Can Land Easements Save Africa’s Wildlife? By Calvin Cottar.

Unfortunately, wild animals that are a cost to land owners in any way will always be killed, this is how land use change works. In some countries killing has become ritualized and monetized to become a land use in itself and is often done at a sustainable level, this is called sport or recreational hunting. The killing for eradication is usually of the most ‘inhumane’ methods (poisoning, trapping, snaring) while the killing for sustainable use is usually done by more ‘humane’ methods (by gun and bullet…chasing with hounds is the anomaly here though and has much to do with the horse cultures where it’s practiced). 

My observation is that if the wildlife concerned had more real value being kept alive to landowners they wouldn’t feel the need to kill them at all.

Part of the problem is that the only way that wildlife can be valued in the past and in today’s financial system is as a commodity whereby animals are individually owned and traded, and this is where the recreational hunting and wildlife parts /protein community can rightfully justify their killing. This industry secures 20 times the land for wildlife in Africa than does the much larger tourism industry, and is the primary source of funding for north America’s wilderness areas.

But given the clear trends around the world where the ‘social license’ or moral acceptance to kill wild animals for any reason is being eroded/reduced by rich urban populations, we are facing a future where we need to find alternative sources of funding to convince landowners to keep the wildlife on their land; in the absence of hunting revenues or direct monetization of individual animals for protein or hides etc. – the numbers of wildlife around the world will fall catastrophically as it is replaced with non wildlife land uses.

For the rich urban folk around the world to expect landowners – most whom are very poor – to keep wildlife when it is a direct cost to these very same usually poor people is unreasonable and selfish to say the least; it is a form of eco-imperialism at its worst because there is of course no alternative but for these poor rural landowners to remove natural biodiversity and practice other land uses. It’s a catch-22 for landowners and of course they take matters into their own hands, machetes, snares and poison.

But there is a way through this quagmire without resorting to any killing, recreational or otherwise; a way that lifts people out of poverty and places natural biodiversity (which including securing the soil, vegetation, water, birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and carbon) in its rightful place as THE PREFERED LAND USE over the alternative land uses such as maize, wheat, domestic animals and – wait for it… sustainable wildlife utilization and hunting.

This new method is not so new in fact – its been sitting under our noses for 30 years in the developed world, and it was developed for different objectives, specifically to stop farmers from producing food mountains.

This method is the payment for ecosystem services or land easements, and it has been one of the keys to the rewilding of Europe and North America. 

Easements usually involves a payment to landowners of 40% of what would theoretically be possible from the output of the best possible alternative land use, and is usually paid by state or federal tax base, although many sustainable use and wildlife conservation orgs also lease such as Ducks unlimited and TNC.

Unfortunately, even if we wanted to do easements in Africa along the same funding plan, it would not be possible because there is just not a big enough tax base on the continent to achieve the same, and politically it would be very hard to justify when there are other developmental priorities. so alternative sources of funding have to be found to pay easements. 

The easements model is key to saving Africa’s wildlife so that human populations can climb out of poverty BECAUSE OF THE EXISTANCE OF BIODIVERSITY, AND NOT BECAUSE OF ITS REMOVAL (as happened in all developed countries until urbanization and industrialization took over…) 

So NEW FINANCIAL MECHANISMS AND INCENTIVES to encourage the wealthy urban folk/ multinationals / wildlife and development NGO’S and tourism companies to fund biodiversity easement payments need to be developed and prioritized.

But how does it actually work in Africa? We are experimenting with this in the 15 Conservancies of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association ( ), and our Olderkesi conservancy in particular, and the lessons we have learnt is that a Theory of Change process must be undertaken, and requires a constant realignment of interests of the landowners and lessor; an inbuilt feedback loop must be built into the program so that social control is brought to bear rather than military top down authority, and the values paid must be competitive on a $ per ha /yr. it has to truly be the most productive land use. 

And now we come to the real issue – how to fund the massive amount of money required to secure our wildlife? Conservative estimates show that USD 600 m is required every year to secure through leasing the 150,000 sq. kms of Kenya’s existing wildlife population which is spread out far from existing protected areas…and on this land are some 5 to 7 million rural Kenyans whom are at highest risk of famine due to tragedy of the commons land use and climate change.

You would think tourism would be an obvious source but no; it is extremely concentrated and structured so that state and non landowners (tour and lodge companies) capture the profits, so we can’t rely on this source to produce such money.

And neither can we rely on the Wildlife Conservation and rights NGOs as they don’t believe in leasing land that has no ‘secure’ tenure as assessed by American or European lawyers in addition to the issue of wanting to do short term investment cycles of 5 years where they can leave an area with a sustainable project ongoing after they leave but what can be sustainable when the resource in question cannot be owned and monetized? Which is the case for wildlife in Kenya for example. 

Of course both these industries need to be restructured so the the landowners call the shots, but this will require politics and no doubt there will be fightback from the current monopolies.

Which brings me to another elegant solution to funding wildlife easement /leases. Governments should not ban utilization and hunting of wildlife or sustainable forest use; they should instead just reframe these industries so that the battle between hunting /forest extraction and non hunting /non forest use advocacy can be decided on BY WHICH CAMP PAYS THE LANDOWNERS THE MOST $ ON A PER HA/PER YR AND FOR THE LONGEST PERIOD. 

This would require government putting all wildlife on private and community land entirely into the control of landowners, and policy would require for these landowners to commit their concession or conservancy to be for natural biodiversity. Landowners would have to rescind any future claims for wildlife damage compensation, and of course there would have to be strong policing and regulations of any wildlife utilization. 

What this does is it gives the rights and responsibility to land owners, good for land owners, for government and for wildlife. No more can a country be named and shamed for allowing wildlife utilization while it is contributing to lifting people out of poverty.

On a wider perspective, this idea of localizing the hunting /non hunting battle begs the question: is the abstract value of recreational hunting (which is available here and now) the true value of wildlife in Africa where there is no tourism especially when it can earn multiples of that possible from maize or domestic livestock? It has been proven that in some dryland parts of Africa wildlife utilization can be 12 times more productive/profitable than the next best non wildlife land use such as domestic livestock.

Obviously when hunting is banned and not available then the value to be paid by the non-hunting entities to secure land (when they finally wake up and do it.) is 12 times less than it otherwise would be, which would be a raw deal for landowners as more land would be converted. 

In this instance the banning of hunting would be no conservation win but a human tragedy as the poor struggle to deal with climate change, decreasing land availability and human population increase.