Private Property Rights to Wildlife: The Southern African Experiment

Kay Muir-Leresche and Robert H. Nelson†

Abstract: In most nations around the world wildlife are owned and managed by the State. However, in the past 30 years Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa have altered their legal regimes to give full control over the use of wildlife to the private owners of the land on which the wildlife are located. Following the privatization of wildlife management in southern African nations, wildlife tourism on private lands has boomed. In Zimbabwe, a majority of many desirable species – including 94 percent of eland, 64 percent of kudu, 63 percent of giraffe, 56 percent of cheetah, and 53 percent of both sable and impala — are found on commercial ranch properties. In Namibia, wildlife populations on private lands have risen by 80 percent since the creation in 1967 of a regime of private wildlife ownership.

Privatization of control over use of wildlife has had more success in promoting biodiversity in the southern African region than any other
policy measure. Other parts of the world may be able to benefit from the lessons learned from the successes of southern African nations in privatization and commercialization of wildlife. Based on the southern African experience, many wildlife managers should reconsider whether positive incentives might not be more effective in the future in promoting wildlife populations than the past club of state commands and controls.

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