Wildlife Hunting and Conservation

April 22nd was Earth Day – an important date in the yearly calendar to mark and pledge support for environmental protection. As part of that environment includes the ecosystem on which we all depend on. There isn’t a single living organism who isn’t dependent on the global ecosystem for its survival. Within the ecosystem includes the rich diverse wildlife that roam our planet.

A week later, many people were horrified to see a 2013 video of the current National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre kill an elephant after numerous attempts. As expected and rightly so, people were outraged at this act of butchery. A few years back, in 2011, a dentist Walter Palmer, sparked global outrage by killing a much beloved lion called Cecil. These incidents highlight the massive trophy killing industry. Some of the kills are done in the name of wildlife conservation.

According to a US Congressional report (International Trophy Hunting (congress.gov)), Trophy hunting is broadly defined as the killing of animals for recreation with the purpose of collecting trophies such as horns, antlers, skulls, skins, tusks, or teeth for display. The United States imports the most trophies of any country in the world.

According to a report by Humane Society International (HSI Report), between 2005 and 2014, more than 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported to the U.S., with an average of more than 126,000 trophies every year. Most originated in Canada and South Africa, but other top countries of origin included Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana. Trophies of more than 1,200 different kinds of animals were imported during the decade studied, including nearly 32,500 trophies of the Africa Big Five species: approximately 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards, 330 southern white rhinos and 17,200 African buffalo. The top ten species imported during the decade were snow geese, mallards, Canada geese, American black bears, impalas, common wildebeests, greater kudus, gemsboks, springboks and bonteboks.

The above paragraph is taken directly from the report – it does immense justice to the scale of the issue at hand.

There are immense economic incentives within the trade. According to the same report:

  1. African lion trophy hunts can cost USD$13,500-49,000.
  2. African elephant hunts can cost USD$11,000-70,000.
  3. African leopard hunts can cost USD$13,000-24,000.
  4. Southern white rhino hunts can cost USD$55,000-150,000.
  5. African buffalo hunts can cost USD$15,000-18,500.

According to a National Geographic article(The Death of Cecil) – In the summer of 2015 there was the release of Blood Lions, a documentary about canned hunting in South Africa, where a hunter pays up to $50,000 to pursue and kill a lion that had been hand-reared and is kept in a confined space, making it an easy target. There are up to 7,000 of these “ranch lions”.

The prices listed and the number of animals killed are testament to the market size of the industry. Economically speaking, it is quite a lucrative venture.

In a detailed article by the National Geographic (Trophy Hunting May be Helpful to Conservation Efforts (nationalgeographic.com)), the issue of killing for conservation is addressed. In the article it is stated that hunters and government officials often cite a hotly contested estimate by the Safari Club International Foundation, a pro-hunting group with the stated goal of promoting conservation and education, that the roughly 18,000 trophy hunters who come to southern and eastern Africa each year contribute $436 million to the region’s GDP. The Humane Society International says the amount for that region is at most $132 million, or .03 percent of GDP.

In the same US Congress report, it is stated within the summary of the report that conservation benefits associated with trophy hunting are seen as wide and varied.

  • Trophy hunting incentivizes land managers to conserve populations of hunted species, which include threatened and endangered species.
  • Local communities can benefit from trophy hunting as part of a tourism framework that could bolster economies through the development of hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related activities.
  • In certain areas where tourism is sparse, some have noted that trophy hunting can provide income to sustain communities.
  • Some economists note that countries sometimes use revenue to fund the operational costs of government wildlife management authorities, counterpoaching enforcement activities, and development assistance to local communities. In Zambia, for example, hunting revenues have been used to train and hire village scouts for antipoaching activities in game management areas and to support community development projects for clinics, shelters, and schools.

In the same reports arguments are laid out against trophy hunting. Some of these arguments are:

  • Critics of trophy hunting as a conservation tool question the effectiveness of trophy-hunting management. Corruption in many countries prevents the so called distribution of wealth to sustain communities. Many times, the money is kept by corrupt officials and by the players in the industry. As an example, Tanzania also suffers from mismanagement of both resources and funds. From failing to implement new policies designed to include communities in the trophy hunting revenue cycle to operating a public auction system that allows discretionary spending by officials, leading to corruption and patronage, Tanzania is alleged to have misgoverned trophy hunting. This mismanagement led, in part, to a decreasing lion population, according to some.
  • Some quotas for hunting animals do not use the best scientific information or are fixed and do not reflect changes in the population. In addition, some quotas do not accurately specify which individual animals may be hunted and their ages, which may have longterm negative genetic consequences on the population.
  • Fenced areas for hunting also could have negative effects on the ecosystem by preventing the migration of nonhunted species and allowing for the introduction of exotic species.

The official policy of the World Wide Fund (WWF) is that trophy hunting is a potential conservation tool that can be considered as part of an overall conservation strategy, including for threatened species. More details on its stand can be found at WWF Report

At the core of this issue is that money received by hunting saves other animals and promotes conservation. In theory, it sounds right and possibly numbers backs up the statement more or less,

A question, though, remains

Why do we need to kill animals to promote it. Why do we need to incentivize tourists to kill these animals? If we have overpopulation or the danger of animals human conflict, government agencies under strict regulation can manage the population. You dont need tourists to this. Then the question remains: Where is the money coming from? And there lies the most difficult aspect of human nature. The same hunters who relish in the thrill of killing animals will not give away the same amount of money to save these animals. Funds can easily be donated without the need to trophy hunt. You can promote conservation efforts by donating funds, putting your name on areas of national parks with the intent to conserve. Do you really need to kill these animals? Nowhere have I read that hunters are willing to give up the thrill of killing to conserve?

While the industry dynamics are complex and maybe there is no realistic alternative to trophy hunting as a means of gathering funds to protect the ecosystem. But it is down to one aspect of human nature: We just don’t want to support initiatives which can be useful and impactful. We either need recognition or an excitement. In this case, the thrill of tracking and hunting these helpless animals. At least we should admit the aspect of human nature openly and not hide behind the altruistic arguments of protection and conservation.

So on every Earth day, we should remember: We protect the earth by killing the ecosystem of our planet and then we rationalise by creating emotionally loaded arguments to promote our cause.

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