Let's unpack the myths which perpetuate a lucrative business contributing to the decline of wildlife
Though trophy hunting is not the sole cause of wildlife decline and species degradation, it does play a significant role. In many ways, trophy hunting possesses its own host of problematic issues, specifically as it contributes to the decline of endangered species as well as keystone ones. It is unclear as to whether trophy hunting was ever intended to grow into the multi-million dollar business it is now, where wildlife is traded as currency and used to denote a twisted sense of "status" among wealthy members of both American and European elite; the commonplace presence of trophy hunting in "conservation," however, has changed the way the world looks at the "sport" of killing animals - often in misguided, illegal, and/or non-sportsman like ways - for trophy or prize.
Prior to the 1850s, hunting was not a common practice or activity of leisure; it was, rather, part of a so-called profession whereby trained and skilled hunters hunted animals for food, fur, and pelts. In North America, the first exploitive practices associated with hunting were the fisheries and fur trade; European explorers and settlers in North America likely presumed that the abundant land held unlimited numbers of wildlife and resources, and thus there was no apparent need to consider nor practice conservation. At the turn of the later part of the 1800s, hunting transitioned to slowly revolve around trophy hunting, as far as the wealthy and elite were concerned. Suddenly, white men were hunting not for the purpose of trading or selling, but for trophy; something they could hang on their walls. Hunting became not a way of life for fur traders and a method of sustenance for indigenous peoples (who used every part of the animal) but, rather, transitioned to focus on trophy hunting, a contest of sorts. White, rich men started paying pretty pennies to "hunt" animals using guides, bating, and other unseemly methods which guaranteed a trophy kill, without any of the hunting skill.
Now, even more unskilled, wealthy North Americans and Europeans can pay upwards of $40,000 to kill one lion in Africa, needing nothing more than a guide, a vehicle, and perhaps a fenced-in enclosure to shoot their trophy. African elephants can cost upwards of $70,000 per kill, and leopards, upwards of $24,000.
What is Trophy Hunting?
To put it simply, trophy hunting is the killing of a wild animal for its body parts - not primarily for food or sustenance.
A recent study which examined the motivation for trophy hunting found that it serves little purpose other than to glamorize the killing of an innocent animal so the "hunter" can prove his/her dominance, virility, power, and wealth over both the animal itself, and others in their own society.
Trophy hunting may also provide hunters (a term used loosely throughout this article to refer to people who hunt, but not necessarily with skill) with a sense of purpose and community, more specifically through membership with organizations with glorify trophy hunting and the wealth/status associated with it. The USA's largest hunting organized, the Safari Club International (SCI), has more than 50,000 members and regularly advocates for the killing of wildlife for trophy. Such organizations offer hunting excursions, prizes, raffles, and more.
Many of the species killed by trophy hunters - most popularly in Africa - are typically endangered, with species like the African Lion, African Elephant, African Leopard and African Rhino displaying dangerously declining numbers (wild) while species like the African Lion exist in ridiculous numbers in captivity (such as the estimated 8,000 or so which live in captivity just in South Africa alone); lions, for example, are often bred specifically for trophy and canned hunting purposes.
Hunting quotas are often set for certain species without true knowledge or awareness of the number of those animals left in the wild, in addition to a common disregard for the age of the animal being killed for trophy. Even more concerning is the popular trend of canned hunting, in which animals are purposely bred so that they can be shot and killed in an enclosed space by a wealthy individual who does not have to do any hunting whatsoever to track and kill the animal. Most hunting organizations frown upon canned hunting and advocate instead for fair chase hunting, which stipulates a hunt in which the hunter is given no unfair advantage of the animal being hunted. This does not mean, however, that all hunting organizations work to prevent canned hunting, nor does it imply that organizations punish members who participate in canned hunting.
The myths which exist to propagate and perpetuate the general "acceptance" of trophy hunting are so successful because those pushing them are unclear as to the status and well-being of the animals being hunted. Some articles maintain, for instance, that there are more than 30,000 wild lions in Africa, when in fact the number is estimated to be less than 20,000, but it is nearly impossible to obtain an accurate count due to their range, low densities, and the difficulty in tracking large populations of lions at any one given time. So, what are the myths surrounding trophy hunting, and are they true?
Popular Myths as hunting propaganda
Trophy hunting benefits rural and indigenous communities
This is one of the most popular and commonplace arguments for hunting enthusiasts and organizations, specifically in various African countries where trophy hunting is claimed to support rural communities. In actuality, studies have found that trophy hunting contributes only 3% of revenue to local/rural communities, with much of the expenditure of one trophy hunting benefitting governments, hunting outfits, and agencies involved in arranging and allowing these hunts. In the same study across a set range of African countries, trophy hunting revenue accounted for only 1.8% of all tourism revenue. USA accounts for most of the hunters in Africa; approximately 50% of all lions killed in Africa are killed by hunters from the USA.
According to IFAW's 2013 report, "The $200 Million Dollar Question: How much does trophy hunting really contribute to African communities?" most expenditures associated with a trophy hunt in Africa are spent on items and services which are accrued outside of the area in which the hunt takes place; this includes accommodation, travel, food, and other fees. In certain African countries such as Namibia, the report showed that trophy hunting contributes less than 1% of the GDP (0.27%, to be exact). In general, trophy hunting revenues actually fail to reach rural, local, and/or indigenous communities.
Hunters only kill old or "sick" animals
Sure, if that were true.
Trophy hunting is not as popular as it is because hunters are doing wildlife populations a "favour" by killing aging or ill animals. An old or dying animal does not make a suitable trophy and, thus, is not typically the animal sought in a trophy hunt. The type of animal most often killed in a trophy hunt is one which is at its prime; this may be the largest animal in a group, the most regal-looking one, or the one with the thickest mane/largest antlers/biggest tusks, etc. The animals targeted in a hunt are often the largest and strongest ones - not the old or sick ones.
Many governments and politically-involved organizations (like SCI) are more interested in how much money the trophy hunt of one animal can bring in than they are in developing or setting sustainable limits. Hunters do not want an old lion as a trophy, and thus whatever animal brings in the most revenue will be favoured.
Hunters help pay for land, so they're entitled to hunt on it, too
Well, actually, that's not entirely true.
Both wild and protected lands, globally (not just in Africa), are not purely maintained by the hunting revenue or hunters themselves. Most natural and wild lands in the US, for example, are government owned, and no funds were needed from the public or hunters in order to purchase those lands. Just because one's taxes may help in a very small way to maintain public, private, wild, or protect lands, does not mean hunters alone pay for them.
Some hunters may support the degradation of wild and protected land if it means the opportunity to more easily or fruitfully hunt wild species - like deer - grows more abundant. For example, hunters have been known to support the clearcutting and logging of wild lands.
Furthermore, some argue that using private or government-owned land for hunting purposes can help to conserve species, because it gives the use of that land a purpose where it once perhaps had none. This isn't entirely true, either. In some instances, land owners (for example, land owners in rural communities in Africa) may have no other choice but to sell their private land to hunting interests or agencies, which isn't a solution to conservation, nor does it mean hunters are paying to conserve those lands.
Trophy hunting can help mitigate poverty in Africa
We recently read a 2015 article written by a female hunter who claims in her article that trophy hunting acts as a rich industry in an otherwise poor continent where poverty runs rampant. And she's right: there is significant poverty in Africa. But everyone knows that.
What most people don't know - including the author of that article, evidently - is that trophy hunting doesn't help to solve the poverty crisis in Africa. Less than 4% of trophy hunting revenue even reaches local communities or indigenous peoples, let alone communities of poor, starving peoples in less-rural areas of Africa. The author goes on to whine about the new difficulties certain airlines have posed for hunters, as many popular airlines now refuse to help hunters import their trophies.
But what about the lack of conservation value attached to those trophies? Killing one lion for trophy won't save the species. Boo-hooing about import changes seems childish and juvenile compared to the very really threat species' face everyday, not only by hunters, but human population increases, human-wildlife conflict, dwindling habitat, and more. Your $40,000 trophy hunt also hasn't helped put food on any local person's table, provided clothing for naked children, or helped to eliminate AIDS/HIV epidemics in Africa. Sorry.
Captive breeding helps save wild animals from trophy hunting
Aside from the fact that this is just totally untrue and is nothing more than canned hunting propaganda, let's consider something here: if this were actually true, why, then, do so many captive animals exist from captive breeding while so many wild ones are shot for trophy?
In South Africa, for example, there is estimated to be a whopping 8,000 or so lions in captivity, most of which are purposely bred for cub petting, canned hunting, and wildlife trafficking. Canned hunting is only growing in popularity, where one male lion killed in a canned hunt can cost upwards of $50,000, beginning at $20,000. Other exotic species are also raised in North America for canned hunting, where people can participate in canned hunts of species raised only for those hunts.
Despite the high cost, the people who participate in canned hunts are unskilled, lazy, and unwilling to hunt an animal properly. And, regardless of whether you agree with or support the notion behind fair chase or sustenance-based hunting, clearly canned hunting is not real hunting.
There's also the issue of tameness to consider. Most lions and other animals bred, born, and raised in captivity are used to human interaction and presence; they have, after all, been raised by humans, by hand, and are accustomed to being around or near humans. Canned hunting or the hunting of a captive-bred animal won't save a species anymore than hunting a wild one would, and that animal certainly won't dart away from the presence of a human. If anything, all captive animal hunting does is make it easier on already lazy people who happen to have $40,000 laying around.
Though we don't entirely agree with Teddy on this one, he makes a good point about the purchase of a trophy: