Game Over: Nature and Markets Fight Back

Cecil the Lion was being studied and tracked by scientists from Oxford's WildCru in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photograph WildCru/Andrew Loveridge)
Cecil the Lion was being studied and tracked by scientists from Oxford’s WildCru in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photograph WildCru/Andrew Loveridge)

The average price of a buffalo bull fell 71 percent, to 95,704 rand ($7,336), in 2016 and is now a fraction of the record 2.1 million rand set in 2013, according to Vleissentraal, an auction house. Prices of golden wildebeest, black impala and kudu bulls dropped 60 percent to 80 percent.

“There has been an onslaught on the trophy hunting industry and that has fed through to prices,” said Peet van der Merwe, a professor of wildlife and tourism at South Africa’s North West University. “The drought has also hurt farmers, many of whom had to sell stock.”

The collapse marks the end of four years of skyrocketing values for South African wildlife, which are often specially bred for bigger horns or colored coats. The practice has been criticized by environmentalists and even some hunters for what they see as unnaturally tampering with the gene pool.

The boom in prices from 2011 to 2014 was driven by growth in trophy hunting and investment from high-net-worth individuals, including luxury-goods billionaire Johann Rupert and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Some farmers also switched from cattle to game.
That all changed in 2015. The country experienced its worst drought since records began in 1904, making feed more expensive, while U.S. dentist Walter Palmer provoked worldwide outrage by illegally killing Cecil, a 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe known for his striking black mane.

After the death of Cecil, who was part of an Oxford University research project, the U.S., France, the Netherlands and Australia tightened restrictions on importing animal carcasses, while United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. banned customers from transporting hunting trophies.

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