Conservation and legislation are tried and true ways to protect animal species. But there’s another method that many environmentalists often forget about: hunting.

A recent paper in Conservation Biology concludes that strictly regulated trophy hunting in Africa could help endangered species’ populations rebound. According to an article on National

"As demand for land increases with swelling human populations, some conservationists are arguing that they can garner more effective results by working with hunters and taking a hand in regulating the industry."

The argument goes that if a game animal’s value is quantifiable, then the amount of space that it occupies is justified. Right now, 23 African countries allow game hunting and bring in an estimated $200 million to the private parks each year. These parks on the African continent account for 22 percent more land than currently conserved by the national parks. In theory, the private hunting grounds could help rhinos, elephants, and leopards thrive in the interest of mounted animal heads.

But hunting parks would have to abide by certain rules before they could be certified, writes Peter Lindsey, one of the authors of the study. The criteria would be that “hunting operations would have to prove their commitment to animal welfare, careful management of hunting quotas, wide-ranging conservation objectives, and the development of local communities.”

Critics argue that hunting in the name of preservation is never a good thing and the bureaucracy of certifying game parks is unreasonable. Yet Lindsey and his team say that unregulated hunting has only gotten a bad rap in the past because people killed certain species nearly to extinction. But there is evidence that game parks helped species like the white rhino population flourish:

"The southern white rhinoceros grew from just 50 animals a century ago to over 11,000 wild individuals today, because hunts gave game ranchers a financial incentive to reintroduce the animal, the authors write."

Putting a value on wildlife and open spaces is something that conservationists struggle with, and that in and of itself makes this an interesting idea. But ensuring that game parks follow all the rules seems like a daunting task. Although a certification process was suggested in the past, the authors admit that it will probably take some convincing before conservationists, governments, and the public fully embrace the idea.

Story by Susan Cosier. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2007. This story was added to in July 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007.