Legislative changes during the 1960s–1970s granted user rights over wildlife to landowners in southern Africa, resulting in a shift from livestock farming to wildlife-based land uses. Few comprehensive assessments of such land uses on private land in southern Africa have been conducted and the associated benefits are not always acknowledged by politicians. Nonetheless, wildlife-based land uses are growing in prevalence on private land. In Namibia wildlife-based land use occurs over c. 287,000 km2. Employment is positively related to income from ecotourism and negatively related to income from livestock. While 87% of meat from livestock is exported ≥ 95% of venison from wildlife-based land uses remains within the country, contributing to food security. Wildlife populations are increasing with expansion of wildlife-based land uses, and private farms contain 21–33 times more wildlife than in protected areas. Because of the popularity of wildlife-based land uses among younger farmers, increasing tourist arrivals and projected impacts of climate change on livestock production, the economic output of wildlife-based land uses will probably soon exceed that of livestock. However, existing policies favour livestock production and are prejudiced against wildlife-based land uses by prohibiting reintroductions of buffalo Syncerus caffer, a key species for tourism and safari hunting, and through subsidies that artificially inflate the profitability of livestock production. Returns from wildlife-based land uses are also limited by the failure to reintroduce other charismatic species, failure to develop fully-integrated conservancies and to integrate black farmers sufficiently.