Conservation: The ‘Trophy’ Question

August 3, 2016

Picture: Remove commerical hunting, and wildlife will begin to matter just a little bit less. What will be left?


Please note this article was originally written in August 2016 - updates have been added to bring it up to date.


As I sit down to write this article on the implications of the IUCN report on trophy hunting, PETA (that wonderful organisation…cough) has just released their latest media campaign video. Long story short, they thought it was a wise campaign to waste their time, resources, and money to create a brand of condoms called Huntsman’. Then, with a strategic marketing campaign, and a presence at various hunting conventions at the start of this year, they were distributed to hunters with their comments and reactions captured on film. This included a number of high profiles public figures across social media. The premise behind it, and butt of the joke, was that hunting tends to be passed on from one generation to the next, and this was a way to stop that. Quite possibly the most stupid waste of resources I have seen by any anti-hunting body. Imagine what could have been done if they had dedicated that time and resources to something meaningful; like funding anti-poaching units in Africa, or educational programs on the consequences of the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade. Maybe for once an anti-hunting ‘animal rights’ organisation could focus on one of the smaller, seemingly insignificant species that don’t make headlines, but equally suffering the consequences of declining populations. Species that are not hunted as game species, but are rapidly disappearing due to habitat destruction and illegal bushmeat trades. Where is their outcry about the black footed ferret or the Saola antelope - otherwise known as the Asia unicorn. Of course they won’t do that because it doesn’t make headlines and the enemy they portray is harder to define than the broad sweeping target of trophy hunting. They are lazy and selective in what they supposedly care about.  


If anything I think PETA’s campaign only made them look more out of touch with reality than they already do, but that is a side point to the main focus of this article. By the time this is published, the IUCN paper on Trophy Hunting will have been about for more than a month, and represents a vitally important acknowledgement to the benefits of hunting as a management practice. The weight this carries becomes even more significant when one realises that at the next CITES meeting, held in Oct of this year (2016), there will be motion to move the African lion from Appendix 2 to Appendix 1 in the listings. In short, this will not prevent lions from being hunted, but will place considerable burdens on the export and import of trophies. The knock of effect of this is dealt with in IUCN report. (The African Lion remained as Appendix 2 listing)


"I take considerable objection to these groups, organisations and individuals calling themselves conservationists"


The paper was put together specifically to address the decision makers of the European Union on the discussion for restricting the imports of hunting trophies. Of course this comes primarily in the wake of Cecil the lion. The backlash and knee jerk fall-out from that event has been the single most damaging aspect for big game in Africa aside from the ongoing poaching crisis. The number of clients willing to travel and hunt big game reduced dramatically in the immediate period following the Cecil outcry. This had a direct knock on effect to the management of remote areas and the game within them. The very same game these so called ‘conservationists’ wish to save. The biggest problem is that they don’t really know what they are saving the animals from. They assume that because they have a moral objection to an individual shooting a lion or elephant, that the real world management and economics to sustain these populations must follow their own uninformed, mis-guided notion that hunting is the root-cause of wildlife declines. While we are on the subject, I take considerable objection to these groups, organisations and individuals calling themselves conservationists. This is a term that they have adopted from hunters as their own. Make no mistake, hunters were the very first conservationists and we defined the term: 



“a person who advocates or strongly promotes preservation and careful management of natural resources and of the environment” (Collins English Dictionary) 

Take note the specific mention of management and environment. The groups proclaiming themselves to be conservationist while in the same breath criticising hunting are not conservationists at all. Apart from being ill informed, they can at best call themselves environmentalists: 

“a person who is concerned with the maintenance of ecological balance and the conservation of the environment” (Collins English Dictionary) 

I think it’s clear to see which definition enforces positive action and which does not. While the hunter participates in nature, as an entwined part of the environment on a daily basis, the loudest of our critics do little more than spectate from the side-lines. That is the difference between the two. I will talk on this again in the future, but for now I will leave it there. 

Now more than ever, being a hunter in the true sense of the word encompasses the need to be an ambassador, not just for a way of life, but for the good of the wildlife which have no say in our actions. We should all take it upon ourselves to impart the facts in a collected and calm manner. The IUCN report is an excellent basis and one stop shop for considered argument. It is not particularly long, and I implore you to take the time not only to read it, but share the information and commit the important aspects to memory. The report calls on five recommendations for consideration to any decision which may restrict the import of trophies. Andy decision should be based on: 

i.     careful and sound analysis and understanding of the particular 
role that trophy hunting programmes are playing in relation 
to conservation efforts at all levels in source countries, 
 including their contribution to livelihoods in specific affected 

ii.     on meaningful and equitable consultation with affected range 
state governments and indigenous peoples and local 
communities and do not undermine local approaches to 

iii.     taken only after exploration of other options to engage    with 
relevant countries to change poor practice and promote 
improved standards of governance and management of 

iv.    taken only after identification and implementation of feasible, 
fully funded and sustainable alternatives to hunting that 
respect indigenous and local community rights and 
livelihoods and deliver equal or greater incentives for 
conservation over the long term. 


Obviously, as with any balanced approach, there has to be room to move either way. We need to make sure that our actions are indeed for the greater interest both of the people and the wildlife. As hunters we need to accept that our primary concern is for the longevity of a species, whether that may involve hunting or not. It just so happens that in most cases hunting, and specifically the economic and social-economic benefits of trophy hunting, makes it the best management practice we have. Remove the stigma of the phrase trophy hunting, and accept that most hunting globally is on non-trophy class animals, then we can take the argument purely and entirely down the route of harvesting surplus game as the most sustainable, ethical and natural food source on the planet. 


It is noted in the report that regulated trophy hunting programmes “play an important role in delivering benefits to both wildlife conservation and for the well being and livelihoods of the indigenous  communities”. This is based on the findings catalogued through statistical research, not a throw away comment. Fact. 

The report also identifies “habitat loss and degradation” as the “primary drivers of declines in populations of terrestrial populations”. It is important to point out here that the management of land for purposes of hunting positively promotes an enhanced habitat. The evidence on this is easily gathered 

A number of common rebuttals to the trophy hunting argument are also quashed. Specifically, the report states that the notion that photo tourism could replace the benefits of hunting are simply false. Further that. it is impossible to argue against the direct positive correlation between hunting and population dynamics. The evidence speaks for itself. 

White Rhino South Africa: Pre 1968 there were less than 2000 individuals. This was also the start date of limited trophy hunting. The population in the year 2000, and before the escalation of poaching, was estimated at around 190,000 individuals. In 1895 the species was all but extinct. It climbed slowly in the preceding years to 1965, but the rapid increase in population after hunting was re-introduced is obvious to see. The animals had an intrinsic value placed on them. They became an important economic asset, and with the correct management, surplus animals (primarily old) could be harvested for the greater good of the species. Cold hard facts. Hunters brought the white rhino back from extinction not environmentalists. A similar story can be shown for Black Rhino. Lions - Bubye Conservancy Zimbabwe: Previously used only for agriculture, this is now a private hunting concession using limited trophy hunting to fund conservation and wildlife management. The result of this is clear. In 1999 there were only 13 lions on the concession. In 2012 there were more than 500 lions in the same conservancy. Incidentally, from 2009, these numbers were collected by the WildCRU team from Oxford University. The elephant populations shows similar trends, increasing from less than 50 to in  excess of 700 individuals. Make no mistake, this area is managed for wildlife and hunting. 

Markhor in Tajikistan:  This is a species that most hunters, and even fewer non-hunters will have heard of. As recent as the 1990’s this animal was on the brink of genetic viability. There were only 350 left in the southern half of Tajikistan. It was a serious concern that continued poaching was going to see the species disappear. In 2004, an initiative lead by hunters put in place a plan for the conservation of the species, paying for protection and management through hunting. Today, four community based conservancies have led to the rapid recovery of Markhor, with an estimated 1300 animals counted in 2014. The halt of what could very well have been an extinction was solely as a result of the funds made available by organised trophy hunting.  

As hunters we need to be united and be at the forefront of providing information and education. It sometimes seems that we take one step forward and two back, but I do believe progress is being made, thanks largely to considerable work done behind the scenes. There is certainly a case for reasoned educational provision within our own ranks, and I urge everyone to debate these issues on a regular basis in order to facilitate an articulate argument.  

As I finish the last words on this article I read the heart warming news that 80% of MEPs have rejected a written declaration to restrict trophy imports. This is obviously excellent news. I do however end with a cautionary note. As we gladly indulge ourselves in the positive recent outcomes, we must realise that at some point in the future the same organisations we are now holding up in our defence, may disagree with other aspects we feel strongly about. For now we must continue to engage in discussion, and in the meantime gather the hard data required to protect not just our way of life, but also the management practices we know help protect wildlife globally.  




The IUCN report on Trophy Hunting can be found here: IUCN Report


For more articles on conservation see here

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