In a March 19 commentary ("Why trophy hunting is needed in Africa"), Alexander N. Songorwa, director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, argued that the United States should not put the African lion on its endangered species list.

Songorwa argues that American lion hunters generate 60 percent of Tanzania's millions of dollars in revenues from trophy hunting, and that lion hunting is well-regulated in Tanzania.

I am skeptical — especially in light of the fact that Tanzania is more corrupt than the median of 176 countries surveyed by Transparency International for its 2012 Corruption Perception Index, which says Tanzania's levels of corruption are comparable to those of Argentina and Gabon.

Not only is Tanzania a relatively corrupt country, but researchers also note extensive corruption in the hunting sector. It is for that reason that Tanzania's minister for natural resources and tourism issued a stern warning to the Tanzania Safari Outfitters Association at a meeting in Dar es Salaam last fall, noting that corruption usually began with wealthy hunters bribing officials so that they would turn a blind eye to illegal behavior.

Instead of lobbying against placing the African lion on the endangered species list, Tanzania should seek to reform its institutions. Not only would this help protect the country's big-game reserves, it is also a crucial step toward the sustainable development of the Tanzanian economy. A persistent finding in development economics is that dysfunctional institutions, of which corruption is a symptom, are an important cause of underdevelopment.

In his 1936 short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," Ernest Hemingway tells the story of a wealthy American who is shot and killed by his wife during a lion-hunting trip to Africa. Hemingway leaves it up to the reader to determine whether the shooting was intentional, but the story concludes with the couple's hunting guide telling the wife that he would turn a blind eye to the apparent murder.

Failing to put the African lion on the endangered species list would enable both those who turn a blind eye and those who get away with murder.


Marc F. Bellemare is an assistant professor of public policy and economics at Duke University. He will be joining the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota this summer.