Hunting is Low-Impact Tourism

For thousands of years, rural Africans have relied on plentiful supplies of impala and other game animals for meat, clothing and income. Ironically, rural Zimbabweans have long laid down their spears and bows, whilst at the same time encouraging foreign hunters to hunt elephants, buffaloes, lions or other wild animals on their lands. The reason is a simple matter of economics - foreign sport hunters will pay large sums to hunt Africa's trophy animals, far more than other tourists will pay to view them. A single hunter can spend more than US $40,000 on a trophy hunting trip. Under the CAMPFIRE programme, at least half of that revenue goes to the local communities for rural development and environmental conservation.

CAMPFIRE depends on hunting revenues which contribute over 90% of total income to the districts and communities participating in the programme. In 1993, twelve districts participating in CAMPFIRE, with a human population of nearly 400,000 people, earned US $1,516,693 from trophy fees. This could be a small sum per individual on average, but some resource rich areas earn disproportionate amounts and even small sums of cash can create meaningful infrastructure when well invested. CAMPFIRE now has a combined 2.4 million beneficiaries, made up of 200,000 households that actively participate in the programme, and another 600,000 that benefit directly from CAMPFIRE funded social and infrastructure services. The total income paid to RDCs and communities in 2014 was $2,102,007, compared to $2,229,910 in 2013. Elephant hunting contributed 54% ($1,138,375) of the total income. The community's share of income was distributed mostly through direct payments to communities by safari operators. Data from 13 RDCs shows that on average, 52% (instead of the prescribed 55%) of this income went to communities. Councils benefited from a significant percentage of 44% (more than the prescribed 41%). This income is used for administration (15%), and field patrols, monitoring of hunts, problem animal control, water provision, and fire management. This represents significant income for district development for some RDCs that have a limited income base outside wildlife such as Mbire, Nyaminyami, and Tsholotsho. CAMPFIRE Association received 4% of the total income to cover administration costs and representation of the programme.

    Communities Council Association       MALE T/L
    43% 53% 4%          
BEITBRIDGE        118,055.00 50,763.65 62,569.15 4,722.20 15 7           60,600.00 19 9
    55% 41% 4%          
BUBI          21,270.00 11,698.50   8,720.70   850.80 23 2            16,000.00 2 -
BINGA          91,770.00 50,473.50 37,625.70 3,670.80 25 14            30,000.00 3 -
HURUNGWE            3,750.00   2,062.50   1,537.50    150.00 26 7                       -   - -
HWANGE          89,170.09 49,043.55  36,559.74 3,566.80 20 18            89,170.09 8 -
CHIPINGE        106,604.52 58,632.49  43,707.85 4,264.18 30 2            27,000.00 2 1
    50% 46% 4%          
CHIREDZI        287,856.00 143,928.00 132,413.76 11,514.24 32 9          226,500.00 21 -
GOKWE NORTH          32,717.50   16,358.75   15,050.05   1,308.70 36 10              4,000.00 - 2
MATOBO          28,981.00   14,490.50   13,331.26   1,159.24 24 6                       -   - -
MBIRE        519,893.00 259,947.00  239,151.05 20,795.60 17 8          161,405.00 30 22
BULILIMA          68,995.00   34,497.50    31,737.70   2,759.80 22 13            53,000.00 5 -
    49% 47% 4%          
NYAMINYAMI        283,695.00 139,010.55 133,336.65 11,347.80 12 6            59,200.00 4 12
    60% 36% 4%          
TSHOLOTSHO        420,500.00 252,300.00 151,380.00 16,820.00 22 11          381,500.00 25 -
UMGUZA          32,500.00   19,500.00   11,700.00   1,300.00 19 19            30,000.00 3 -
TOTAL   2,105,757.11 1,102,708.63  918,822.81  84,230.32 323 132     1,138,375.09 122 46
% OF TOTAL INCOME 52% 44% 4%          

Many communal lands in Zimbabwe lack tourist infrastructure and are unsuitable for photographic tourism. A combination of low game population density and thick bush often means that it is hard to get good sightings of wildlife. However, hunters (predominantly from the USA, Germany and Spain) are keen to hunt there to help communities.

Trophy hunters have a much lower impact on the environment than other tourists. They consume a much smaller proportion of resources (such as water), are happy with the most basic infrastructure, and tend to travel in small numbers. All foreign sportsmen have to be accompanied by a licensed professional hunter, who acts as a guide and is trained in wildlife management and skilled at tracking and hunting with minimum disturbance to the wildlife and its habitat. A national parks game scout accompanies hunters to ensure that quotas are observed, and hunting is banned between dusk and dawn.

Every year local communities - with the technical assistance of the Parks Authority, determine a sustainable quota of animals that can be hunted on their lands that season, depending on the numbers of wildlife available in their areas. The quotas also allow for Problem Animal Control - the culling of individual animals which are persistent pests to people, their livestock or crops. Quotas ensure that wildlife populations are maintained at a level suitable for the local environment. 

Hunting & Conservation

Changing Attitudes & Contributing to Wildlife Conservation

For most rural Africans wildlife is a nuisance, posing a serious threat to their livelihoods and sometimes their lives. Lions and leopards prey on their livestock, and elephants and buffalo trample their crops, often destroying the people's only source of subsistence and income in the process. Until now, the only solution has been to illegally 'poach' animals for their meat, or to call for the Department of National Parks to cull individual problem animals. However, given a steady income from trophy hunting, rural people are now motivated to conserve and manage their wildlife, and have the funds to protect their villages and crops.

Income received by communities based the CAMPFIRE Revenue Sharing Guidelines (about USD1 million annually) is used freely by communities on a collective basis.

This helps directly offset the costs of living with wildlife.  Most of the income is invested in infrastructure which has long term benefits such as clinics, schools, and grinding mills, although in some areas, the projects are spread too thinly to meet the needs of a growing number of people. Other communities have drilled boreholes, constructed seasonal roads, erecting of fencing to keep out wildlife, purchase of tractors, and direct purchase of drought relief food. Children benefit from reduced walking distances through the construction of schools, procurement of learning materials, and payment of school fees from CAMPFIRE proceeds. Communities also benefit from employment, and meat in excess of the requirements of safari hunting operations and problem animal control.

'Most of our hunters are keen conservationists, so their aim is not to shoot as many as possible, but to bag a prime specimen. They come to us because they know we can provide the goods, but also because their money is going into supporting conservation.'

Bill Bedford, Ingwe Safaris

Setting Quotas

Setting Sustainable Quotas

Once populations have been estimated, sustainable harvesting quotas can be set. Quotas are determined for local conditions, bearing in mind the carrying capacity of the local environment, and making allowances for the different uses of wildlife. At present quotas are issued by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. In the long term, local communities could be trained and empowered to develop the capacity and experience to set their own quotas.

In order for hunting to be sustainable, the quota for each species must be based on offtake rates that take into account the population dynamics and use of the species in question. For example, a hunting quota of ten mature buffalo bulls is based on the assumption that every year ten young bulls will become mature enough to be categorised as trophy males.

Counting Wildlife

Counting Wildlife on Communal Lands

There are several ways of estimating wildlife populations on communal lands in Zimbabwe. Results from all of them are considered when making the final population estimates for each area.

Aerial surveys

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), with USAID support, was responsible for undertaking annual aerial surveys at national level, including biologically-rich communal lands since CAMPFIRE started in 1989, up to 2001 when USAID support ended. Thereafter, two national aerial surveys have been conducted by the Parks Authourity, the most recent being in 2015. These surveys concentrate on elephants, which are more visible from the air than smaller species. Elephants are a useful indicator species, as they have a relatively low reproduction rate. They also bring in more CAMPFIRE income than any other species at present (through trophy hunting), so monitoring them is vital.

Information from hunters and safari operators - Professional hunters and safari operators spend a lot of time in the field observing wildlife, even getting to know particular herds and individuals. Their experience and information is invaluable for estimating wildlife populations, and especially important for species that occur in moderate numbers, such as wildebeest, sable, waterbuck, lion, and leopard, for which aerial surveys are of limited use.

Community-based wildlife counts - Under CAMPFIRE rural communities are encouraged to undertake their own wildlife population censuses. Two low-cost methods have been established under CAMPFIRE:

Village mapping - Each Village wildlife committee produces a sketchmap of its area, marking landmarks such as rivers, hills, and roads. Every month, villagers mark wildlife sightings on a map, making sure they record:

How many animals were seen;

Any features that identify that particular animal or herd (to assist in avoiding counting animals more than once); and the sexes of individual animals (as accurately as possible).

Village development committees from neighbouring villages check that the same animal groups are not counted twice. Then the numbers of each species are added up to give an indication of how many animals are normally resident in the village environs.

Pooling information from different experts - in the past, annual workshops were held in communities each year for experts from within and outside the area to share information on wildlife sightings and surveys and derive an estimated wildlife population for each CAMPFIRE district. Information ranged from simple sightings to formal game counts and surveys. The invited experts included representatives from:

The Department of National Parks; WWF; Rural District Councils; village wildlife committees; village wildlife monitors; safari operators; and other local residents.

Off-take Monitoring

Monitoring Wildlife Off-take

Trophy Records - By law, records of trophy quality must be kept by safari operators. In addition to numbers these records provide additional data on the lengths of horns for trophy ungulates, body length for carnivore species, and tusk weight for elephants.

If too many animals are hunted as trophies, it selectively removes larger animals from the population, forcing hunters to harvest younger animals, with smaller horns, tusks or body lengths. Trophy quality records are therefore a sensitive measure of the hunting pressure on animals in a population and are used to adjust quotas. Quotas are not issued for the next hunting season until hunting records from the last season are turned in for analysis by the Parks Authourity.

Other Off-take Records - Similarly, detailed records are kept of game animals used for cropping, problem animal control, live sales or any other use. These records are maintained by the Parks Authority.

Game counts, aerial surveys and wildlife sightings also provide direct information on animal populations, essential to monitoring the impact of hunting on animal populations. Sustainable off-take rates for popular species as recommended by the Parks Authority:

Buffaloes and large antelopes (such as kudu, waterbuck and sable) reach trophy size in 7-8 years; off-take rates are about 2%

Smaller antelopes (impala and duiker) mature quicker: off-take is about 3%

Elephants reach good trophy size at about 50 years; off-take is 1%

Zebras: are hunted for their skins so any adult will do; their off-take is higher: 6%

Lions and leopards: hunters want a large animal. As these species have litters of several young, the off-take rate is about 5%. Zimbabwe has also introduced a lion ageing system to prevent off-take of lion younger than 6 years.

Safari Operators

How to Get in Touch with a Zimbabwe Hunting Safari Operator

Zimbabwe has a diverse hunting industry with many different participants. Once quotas have been set, safari operators, on an annual basis, negotiate a price to hunt a particular animal on community-owned land. They then market the quota to their clients and provide safari hunting services, by organising the logistics of the hunting party.

The Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) is the main coordinating body for hunting operators in Zimbabwe, including those in CAMPFIRE Areas. They can be contacted through their website:

CAMPFIRE Association participates at the annual Safari Club International (SCI) Hunters Convention, and encourages prospective hunters to consider booking their next hunt with an outfitter from a CAMPFIRE area, in support of conservation and community development.