Trophy Hunting: Can Killing Really Be a Conservation Technique? – Sustainability Story of the Week
This week I’m tackling one of the hottest topics in the wildlife conservation world: trophy hunting. The mere idea of killing animals for fun makes me shudder. And yet, the concept has found several advocates, even amongst conservationists…
You would think that environmentalists and conservationists would all agree that killing animals for fun is unacceptable, end of discussion. Anyone who cares about wildlife wouldn’t want to see animals being used as moving targets for the entertainment of high-paying ‘tourists’. So why is trophy hunting such a divisive topic? The answer is, unsurprisingly, money.
Those who support trophy hunting claim that, when well-managed, it serves an essential role for conservation and economic development. A hobby solely for wealthy people, trophy hunting brings in significant revenues with hunting permits sometimes reaching several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Private hunting reserves are therefore a lot more profitable than national parks and, in theory, have much more resources to protect wildlife against poaching. It is also argued that the revenues from trophy hunting benefit local communities and provide an incentive to protect wildlife, thereby reducing the need for poaching.
This is the position of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which sets the conservation status for species. The WWF is also favourable to a very tightly regulated trophy hunting industry if there is evidence that it supports conservation. So, although the thought horrifies me, one can’t help but wonder: is there a case for trophy hunting?
Studies have shown that in areas where trophy hunting is common practice, species like the southern white rhinos have seen an increase in numbers because the opportunity for financial gain has encouraged private game reserves to reintroduce them. The enormous economic value that trophy hunting confers to wildlife also encourages private individuals to secure large tracks of land for wildlife that could otherwise be used for agriculture or other developments. So yes, evidence suggests that there can be some conservation value to well-managed and strictly regulated trophy hunting.
In reality, things are not that simple. In Africa, the trophy hunting industry employs few people and little of the money actually trickles down to local communities, with rampant corruption remaining a significant barrier in many countries. Therefore, impoverished communities must still resort to poaching and the illegal wildlife trade to survive.
Above that, it’s the very fact that trophy hunting allows wealthy people to buy the right to kill endangered and protected animals that is revolting. Why you would even want to kill an elephant or a rhino for a trophy eludes me. Even if hunters are only allowed to kill carefully chosen individuals such as older non-breeding males, it remains that these animals are executed for no other reason than to satisfy the need of some wealthy people to feel powerful. Ultimately, that’s what this is about, trophy hunters are after the rush of tracking and defeating majestic and powerful animals at a game that’s rigged from the get-go. Animals stand little chance against rifles.
Putting a price on an animal’s life is fundamentally wrong. It sends the disturbing message that killing an animal isn’t wrong, as long as you have the money. The global community is fighting to stop people from killing protected animals for their meat, horns, or fur and yet is giving the green light to a privileged elite to kill them for fun.
Whilst in the short-term well-managed trophy hunting can provide some benefit for conservation, it shouldn’t ever be a long-term solution. There is an urgent need to recognise and respect the value of individual wild animals. Compassionate solutions exist to address conservation challenges. A greater emphasis must be placed on sustainable non-consumptive alternatives to generate income from wildlife through ecotourism. Killing is NOT the best conservation strategy. It’s not only counterintuitive, it’s unethical.
At EcoCompanion we offer a number of ways to see and enjoy some of the most amazing wildlife on the planet. Strictly without the need for rifles.