Group having their photo taken with a dead lion.

New research: Trophy hunting puts South Africa’s tourism industry in peril

Press release

New research reveals that South African citizens and international tourists want to see an end to trophy hunting, in favour of wildlife-friendly experiences. This comes as South Africa opens-up consultation on its draft Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity white paper.

World Animal Protection commissioned research into public attitudes towards trophy hunting, surveying 10,900 people from around the world, including international tourists from countries who most frequently visit South Africa, and South African citizens. It revealed universally strong opposition to the blood sport and a desire to finance the protection of the nation’s iconic wildlife through non-lethal alternatives such as responsible wildlife tourism.

The key findings from the research* revealed:

  • 84% of international tourists agree that the South African government should prioritise wildlife-friendly tourism over trophy hunting,
  • 74% of international tourists agreed that making trophy hunting a key pillar of policy will damage South Africa’s reputation, and 72% would be put off from visiting the country altogether,
  • 7 in 10 South African citizens agree their country would be a more attractive tourist destination if they banned trophy hunting,
  • Three quarters (74%) of South African citizens agree that trophy hunting is unacceptable when wildlife-friendly tourism alternatives have not been fully utilised.
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Nick Stewart, Global Head of Campaigns for Wildlife at World Animal Protection said:

“The white paper seeks to create a prosperous nation, living in harmony with nature where biodiversity is conserved for present and future generations, this is a great start. But it falls short on clarity or tangible commitments to end global commercial wildlife trade, which includes captive lion breeding, the use of big cats for traditional medicine and trophy hunting.

“The Republic of South Africa needs to take decisive action to move towards a more wildlife friendly future. It’s not too late for them to grasp the opportunity to make a clear stand, by fully embracing non-lethal wildlife-friendly alternatives, including responsible wildlife tourism, which is clearly what international tourists and local people are seeking. It’s time to make public, time bound commitments, starting with killing off trophy hunting - for good.”

Edith Kabesiime, Wildlife Campaign Manager (Africa) at World Animal Protection said:

“The life of a wild animal is worth so much more than the trophy it is too often reduced to. This is the shared view of tourists, who want to visit the country to see wildlife alive and thriving, and of South Africans who want to see the incredible wildlife on their doorstep, protected properly, in a humane and ethical manner.

“The government needs to listen to South African voices who clearly don’t want their wildlife heritage plundered any further and want to see change. Continuing to make wild animals shoot-to-kill targets at the mercy of wealthy westerners is outdated in a world where public attitudes are swiftly shifting.

“Without taking a firm stand, South Africa is starving the oxygen from creative thinking to identify, incentivize and implement non-lethal alternatives to conserve Africa’s iconic wildlife. Wildlife has the right to a wild life free from cruel commercial exploitation; we need to respect and protect them.”

World Animal Protection welcomed the decision from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment of South Africa in May 2021, when new measures to halt the domestication of captive lions, as well as the phasing out of the commercial captive lion industry was announced. Yet this progressive step has stalled, with little progress taking place in the year that has followed.

The development of wildlife-friendly tourism and the removal of wildlife exploitation like trophy hunting and captive lion breeding, has the potential to enhance South Africa’s international reputation as a global leader for wildlife-friendly experiences. It would reposition the country as an even more competitive destination of choice for responsible travellers and tour operators.

World Animal Protection is now calling for the Republic of South Africa to:

  • Reject cruel, lethal practices such as trophy hunting as a default approach to sustainable development and conservation;
  • Make a public commitment to end trophy hunting;
  • Invest in other non-lethal economic alternatives, including wildlife-friendly tourism instead.


Notes to editors:

* Research conducted by Flood + Partners in April 2022, who surveyed 10,900 people globally from the following geographic areas, representative of the adult population by age and gender

South African tourists:

  • United Kingdom, n = 1103
  • United States, n = 1044
  • Germany, n = 1043
  • France, n = 1071
  • Netherlands, n = 1015
  • Australia, n = 1020
  • Brazil, n = 1091
  • India, n = 1170
  • Canada, n = 1247

South African citizens, n = 1111

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Background information:

  • Trophy hunting represents less than 2% of the country’s economy (Good Governance Africa, 2022).
  • It’s estimated that if the 21 million hectares (approximately) of land currently utilised for trophy hunting in South Africa were reallocated towards non-consumptive tourism, this would create more than 190,000 jobs. This represents over 11 times more than the 17,000 currently supported by trophy hunting (Good Governance Africa, 2022).
  • Higher rates of decline in lion and leopard populations have been observed in areas with trophy hunting compared to areas without in Tanzania (Packer et al., 2011).

At ranches in South Africa, big cats, mainly lion cubs, are born into a life of exploitation. They start their lives on petting farms, then once juveniles, they are used for ‘walking with lions’ experiences, before their lives then take a deadly turn as they are moved to game farms for canned hunting. Some of their body parts are used as trophies and depending on international skeleton export quotas set by South Africa each year, lion bones can be legally exported (although no quotas have been set since 2019) (Green et. al, 2021). There are concerns that lion bones exported (legally or illegally) to Asia are used to supplement the illegal trade of tiger bone products, where they are processed into medicines and wines (Green et. al, 2021).