Wild Africa

Empowering entrepreneurs and investors to build an Africa that is verdant, prosperous, and free.


Conserving wild Africa requires empowering entrepreneurs and investors to safeguard the continent’s natural wealth. Economic and population growth, a pivot towards free trade, a desire to decrease donor dependency, and rising urbanization are changing the context of African conservation from one based in recreation and aesthetics to one grounded in fueling economic growth and prosperity. This dynamic social and economic environment positions conservation as a potential growth sector where the leadership of entrepreneurs and investors in securing healthy wildlands, wildlife populations, water, and fisheries can be expanded.


Increasing the role of private enterprise in forging an Africa that is verdant, prosperous and free requires building on a status quo that embraces market-based approaches to conservation. It is essential to avoid creating policy obstacles to entrepreneurship and investment while at the same time encouraging policies and programs that remove barriers to free trade and the free flow of capital, encourage free enterprise, and secure property rights.

We need to challenge the idea that Africa’s extraordinary biodiversity and wildlife is a diminishing resource that needs to be protected and reframe conservation as a growth sector.” – Fred Swaniker, Chairman and Founder, African Leadership Academy.

Privately owned and administered conservation areas in Sub-Saharan Africa currently cover 344 million acres, an area 22 percent larger than the region’s national park systems. Privately managed hunting areas alone cover an area four times the size of the U.S. national park system. More than 24 million acres of national parks in Sub-Saharan Africa, the equivalent of 68 percent of the national park area in the continental United States, are managed through public-private partnerships. Wildlife and related agencies in Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are established as parastatal enterprises reliant on commerce, international trade, and investment to cover operating costs.

Extent of Tanzania conserved through trophy hunting


In the fisheries sector, which makes up the largest share of Africa’s $24 billion blue economy, South Africa and Namibia have experimented with individual transferable quotas, an approach pioneered by PERC, to manage commercial fish stocks. To adapt to climate change, water funds powered by corporate investment are creating green infrastructure to secure the water resources supplying centers of commerce like Cape Town and Nairobi. 

In this environment, it is not surprising that recent research from the University of Cambridge found that African conservationists are significantly more likely than their global counterparts to view capitalism as a means to deliver conservation—especially considering that South Africa’s white rhino population has increased 1000 percent, and in Zimbabwe and Namibia elephant populations have doubled in size, as a direct result of the value of hunting trophies in international markets.

The African status quo is most threatened by existing and proposed trade restrictions, generally originating outside of Africa. An inability to access the United States and other international markets under existing restrictions has already opened millions of acres of national parks and abandoned hunting areas for large-scale energy, infrastructure, and agricultural development. As the World Bank warned in 2019, this trend of ecological degradation risks undermining the long-term sustainability of African economic growth and potential for increased prosperity. 

Promoting conservation through free trade must be coupled with increasing the security of property rights held by African people. A 2016 report funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development identified weak property rights as the most significant barrier to foreign investment in emerging markets, like those in Africa, including investment in positive conservation outcomes. Increased investment in such enterprises that are not related to wildlife trade has the potential to integrate conservation into economic development while making larger conservation systems less vulnerable to policy and other shocks.


PERC’s approach to conservation relies on voluntary exchange that results in positive environmental outcomes for both private and public resources.

PERC believes that the future of African conservation depends on integrating conservation with commercial enterprise, economic growth, and development. This means maintaining conservation-dependent entrepreneurship along with parastatal management authorities and receptivity to public-private partnerships. At the same time, we must expand the range of options that make conservation an endeavor that attracts private investment and contributes to the economic profitability of business, as in the case of water funds, or demonstrably supports a general environment favorable to commercial enterprise and economic growth.


PERC is working to increase understanding of the role that free enterprise, free trade, and property rights play in sustaining the ecosystems that African economic prosperity depends on. We are producing research and analysis capable of informing high level decision-making in markets and multilateral forums that influence the African conservation economy.

In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, we highlighted the likely unintended consequences of legislation that would ban the importation of African hunting trophies into the United States. Likewise, in testimony to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a federal advisory committee, PERC discussed the need for U.S. foreign conservation assistance programs to promote the use of market-based approaches to conservation in Africa. PERC research on the impacts of a U.S. ban on the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe was presented as part of the program at the University of Oxford’s Conservation Geopolitics Forum. PERC scholars have also contributed research and insights to media outlets including The Hill and EconTalk and have been signatories to an open letter published in Science Magazine.

Our scholars are currently producing a fine-scale assessment of the contributions African photo-tourism and hunting operators make to efforts to counter poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. The results will be catalogued and compared with each other and the inputs of national governments to create a deeper understanding of the impact of commercial enterprise on wildlife conservation.

As of 2019, PERC is an official, nongovernmental, observer to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the primary treaty governing the global trade in wildlife. PERC has also attended and presented at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum, an invitation-only gathering of African wildlife ministers, agency heads, and NGO representatives.

Research on This Topic

Saving African Rhinos: A Market Success Story: A report on how a change in policy that allowed private ownership of wildlife saved the white rhino.

Fencing Fisheries in Namibia and Beyond: Lessons From the Developing World: A study on how property rights to fisheries in Namibia led to resource conservation.

The Role of Hunting in Conserving African Wildlife: Testimony before the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Waters, Oceans, and Wildlife on H.R. 2245, the CECIL Act on July 18, 2019.

Conserving African Wildlife: A statement before the U.S. Department of the Interior’s International Wildlife Conservation Council Meeting on market solutions to African wildlife conservation on March 14, 2019.

Poaching, Preserves, and African Wildlife: A podcast with EconTalk on the role of incentives in preserving wildlife in Africa.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: An article in PERC Reports magazine on the future of East Africa’s Great Migration.

The Return of the King: A case study on how an entrepreneurial solution is conserving African lions.

How (Not) to Buy Property in Nigeria: An exploration in PERC Reports magazine of how formal land rights are becoming more important in sub-Saharan Africa—but customary rights cannot be ignored.