other country on Earth (over 100,000 individuals), poaching, trophy hunting, and other pressures have hit some of Botswana’s wilderness areas hard.

Also in southern Africa, Zambia has recently passed a law that will ban any hunting of lions and leopards.

“Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry,” Zambia’s tourism minister Sylvia Masebo told Reuters.

A recent study has found that lion populations across Africa have plunged by 68 percent in just 50 years. Lion experts say trophy hunting for the top predators can have a huge impact on lion prides. By targeting adult males (for their manes) trophy hunters can unhinge an entire pride, leading to a new male taking over and killing all of the cubs. Lions (Panthera leo) are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, while leopards (Panthera pardus) are considered Near Threatened.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the average price to kill a lion is $29,000, while to kill a leopard is $7,000. To shoot an elephant, on average, costs $30,000.

Hunters have long argued that trophy hunting aids conservation efforts, for example they say that revenues brought in from commercial hunting far outweighs any loss in species. In addition, there’s little question that historically hunting has contributed to additional lands being set aside. But given staggering declines in big mammals across Africa—a recent study found that big mammal populations have fallen by over half in just 40 years—it appears a number of nations have come to believe that banning commercial hunting is one straight-forward way to stem the loss.

Still, in order to truly safeguard Africa’s big mammals, continued habitat loss, poaching, rising human populations, and poorly-planned development projects will also need to be addressed.

Trophy hunting is still going strong in countries like Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, and Namibia.

But, the biggest new hunting ban comes not from Africa, but Central America. Late last year, Costa Rica’s legislature unanimously passed a new law banning all hunting and trapping across the entire country. The proposed law was brought to the legislature after it was signed by 177,000 Costa Ricans. Those caught hunting will face fines up to $3,000 or four months in prison. However, subsistence hunting by indigenous people will still be allowed, as will hunting to cull animals that are considered overpopulated.

Costa Rica has set aside one quarter of its land for protection, while tourism represents 5 percent of its GDP.

The African buffalo (Syncerus caffeer) in Chobe Naitonal Park. The African buffalo is a popular target for trophy hunters, costing on average just under $4,000. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
The African buffalo (Syncerus caffeer) in Chobe Naitonal Park. The African buffalo is a popular target for trophy hunters, costing on average just under $4,000. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

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