Downsides of Imposed Hunting Bans

New research published in Biological Conservation this month emphasises how prohibitions on wildlife hunting implemented by governments are negatively affecting the wellbeing of rural communities. This issue is also likely to hamper conservation efforts in the long term by alienating rural people and undermining their voluntary participation to conservation strategies.

The illegal killing of wildlife (i.e., poaching) is a main issue causing wildlife populations to decline and creep closer to extinction. Identifying the drivers of poaching is essential to help mitigate this issue and promote more effective conservation strategies. Most of the current conservation literature identifies poverty in rural areas as a main driver of poaching, paying little attention to the broader cultural, social and political contexts in which illegal wildlife killing occurs. In their new paper published in Biological Conservation, Dr Michael Strong (Glendale Community College, US) and Dr Julie A. Silva (University of Maryland, US) criticise this narrow approach to understanding the underlying drivers of poaching, and encourage interdisciplinary studies in this field.

The study was a social investigation which involved interviewing rural communities in southern Africa to explore how hunting bans affected their wellbeing and perceived legitimacy of conservation policy.

Imposed hunting bans can make rural people feel marginalised, alienated by management and powerless, which has consequences for their mental health including through impacting their dignity and self-respect. The general feeling is that the government cares more for wildlife than for the wellbeing of rural communities. One person interviewed during this study said: “they [park authorities] only care about their animals, not about us people. Because they can get money with these animals. They can sell these animals but they cannot sell us people”.

Local residents feel less safe since the introduction of hunting bans, as they fear attacks from the animals and not being able to fend the animals off and protect their families. Similarly, farmers are angered and frustrated as they feel that hunting moratoriums have left them unable to control problem animals, and this has exacerbated the level of crop damage they suffered from wildlife.

The instrumental value of hunting is also erased by bans on lethal removal of wildlife. For many rural communities, hunting means food and revenue-generating potential, as the items that can be derived from the animals can be turned into objects and sold in markets.

Hunting bans may not only lead to poaching and hinder effective management of wildlife populations, but they may also result in unjust outcomes for local people and their wellbeing, including mental, physical, financial and social aspects.

The authors encourage more social science studies in this field to promote more inclusive and effective conservation strategies.

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Strong, M. and Silva. J. A. 2020. Impacts of hunting prohibitions on multidimensional well-being. Biological Conservation. 243: 108451.

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