Widely viewed as only benefiting poor rural residents of Africa, the hunting industry is stunningly benefiting urban residents as well.
The benefits are far-reaching and crosscutting, demonstrating the importance of the hunting industry to Southern Africa’s wildlife economy.
In rural Africa, hunting is known to bring wonderful mind-set-changing benefits that have transformed many beneficiaries from being poachers to champions of conservation. In Victoria Falls, the highly skilled employees in the hunting sector are transforming themselves from being employees to becoming proud home-owners in areas such as the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe middle-class suburb. Some of these employees have since progressed to own safari hunting and other types of businesses that are needed in the Victoria Falls economy. They are also sending their children to elite universities, regionally and internationally. They also support their extended families.
Beautiful, bright-roofed and somewhat tastefully built houses that ‘announce’ the curious blend of modernity and nature burst into sight as one arrives in Victoria Falls, driving from the airport.
Many people can be forgiven to think that these houses belong to bank managers and top government officials. They are wrong.
It is here, in the land where David Livingstone in 1885 had the rare experience as the first European man to discover the Victoria Falls. In 2020, it is in Victoria Falls where we are beginning to also uniquely discover the second wonder of hunting benefits. That hunting was first known to benefit rural communities but secondly, it also brings never-told-before benefits to urban dwellers.
“Most of the people who stay in the Victoria Falls suburban houses are directly employed by safari hunting companies and some are employed by companies that directly benefit from the hunting business value-chain, including restaurants such as the Boma that is a very popular game-meat-eating outlet,” said Victoria Falls-based Executive Director for Mosi Advocates on Social, Environmental and Conservation Trust, Mr Evans Irvine Makoni.
“Some of the bank managers and top government officials can hardly afford the houses whose stands were sold for US$22 000, but employees of hunting companies who include professional hunters, trackers, guides, drivers and chefs can.”
A local businessman, Mr Thomas Mutano who owns an upmarket lodge said that the Boma specialises in game meat and tourists go there to eat meat, paying US$40 to eat hunted game meat from wildlife ranches.
“All types of hunted meat are eaten in the hotels and restaurants in Victoria Falls, especially the Boma that takes up to 100 people per day,” said Mr Mutano.
“Take away the hunted game meat and then you have negatively impacted the hotel and restaurant businesses in Victoria Falls — total collapse of the economy. Most tourists come here to experience eating game meat, including crocodile meat. So, the hunting industry that’s involved in the supply of game meat is a key player in the Victoria Falls wildlife economy.”
The Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ), bought and developed land where the safari hunting employees have and continue to build their dream homes.
“There are over a thousand housing units in the area,” said the CBZ Victoria Falls branch manager, Mr Fungai Dhliwayo in a telephone interview.
Well-placed sources in the banking sector who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons, said that 10 percent (100 houses) in the upper middle-class area are owned by safari hunting employees, with about 50 percent (500) belonging to workers directly benefiting from the safari hunting businesses.
“The highest earning employees in the tourism industry are from the safari hunting sector,” said a former safari hunting company employee who now owns his own safari hunting business, Mr Kumbirai Kurerwa.
Stunning and incredible revelations show the important benefits those hunting industry employees are getting.
“Even the education sector is directly benefiting from the safari hunting employees,” said Mr Tendai Gift Kowo, founder and director of Elite Independent College.
“The parents of most of the children who learn at my school work for tourism businesses that are directly linked to the safari hunting industry. Therefore, I fear that if the hunting markets were to close as some Western governments and animal rights group continue to threaten, it would also result in the closure of my education business. Not to mention the potential loss of good education opportunities for the learners and job losses for teachers. Ban hunting and you have killed the livelihoods of Africa, Zimbabwe and people in Victoria Falls.”
Mr Kowo said 95 percent of people in Victoria Falls depend on the wildlife economy and hunting is the main driver.
The beneficiaries of the hunting industry include skilled employees for hunting companies, ranging from top chefs, cooks, professional hunters, marketing managers and accountants. They use the salaries paid to them by hunting companies and tips paid by the safari hunters to build beautiful homes for themselves.
A former safari hunting employee, who is now running his own business as a safari hunting business Mr Dominic Muleya plans to buy a residential stand in the area and build his own house. He has already built a house in his rural home and hunts with clients from Slovakia, Germany and Italy.
“I’m supporting my extended family with money,” said Mr Muleya. “If they ask me for money, I just ask them how much and I give them. No sweat. No worries. I’m making good income from hunting.”
“There’s money in hunting, we come across rich people in the hunting industry and some of them recently bought a local employee a stand when they learnt that he didn’t own a house,” said Mr Muleya.
“I bought this powerful mini-bus US$6 000 cash and one of my clients promised to help me buy a US$67 000 Land Cruiser to get my business more established in 2020. These are the amazing stories of the benefits of hunting. The Americans give the biggest tips. My school mates always ask me how I’m making it and I tell them I’m in the lucrative hunting business.”
The first known wonder is that the hunting income is meaningfully supporting the conservation and development initiatives in rural Southern Africa and reducing poverty in the process.
Medical doctors and top professionals-producing schools built with hunting revenue bear evidence of the rapid socioeconomic benefits of hunting. According to Mr Ishmael Chaukura of the Masoka Campfire community of Zimbabwe, the rural schools built using hunting revenue have and continue to produce “teachers, doctors and top accountants who are proudly providing professional services needed in their country.”
The story of highly skilled hunting employees owning houses in urban areas was traced across the border in Zambia’s Kazungula Town; where Mr Roy Seemani, acting ranger of the Zambia Department of National Parks Mulombedzi game management area confirmed that hunting employees own decent houses in Kazungula and others have dream homes in Livingstone and in the capital Lusaka in suburbs such as Mumbwa.
Elsewhere, at the Botswana Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust Mr Nchungu Nchungu also confirmed that safari hunting companies’ employees from his country were proud owners of decent homes in different towns of Botswana, including Maun and Kasane.
However, in Namibia the hunting sector employees are said to be more interested in investing in rural economies, building tuckshops and buying cattle that are considered a status symbol in most African communities. They own modestly built houses in both urban and rural Namibia and Botswana.
“In Namibia, I have seen people who were previously unemployed and almost owned nothing– later invest in livestock production buying up to 10 cows each; after getting employed in the safari hunting industry,” said Salambala Conservancy Chairman, Mr Daniel Mwinga.
“They also use their salaries to send their children to good schools which is a good investment in education for our future leaders.”
This observation was supported by Ms Hentie van Heerden of the Nambian Professional Hunters Association who said that in Namibia, the hunting companies’ employees were more interested in investing in their rural areas than urban areas.
“I do not see or experience the same situation(s) you mention in Namibia at all. Safari hunting staff can never earn so much money to build elaborate houses or even a regular house in his village. Ten percent of our staff have little shops at home in the local villages where they live. Products that they sell include beer, cool drinks, cigarettes, maize meal, sugar, cooking oil and few other basic items,” said Ms van Heerden.
Botswana-based Ngamiland Council of NGOs chairman, Mr Siyoka Simasiku said rural communities are also using money from the wildlife economy to build houses for the destitute, provide funeral assistance and scholarships.
“For example, the community-based organisations paid for the construction of seven houses for the poor at Sankoyo,” Mr Simasiku.
“At Khwai 18 houses were built, while at Mababe 10 houses were built for the elderly and the poor. The wildlife economy has therefore transformed some rural communities from living in poverty and relying on hand-outs from donor agencies from Europe and North-America into productive communities that are moving towards achieving sustainable livelihoods.”
As threats to shut down hunting markets continue to manifest particularly from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the African wildlife economy stakeholders remain worried about their future wellbeing and that of their wildlife which can never survive without benefitting the people.
Fortunately, not all Western people are opposed to wildlife hunting. The American hunters are one of the biggest supporters of hunting in Africa with thousands visiting the continent to hunt all types of game annually, during the April to September hunting season. The hunting fees that they, together with other hunters from all over the world, including Europe help to incentivise wildlife and wilderness conservation as well as promote rural and urban development.
The crosscutting benefits of the hunting industry literally touch almost all sectors. They 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 cold drink or beer, enjoys a meal, makes a transaction at a bureau de change, buy jewellery and clothes, sends his trophy to the taxidermist, gets it shipped to his home place via companies such as DHL.
It is a whole value chain that is overlooked let alone the industry’s support to the banking sector through banking money and keeping them in business.
– About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.