Trophy hunting – can it really be justified by ‘conservation benefits’?



Cecil the lion, before he was a trophy.
Shutterstock/paula french

Melanie Flynn, University of Huddersfield

Killing animals for fun is an activity which divides opinion. It can also be a highly emotive issue, with high profile cases like the death of Cecil the lion sparking global media coverage and outcry. There were even calls for the American dentist who admitted killing Cecil to be charged with illegal hunting.

But despite the strong feelings it occasionally provokes, many people may be unaware just how common trophy hunting is. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reports that between 2004 and 2014, a total of 107 countries participated in the trophy hunting business. In that time, it is thought over 200,000 hunting trophies from threatened species were traded (plus a further 1.7m from non-threatened animals).

Trophy hunters themselves pay vast sums of money to do what they do (IFAW claims upwards of $US100,000 for a 21-day big game hunting trip). But reliable data on the economic benefits this brings to the countries visited remains limited and contested.

Now the UK government has announced it is considering banning the trade of hunting trophies from endangered species – making it a crime to bring them back into the country.

Advocates of trophy hunting – including major conservation organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wide Fund for Nature – argue that hunting wild animals can have major ecological benefits. Along with some governments, they claim that “well-managed” trophy hunting is an effective conservation tool, which can also help local communities.

This argument depends in part on the generation of significant income from the trophy hunters, which, it is claimed, can then be reinvested into conservation activities.

The broad idea is that a few (often endangered) animals are sacrificed for the greater good of species survival and biodiversity. Local human communities also benefit financially from protecting animal populations (rather than seeing them as a threat) and may reap the rewards of employment by hunting operations, providing lodgings or selling goods.

Indeed, research on trophy hunting does show that it can produce substantial financial benefits, is likely to be supported by local communities, and can be associated with conservation gains.

But it remains unclear in exactly what circumstances trophy hunting produces a valuable conservation benefit. We cannot assume a scheme that works in one country, targeting one species, under a specific set of circumstances, is applicable to all other species and locations.

Also, the purported benefits of trophy hunting rely on sustainable management, investment of profits, and local community involvement. But given the levels of perceived corruption and lack of effective governance in some of the countries where trophy hunting is carried out, one wonders how likely it is these conditions can be met.

And if trophy hunting is really so lucrative, there is every chance the profits will instead be used to line the pockets of rich (possibly foreign) operators and officials.

Death and suffering

This brings us to the question of ethics. Just because an intervention has the potential to produce a social benefit, does not mean the approach is ethical. And if it is not ethical, should it be considered a crime?

This is something of regular concern for social policy. If the evil that a programme introduces is greater than the evil it purports to reduce, then it is unethical to implement it.

I would argue that even if convincing evidence does exist that trophy hunting can produce conservation benefits, it is unethical to cause the death and suffering of individual animals to save a species.

In common with many green criminologists, I take a critical approach to the study of environmental and animal-related crime. This means that I am interested in behaviour that can be thought of as harmful, and may be worthy of the label “crime”, even if it has not been formally criminalised.

When considering global harms and those that impact heavily on the most powerless in society, this approach is particularly important.

Conservation is concerned with biodiversity and animal populations. Contrast this with an animal rights or species justice perspective, where instead of focusing on rights that benefit humans over all other species, the interests and intrinsic rights of individual and groups of animals are considered.

From this viewpoint, trophy hunting undoubtedly causes harm. It brings pain, fear, suffering and death. Add to this the grief, mourning and fracturing of familial or social groups that is experienced by animals such as elephants, whales, primates and giraffes. In light of these harms, trophy hunting is surely worthy of the label “crime”.

Allowing trophy hunting also perpetuates the notion that animals are lesser than humans. It turns wildlife into a commodity, rather than living, feeling, autonomous beings – beings that I have argued should be viewed as victims of crime.

Anthropocentric views also facilitate and normalise the exploitation, death and mistreatment of animals. The harmful effects can be seen in intensive farming, marine parks and “canned hunting”, where (usually lions) are bred in captivity (and sometimes drugged) as part of trophy hunting operations. Where money can be made from animals, exploitation, and wildlife crime, seem likely to follow.

Instead, local communities must be involved in decisions about conservation and land management, but not at the expense of endangered species, or of individual animals hunted for sport. Alternative conservation approaches like photo tourism, and schemes to reduce human-animal conflict must be embraced.

Getting a good shot.
Shutterstock/Villiers Steyn

Banning trophy hunting would provide a much needed incentive to develop creative conservation approaches to wildlife protection and human-animal co-existence. And there is still substantial conservation income to be earned without resorting to trophy hunting.

So governments around the world should introduce bans on trophy imports – alongside providing support for alternative, ethical developments that benefit both wild animals and local communities. Anything less is complicit support of a crime against some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife.The Conversation

Melanie Flynn, Senior lecturer in Criminology, University of Huddersfield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Big game: banning trophy hunting could do more harm than good


Corey Bradshaw and Enrico Di Minin, University of Helsinki

Furious debate around the role of trophy hunting in conservation raged in 2015, after the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, and a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia. Together, these two incidents triggered vocal appeals to ban trophy hunting throughout Africa.

While to most people (including us) this might seem like an abhorrent way to generate money, we argue in a new paper that trophy hunting, if done sustainably, can be an important tool in the conservationist’s toolbox.

Widespread condemnation

In July 2015 American dentist Walter James Palmer shot and killed a male lion called Cecil with a hunting bow and arrow, sparking a storm of outrage. Cecil was a favourite of tourists visiting Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

Allegations that aspects of the hunt were done illegally added considerable fuel to the flames, although Palmer was not charged by the Zimbabwean government.

Likewise in May 2015, a Texan legally shot a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia, which also generated considerable online ire. The backlash ensued even though the male rhino was considered “surplus” to Namibia’s black rhino populations, and the US$350,000 generated from the managed hunt was to be re-invested in conservation. The US government has endorsed hunting of black rhinos by allowing a limited import of rhino trophies.

These highly politicised events are but a small component of a large industry in Africa worth more than US$215 million per year, “selling” iconic animals to (mainly foreign) hunters as a means of generating otherwise scarce funds.

It’s mostly about the money

Conserving biodiversity can be expensive. Generating money has become a central preoccupation of many environmental charities, conservation-minded individuals, government agencies and scientists. Making money for conservation in Africa is even more challenging, so we argue that trophy hunting should and could fill some of that gap.

The question of whether trophy hunting is ethically justifiable is a separate issue. While animal suffering can be minimised with good practice, the moral case for or against trophy hunting is a choice we must make as a society.

Beyond the ethical or moral issues, there are still many concerns about trophy hunting that currently limit its use as a conservation tool. One of the biggest problems is that the revenue it generates often goes to the private sector rather than distributing benefits to conservation and local communities.

It can also be difficult (but not impossible) to determine just how many animals can be sustainably killed. Some forms of trophy hunting have debatable value for conservation. For instance, “canned lion hunting”, where lions are bred and raised in captivity only to be shot in specially made enclosures, provides no incentive for conserving lions in the wild.

At the same time, opposing sustainable trophy hunting could end up being worse for species conservation. While revenue from wildlife sightseeing is good, in most cases effective conservation requires much more. Without more funding creating incentives to conserve wildlife, many natural habitats will be converted to farmland, which is generally much worse for native wildlife and the entire ecosystem.

Trophy hunting can also have a smaller carbon and infrastructure footprint than ecotourism because it requires fewer paying customers for the same amount of revenue. Trophy hunting can even generate higher revenue than the most successful ecotourism enterprises.

Hunting can lead to larger wildlife populations because they are specifically managed to keep numbers higher. Larger animal populations are more resilient to extinction, and hunters have an interest in their protection. This contrasts with ecotourism where the presence of only a few individual animals is sufficient to ensure that the expectations of many paying tourists are met.

Making trophy hunting work

To address some of the concerns about trophy hunting and to enhance its contribution to biodiversity conservation and the benefit to local people, we propose twelve minimum standards:

  • Mandatory levies should be imposed on trophy hunting operators by governments. These can be invested directly into trust funds for conservation and management.

  • Trophies from areas that help conservation and respect animal welfare should be certified and labelled.

  • Populations must be analysed to ensure that killing wildlife does not cause their numbers to fall.

  • Post-hunt sales of any part of the animals should be banned to minimise illegal wildlife trade.

  • Priority should be given to trophy hunting enterprises run (or leased) by local communities.

  • Trusts should be created to share benefits with local communities and promote long-term economic sustainability.

  • Mandatory scientific sampling of animals killed, including tissue for genetic analyses and teeth for age analysis, should be enforced.

  • Mandatory five-year (or more frequent) reviews of all animals hunted and detailed conservation plans should be submitted to government legislators before permits are extended.

  • There should be full public disclosure of all data collected.

  • Independent government observers should be placed randomly and without forewarning on trophy hunts as they happen.

  • Trophies must be confiscated and permits revoked when illegal practices are discovered.

  • Backup professional shooters and trackers should be present for all hunts to minimise welfare concerns.

Can developing nations implement these strategies?

Yes, they can, but only if the funding model is transparent and includes direct support from national governments, as well as mechanisms for oversight and regulation as we have outlined. Some form of regional and international cooperation might also be necessary to minimise the chance of corruption.

Without greater oversight, better governance, and management based on scientific evidence, we fear that the furore over trophy hunting will continue – to the detriment of biodiversity, hunters and local communities. Adopting our ideas could help avoid this.

The Conversation

Corey Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and Enrico Di Minin, Researcher in Conservation Science, University of Helsinki

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.