• Ecolarge-Lions-Review-of-Lindsey-Cover-USLetter-Feature-Image
  • Year Published: 2012
    Author/s: Roderick Campbell
    Commissioned by: African Lion Coalition
    Suggested citation:
    Campbell, R. 2012. Mane Assumptions: A review of Lindsey et al (2012) - The Significance of African Lions for the Financial Viability of Trophy Hunting and the Maintenance of Wild Land, a report for the African Lion Coalition, prepared by Economists at Large, Melbourne, Australia.
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A review of an article which modelled financial viability of lion hunting areas in Africa. The article and model have several flaws and we disagree with their conclusion that reductions in lion hunting will significantly reduce the financial viability of hunting areas and that this reduction could lead to loss of habitat that would not otherwise occur.



Trophy Hunting

Trophy hunting generates controversy due to the nature of the industry – wealthy foreigners from developed countries killing wild animals in low-income countries, where there is limited oversight of the industry.  Trophy hunting is offered by operators who obtain leases across large areas of land where foreign hunters are able to shoot various animals  including lions.  There are thought to be 23,000 to 39,000 wild lions in Africa, at best nearly 50% less than in 1980.  Despite this decline, at least 7,090 wild lions were killed and their parts exported from African countries for trophy purposes between 1999 and 2008 (Place et al. 2011).  Trophy hunting advocates claim that the significant sums paid by lion hunters provide incentive for their conservation, however recent studies have found that trophy hunting is directly contributing to rapid decline in lion numbers.

Lindsey et al. (2012) publication

Against this backdrop a study has recently been published on the PLoS ONE online journal, The Significance of African Lions for the Financial Viability of Trophy Hunting and the Maintenance of Wild Land, written by P. Lindsey, G. Balme, V. Booth and N. Midlane.  The paper is based on a financial model and data from hunting websites, government agencies and a survey of hunting operators.  The article’s key conclusion is that:

 If lion hunting was effectively precluded, trophy hunting could potentially become financially unviable across at least 59,538 km2 that could result in a concomitant loss of habitat.(p1)

The African Lion Coalition, a coalition of animal protection organizations with an interest in lion conservation, has asked Economists at Large to review the article by Lindsey et al.  In this review we present a thorough explanation of the Lindsey et al. model, place its results in context, and question its assumptions and conclusions.

Explanation of the model

The Lindsey et al. model estimates the financial viability of trophy hunting areas based on estimates of revenues, operating costs and start-up costs.  Net revenue (revenue less operating costs) is compared to start-up costs to estimate return on investment.  An area is considered viable if return on investment is above a certain rate.

Lindsey et al. compare the financially viable areas under three different scenarios:


  • SCENARIO 1: Current hunting practices of all species.
  • SCENARIO 2: A reduction in lion hunting, no reduction in hunting of other species.
  • SCENARIO 3: A ban on lion hunting, no reduction in hunting of other species.

Several calculations are unclear from the article, particularly fixed operating costs, and requests for clarification from the corresponding author were not answered.

Model results

The table below shows the Lindsey et al. results in change in financially viable land area, and this change as a percentage of total area and change from the current scenario.

Table 1: Summary of model results

  Total hunting area in analysis (Km2) Scenario 1, financially viable area under current hunting practices, (Km2) Scenario 2, financially viable area under reduced lion hunting Scenario 3, financially viable area under lion hunting ban





% of total




Change from current scenario




We see that the different scenarios result in reductions in financially viable hunting areas of 2% (reduced lion hunting) and 16% (no lion hunting).  It is interesting to note that the Lindsey et al. model indicates that 44% of hunting areas in the analysis are currently unviable. Indeed, most hunting areas in 3 of 5 countries considered in the analysis, are already financially unviable:

Table 2: Current financially unviable hunting areas


Percentage of hunting areas currently financially unviable under Lindsey et al. model











Criticisms of the Lindsey et al. article

 Presentation of results

Lindsey et al.’s results suggest that existing hunting areas are already largely financially unviable and that comparatively small changes in financial viability occur under different hunting scenarios. That is, 44% of hunting areas considered are financially unviable without any changes in lion hunting, and only an additional 2% would be unviable if lion hunting were reduced.   In the article, particularly the abstract, these changes are presented in total area rather than percentage terms, leading readers to believe the changes would be large, rather than the actual 16% total area changed under the most extreme scenario.

Emphasis on a lion hunting ban

The article highlights the differences in financially viable trophy hunting areas under the lion hunting ban scenario and the current scenario, and then links animal protection campaigns with a lion hunting ban.  However, there are no campaigns advocating for an Africa-wide lion hunting ban and no practical way of introducing or enforcing one.  While a theoretical ban on lion hunting may be interesting to consider, should the existing campaigns to reduce pressure on lion populations from trophy hunting and trade be successful, the likely outcome will be closer to scenario 2, reduced lion hunting and its minor 2% change in financial viability.

Omissions and underestimates

Lindsey et al. make no consideration of trophy hunting businesses’ marketing costs.  Other authors point out that marketing costs for trophy hunting businesses are considerable and important.  Lindsey et al. used data from surveys at trophy hunting conventions, but failed to include the costs of attending such conventions in their model.

The authors overestimate businesses’ ability to access credit and underestimate interest rates.  The model assumes that trophy hunting start-up businesses with considerable risks—operations in Africa, high security risks, exposure of high-end hunting market to economic fluctuations—can easily access credit at close to prime rates of interest.

These flaws serve to overstate the number of businesses that are viable to begin with, thus ensuring that numbers that become unviable with any change are also overstated.

Lack of substitution

The model assumes that reduced lion hunting revenues are lost from the trophy hunting industry all together.  This assumes that hunters who would hunt lions do not substitute their lion hunt with hunting another species, but desist from hunting entirely.  This seems unlikely as lion hunters routinely hunt other animals whilst hunting lions.  If hunters decide to hunt another species instead of giving up hunting altogether, changes to the financial viability of trophy hunting areas with reduced or no lion hunting are likely to be minimal.

No consideration of opportunity cost

From an economic perspective, land use change is driven less by fluctuations in the financial viability of one particular land use, but in the relative returns offered by all competing land uses.  Assessing the opportunity cost of hunting tourism and how it compares to land uses such as photographic tourism, or agriculture and livestock raising is more important in understanding land use change.  While other authors have discussed trophy hunting’s inferior rates of return, Lindsey et al. do not analyze these opportunity costs..  Moreover, since most hunting areas in most countries studied by Lindsey et al. are not financially viable, clearly financial viability is not a requirement of hunting businesses. There must be other non-financial benefits, such as lifestyle, to owning those businesses.

Unsubstantiated Wider Conclusions

Lindsey et al.’s results relate to changes in trophy hunting area viability under modeled scenarios.  However, many prominently stated conclusions of the paper do not relate to these topics:

 “Restrictions on lion hunting may also reduce tolerance for the species among communities where local people benefit from trophy hunting, and may reduce funds available for anti-poaching.” (p1)

“Blanket trade restrictions would unfairly punish countries where lion hunting is well managed and could be negative for lions by undermining the competitiveness of wildlife-based land uses….” (p9)

This paper does not relate to changes in human-animal conflict, ability of communities to benefit from trophy hunting, trophy hunting’s ability to produce conservation improvement, etc.  These are complex topics with considerable literature.  Lindsey et al.’s results do not add to our understanding of these topics.

In conclusion, Economists at Large disagree with the conclusions of Lindsey et al., that reductions in lion hunting will significantly reduce the financial viability of hunting areas and that this reduction could lead to loss of habitat that would not otherwise occur.  Lindsey et al.’s model needs to more accurately reflect the existing conditions of the industry and incorporate the wider factors influencing land use before it can be of use to conservation discussions.