Hunting in South Africa

by Valter Jacobsson on January 20 2017

Hunting in Africa is a topic that is bound to cause some strong reactions. There are many opinions on the topic and it is therefore important to be familiar with laws and facts concerning wildlife preservation.

The Big Five

The Big Five is the name given to the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt by foot in Africa. Consisting of the African elephant, African buffalo, lion, leopard and black rhinoceros. These animals are the main attraction for trophy hunting and therefore often the core for debate.
Because The Big Five is made up of animals threatened with extinction to different degrees it is hard to see hunting them as anything other than immoral. The animal’s trophy worth is often correlated with their cultural worth and it is therefore always an issue when they are killed.

The African Elephant

The world’s largest land living animal and a sight not easily forgotten when you experience it. The African elephant can be as tall as 4 meters in shoulder height and weigh as much as six tones. It is also a highly intelligent animal competing with the chimpanzee and dolphin in cognitive ability. Around 80 years ago it was estimated that there were around 4 million elephants in Africa. Today only 10% of the original population remains with around 400 000 individuals. The main reason for its decline in population is poaching and exploitation of its natural habitat. It is a popular poaching target due to its valuable ivory. During colonization times ivory was a high value export goods to the European countries. Today it is mostly illegal all over the world to trade with ivory which has resulted in a well-organized black market where poaches sell their goods. Unfortunately, the elephant is classified as vulnerable according to IUCN (international Union for Conservation of Nature). Many countries are working hard to protect the remaining elephants to get the population back on its feet again. This work has been quite successful in South Africa due to the country’s many national parks and organizations.


Africa’s most famous predator and second largest cat in the world. Despite these feats its prevalence and population is small with only about 27 000 individuals in total spread across the continent. Human development and poaching is the main reasons for the decline and has also led lion groups to become isolated. This in turn leads to less genetic variation and makes the populations have problematic breeding. The lion is classified as vulnerable according to the IUCN.


Africa’s second biggest cat, this felines beautiful fur makes it a high priority target for poaching. Many tribes believe parts of the leopard to have potent power as nature medicine to cure ailments such as asthma for example which also makes it even more sought after. Due to the leopard population being spread over huge areas it is difficult to estimate how many there are left, but one thing is sure, the population is sadly decreasing. IUCN classifies the leopard as vulnerable.


There are many different species of rhinos but when talking about The Big Five it is the black rhinoceros that is intended. The reason being its aggressive behavior and therefore bigger threat for hunters than other rhino species. The huge horn is highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine and it is therefore also very susceptible to poaching. Unfortunately, all species of rhinoceros are threatened. According to IUCN there is about 5000 individuals left. This population is however slowly on the rise thanks to all the extensive measures that have been taken.

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African Buffalo

The African buffalo is the only animal in The Big Five that is not threatened or vulnerable. With a population of almost a million individuals and with ¾ of the population in protected areas this herbivore is relatively safe. It has however, due to hunting, declined and even been declared extinct in a number of countries including South Africa where it has been reintroduced in the national parks. It truly lives up to its name as one of The Big Five as it can weigh as much as a ton and kills around 200 people every year.

Trophy Hunting for Preservation

In 2015 the debate got new fuel when Cecil the lion was shot. Cecil was a popular animal icon living in Zimbabwe and was kind of presented as a mascot in media. His life was however ended abruptly after the American dentist, Walter Palmer, lured him away from his protected area and shot him. Palmer had paid 54 000 dollars for the hunting license. This received a resounding reaction worldwide with lots of protests and outcries to prohibit trophy hunting. Palmer´s actions was indeed in the wrong and illegal even some would proclaim. However trophy hunting can be a vital tool for the preservation of these species.

To hunt individuals of a species for the sake of preservation sounds contradictory but given the right circumstances it really does help. Provided of course, that the hunting license is a legitimate state issued one and the landowner is responsible with the right certificates. The reasons are that in exchange for getting a carefully calculated quota of animals the landowner is allowed to take on his land, he protects it from exploitation and poachers. It is of course in the landowner’s interest that the population kept on a healthy level because without the animals he cannot offer any hunting and loses his income. Some hunting organizations also invest in local projects to help with the often dispute filled relationship between the locals and animals. Just like the landowner has to see value in the animals to keep them around, so do the locals. Living up close with these potentially very dangerous creatures tend to cause some animosity as you can lose your crops, land, livestock and even your life. The cultural value is therefore often lost to the problems these animals cause. Therefore, it is important that the local communities get something out of keeping them around and this, as said, can be done by some of the profits from hunting organizations going to different local projects.

In conclusion it is vitally important to do your research before you decide to go hunting in South Africa. Find out if you can trust the organization that you decide to do your hunting with by checking certificates and permits to see if they are legitimate. Also try to find out if any of the profit is invested in local communities or the future preservation of these amazing animals.

Valter Jacobsson