Those involved in trophy hunting are quick to tout its purported benefits to local communities in the nations in which their killing of rare and endangered animals takes place. But a new exposé suggests the truth about who the actual beneficiaries are, and it’s not locals. It is the concession holders and operators (who are often based in other countries) who assist trophy hunters with their killing who are making the real money; evidence of their corrupting influence in home range nations continues to mount.

The latest example comes via a leaked financial audit obtained by Wild Things Initiative’s Jared Kukura, who reveals the greed of foreign operators within a trophy hunting concession for NG13, a remote but critical conservation zone near Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Related data suggests that the operator, a professional hunter who has secured hunting rights for the area for a five-year period, could bring in profits of more than $300,000 a year, or $1.6 million over five years, for his $100,000-a-year payment to a local community trust for a hunting quota that includes five elephants and two leopards.

In April 2022, a trophy hunter killed what observers believe was Botswana’s largest tusker, a male elephant thought to be more than 50 years old, whose tusks were 8 feet in length and weighed 106 pounds combined.

There are only a few hundred tuskers in all of Africa and only three dozen or so “giant tuskers.”

Audrey Delsink, wildlife director of HSI/Africa, commenting on several 2022 elephant kills, including this one, explained the terrible toll that trophy hunting takes on elephant populations: “Trophy hunters predominantly hunt the biggest, oldest elephants. Targeting these elephants is extremely detrimental to the population, not just genetically, but because they provide critically important ecological and social knowledge and aid the survival of the entire group.”

Delsink noted that a 2014 study in the Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, a transboundary protected region spanning South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, painted a grim picture of the future for bull elephants so often targeted by trophy hunters. These elephants could come close to disappearing in just a few years, causing “ripple effects that will far outreach the target zone and population, for many generations.”

The NG13 corridor is one of the main dispersal routes for elephants in their seasonal migration from the Okavango Delta and central Botswana into Namibia, Angola and Zambia, making these areas especially attractive to tourists seeking to view elephants in the wild.

That’s one of the reasons why we continue to lament the 2019 decision by Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi to lift a standing ban on trophy hunting there. That set the stage for what we are seeing in NG13 and elsewhere in Botswana.

Trophy hunters want to cast themselves as indispensable partners in community development in the areas that are home to the animals whose trophy parts they covet. The decisions they make and seek to have others make are self-serving and guided by profits rather than by prioritizing conservation and communities. More often than not, the trophy hunting industry operates without serious oversight, hardens social and economic inequalities, and is nothing more than an exploitative force bent on generating profit for itself.

The pay-to-slay hunting of charismatic and endangered wildlife for fun or home décor is an additional threat to some wild animals already facing numerous human-induced perils and whose survival depends entirely on a deeper human mercy and insight. The clock is ticking for many of the species targeted by trophy hunters worldwide, and that's why we are active in nations around the world, advocating for hunting trophy import bans for threatened and endangered animals and alternatives to lethal methodologies for wildlife conflict and population control. The U.S., the UK (currently considering relevant legislation) and the EU must act urgently to prohibit importation of hunted trophy parts from animals if these species are to have any chance at survival.

Just as importantly, we are working to make the point that the purported benefits of trophy hunting cannot compare to the burgeoning economic value of wildlife tourism to both conservation and sustainable community development at a household level. The idea that conservation can be carried out through the crosshairs of a hunting rifle is absurd. Responsible wildlife tourism, and substantial commitments from governments worldwide to fund the protection of critical range habitat and aid programs, is the best way forward.

Follow Kitty Block @HSUSKittyBlock.