Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Trophy hunting: myths and facts

Posted: 22 October 2019. Updated: 23 October 2019


The killing of Cecil the lion by dentist Walter Palmer in 2015 brutally laid bare the reality of trophy hunting. Well known Cecil, wearing a radio collar as part of a scientific study, was lured from an area where hunting was prohibited in Zimbabwe and suffered a slow and agonizing death after being shot with a bow and arrow. Despite the global public outrage, lions like Cecil, and other threatened wildlife, continue to be targeted by the hunters.

Their killing for conservation claims are blown apart by the staggering and ongoing decline of wildlife species. By contrast, sustainable, nature-based tourism provides local communities with lasting economic benefit and incentivizes wildlife conservation.

What trophy hunting has shown, however, is that this cruel pastime provides both an avenue and cover for illegal trade. The lion bone trade, for example, is on the rise, with skeletons obtained via canned hunting operations stirring market demand, with related spikes in poaching of both wild and captive lions.

Here, we dispel some of the most common myths associated with trophy hunting.

Myth: Trophy hunting helps reduce poaching.
Fact: Trophy hunting provides cover for and thus encourages poaching. For example, domestic ivory markets create an opportunity for the laundering of illegal ivory under the guise of legality; it muddies oversight and complicates already difficult enforcement.

Myth: Hunting helps conserve wild populations.
Fact: Stripping wild populations of their genetic diversity, trophy hunting does not help wildlife conservation. Hunters want the biggest and most spectacular animals to hang on their walls, with no consideration of the impact the animal’s removal will have on the population, both socially and genetically in terms of passing on longevity, strength, overall health and disease resistance.

Trophy hunters targeting, for example, older elephants with prized large tusks can cause long-term social disturbances, impacting herds for decades. When a dominant African lion is killed, other males will enter his home range, killing the cubs to speed up the female’s reproduction and possibly evicting other adult males and sub-adults, destabilizing the group.

Extinct in 12 countries, African lions now occupy only 8% of their original range. Within 30 years, they could be extinct in the wild as numbers plummet, yet they continue to be targeted by those with a lust for killing.

Elephants have roamed the earth for millions of years, and only began their precipitous decline in their interactions with man. Forty years ago, there were one million elephants. The 2016 Great Elephant Census, the most comprehensive population study to date, revealed savannah elephant populations number around 350,000 individuals, having crashed 30 percent in just seven years (between 2007-2014), while fewer than 100,000 forest elephants remain. As keystone species, both play their own particular roles to serve their respective ecosystems.

Trophy hunting reduces respect for wildlife and encourages the view that animals are a disposable commodity of no intrinsic value alive but of substantial value dead.

Myth: Income from trophy hunting benefits local communities.
Fact: Communities in areas where trophy hunting takes place receive very little benefit from the companies who facilitate this cruel trade, only 3% of income reaching local people. Trophy hunters are a wealthy minority and the money they spend goes to a very select few.

Wild animals such as elephants and lions are worth more alive, tourism offering local communities self-sustaining, self-directed economies, not those dominated and benefitting primarily foreign interests like trophy hunting. Families and other tourists spend more money and disperse it more widely.

Negative impacts of trophy hunting in sub-Saharan Africa were identified in a 2016 US House report, with “many troubling examples of funds either being diverted from their purpose or not being dedicated to conservation in the first place,” and “no merit to claims that hunting deters poaching.”

Myth: Trophy hunting brings money into the country.
Fact: Trophy hunting contributes at best just a fraction of a percent to a country’s GDP and only 1.8% of tourism revenues. This is in stark contrast to the significant role nature-based tourism has in national development. Wildlife tourism benefits far more people and boosts national economies.

There are other negative effects of trophy hunting; the very people who are attracted to see wildlife in vast numbers will increasingly be deterred from visiting countries with a reputation for encouraging hunting, making it increasingly incompatible and unsustainable in the long term for countries to attract both. That may have little impact on the niche hunting operators but will have devastating impacts on the wider community and much larger tourist sector.

Myth: Trophy hunters aim to kill the animal with one bullet - a quick death, with little suffering.
Fact: Hunters frequently fail to kill wild animals with a single shot. It is a ludicrous presumption that these are all crack shots – simple logic dictates that the majority are not. Some methods of hunting, such as bow hunting, even deliberately increase the likelihood of a slow, painful death - as in the case of Cecil - or an animal simply being maimed.

In September 2016, Sky News in the UK broadcast footage of an American trophy hunter killing an elephant in Namibia under the headline ‘We do it because we love them’. The wounded elephant struggled on for four hours and finally succumbed after a total of nine shots. His death was slow and painful; he would have been extremely distressed. After being wounded with a bow and arrow, Cecil the lion, suffered for 40 hours before he was killed – an incident that would never have come to light had Cecil not been a well-known lion who was radio collared.

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