Private ownership is one of the key cornerstones of our society – it has built economies and communities, and continues to provide economic freedom to billions. As a keen observer of conservation efforts, it has always seemed to me that it is an unfortunate reality that this economic freedom is often cast aside in favour of rabid environmentalism. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Conservation can be equally, if not more, effective whilst simultaneously preserving the right to private ownership and the financial freedoms that are afforded through it.
I am especially learned in how this effects the conservation of African wildlife, especially lions, through my role as Chairman and CEO of Saving The Lion Foundation.
Economic success and economic freedom provided to the local communities is the primary reason trophy hunting exists, and this freedom must not be overlooked. However, the establishment of ecotourism zones is objectively more beneficial. According to Lee Durrell (1986) in State of the Ark, a lion is worth $500,000 as a tourist attraction, whereas a Lion shot for sport or trophy is worth between $3,500 and $8,500, and its skin about $1,000. When adjusted for inflation, and when adjustment is made for the diminishing number of lions and increased rarity, the estimate of $500,000 easily becomes $1,000,000 and the estimate of $3,500 – $8,500 easily reaches $55,000 – $65,000.
In many situations, I have found myself and my organisation standing alone, as we are often seen to be putting people first. In one sense, this is correct, but not entirely. We believe that we can only save wildlife if local communities want to save wildlife; we must work together toward this common goal.
It is certainly true that even with subsidisation, ecotourism zones are not economically viable for all African communities – and farming continues to be the basis for their survival. This is why our project centres around livestock, which due to habitat and prey species loss, are often subject to attacks by lions. Livestock is the key asset for countless African communities, and there is little in the way of insurance; certainly none they can readily afford. However, we are in a position to provide them with that economic assurance. With financial support from donors, we can compensate farmers for their lost livestock, whilst also relocating lions. This allows us to effectively and efficiently control revenge killings against lion populations. These slaughters continue to claim lions in huge numbers, and are born out of desperation for villagers to keep their livelihoods intact. It is this desperation that once removed, will breed a far less reactionary attitude and directly save the lives of lions everyday.
I think I can speak for all conservationists when I say that we hope for Africa to become a continent that is wealthy and sustainable enough to protect even larger habitats, and that communities will be financially secure enough to support conservation efforts more selflessly. However, I think I may stray from the collective when I say that this is not currently a viable reality. It is not reasonable for us to sit in our 1st world conditions and expect communities to sacrifice their livelihood on our word. Farmers, hunting guides, etc. would all like to see a world where they have the economic freedom to survive without sacrificing or controlling wildlife. This is what we must seek to provide, and working with land owners and within the free market can provide this.
Both the establishment of ecotourism zones and the provision of compensation for lost livestock provides the world with a golden opportunity to see real and willing changes being made. It allows humanitarians and conservationists to work together and realise amazing progress and benefit to the conditions of both local communities and local wildlife.
We must work together to provide a way forward that works for both humanity and wildlife. Through the utilisation of private land rights and the free market we are able to provide economic freedom to communities and guide them to work with their environment, not fight against it.