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Hunting Is a Setback to Wildlife Conservation

-Teresa M. Telecky, PhD is the director of the wildlife department for Humane Society International.

Nearly 40 years ago, Kenya banned trophy hunting. Within the past two years, other African countries have realized the wisdom of Kenya’s approach and instituted similar bans. Botswana and Zambia, once major destinations for pursuers of Africa’s “Big Five” – African elephant, African lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros – have also prohibited this biologically reckless activity because of the harm it causes to wildlife populations. Even the United States, home to the world’s largest number of trophy hunters, has taken steps to join the trend. In April, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) banned the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania over concerns that the hunts were driving down elephant populations already severely impacted by poachers.

It’s about time. If the Dallas Safari Club auction for the opportunity to kill a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia proved anything, it is that trophy-seekers will pay an exorbitant amount of money for bragging rights and a head to hang on the wall, instead of using that wealth to preserve and protect wildlife.

The winner of the auction agreed to pay $350,000 for the right to kill the black rhino – a creature highly desired by those who seek to add the rarest animals to their trophy collections. Contemplate for a moment what money like that could buy in poor countries that are often riddled with corruption. According to Transparency International, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania are three of the most corrupt countries in the world, and money from trophy-hunters fuels this corruption. Corrupt officials allow animals to be killed in dangerously high numbers – to the point of harming the conservation of the species. Corruption that led to poor wildlife management is exactly the reason that Kenya banned hunting so long ago and why others are following Kenya’s lead today.

The Namibian government decided to allow the slaughter of a black rhino as a fundraising mechanism, but those funds will not necessarily go back to black rhino conservation as some claim. Instead, they will go into a general pot of money allocated to all manner of projects including those that have nothing to do with rhinos, or which could even be harmful to rhinos, such as “rural development.”

Cashing in on the desires of some to shoot rare species and display their remains back home in lavish “trophy rooms” – macabre mausoleums filled with dead animals – is what is driving Namibia’s approach, not the conservation needs of the species. The best way to conserve critically endangered species like the black rhino is to ensure that every animal remains alive and contributing to the genetic diversity of the species. Species with a diverse gene pool are more able to overcome challenges to their survival. The Namibian case proves, once again, that cold, hard cash undermines wildlife conservation.

Fortunately, the black rhino is listed as an endangered species under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning that the winner will need to get an import permit from the FWS to bring the carcass home. The ESA makes it clear that such permits should be granted only when the import will enhance the survival of the species in the wild. Once the winner applies for the import permit, there will be a 30-day comment period. We plan to provide evidence to the FWS that the recreational shooting of a member of a critically endangered species is harmful to that species. We invite you to sign a petition that we will submit along with our comments showing that people do not support issuance of the import permit.

The US government needs to understand that the American public does not support the Orwellian idea of killing endangered species to save them – even if it comes with a big cash payout. Where will it end? Will a Safari Club International member offer $1 million for the opportunity to shoot an orangutan, $2 million for an Asian elephant, and maybe even more for a Siberian tiger?

While those animals are highly protected because they are listed as endangered under the ESA, others are not so fortunate, and the numbers killed by American trophy hunters annually are staggering. In 2012, the parts of approximately 600 African elephants, 750 African lions, and 698 leopards were imported into this country.

small excerpt of a poll pageReader OpinionWhat do you think: Is there a place for hunting in conservation?
Vote and be counted.

American trophy hunters belong to clubs, such as the Dallas Safari Club and Safari Club International, where they can compete to kill the most animals for the most awards. To earn every award that SCI offers, at least 171 different animals from around the world must be killed. Many SCI members have records for killing more than 400 different creatures that populate their trophy rooms. Hunters receive award trophies for shooting a prescribed list of animals. For example, the “Trophy Animals of Africa” award requires the hunter to kill 79 different African species to win the highest honor.

Animals like elephants and lions are much more valuable alive than dead, to the economies of African nations and to the entire world. An animal can be watched throughout his lifetime, and there’s a growing pool of eco-tourism customers waiting for that thrilling experience. On the other hand, the creature targeted by the hunter dies, meaning the revenue gained is merely a one-shot deal. What’s more, the pool of people who want to kill elephants, lions, or leopards for fun is comparably tiny, and it’s declining. The pictures and the memories for the eco-tourists will last a lifetime, and it’s a trip they’ll never be ashamed to recount to their grandkids.

Make no mistake: Trophy hunting is setting wildlife conservation back, and there are better ways to save these animals than by shooting them.

For an opposing view, read what Joe Hosmer has to say.

photo of lions resting in a meadowphoto David Berkowitz


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This sucks.

By Axel Pokemon on Fri, January 19, 2018 at 10:39 am

In Kenya where in 1977 an absolute ban on all hunting was set as national policy, wildlife populations have dropped over 70 percent since then. While in Namibia and South Africa where regulated sport hunting is embraced, wildlife numbers have remained stable and in many cases flourished.

The fact is, that bans on the utilization of wildlife set by animal rights influenced legislation fail to recognize the rights of millions of poverty stricken people sharing the land with wildlife. Those people must farm and ranch to survive; to them, wildlife only consumes precious water and forage needed to sustain their livestock and grow life giving crops. If wildlife cannot be sustainably utilized to bring economic and nutritional benefit to native populations, the wildlife becomes a burden, loose its intrinsic value to the people, and will be destroyed.

Although ecotourism can be used to generate revenue from wildlife in some circumstances, it requires expensive infrastructure and central locations near international airports. For many remote African communities, selling trophy hunts for older animals that are past reproductive age, can be their only way to transform wildlife from competing for resources with local people, to becoming a resource to local people, while at the same time sustainably generating revenue which they desperately need to fund education, sanitation, and conservation.

While trophy Hunting may not be a perfect solution, in many cases it is the only economically viable alternative to cattle ranching in the wildlands of Africa. If trophy hunting is banned then the economic value of wildlife for most remote rural communities will be lost and that value will be immediately shifted to livestock. In this situation, as seen in Kenya, the wildlife has no intrinsic value to the people and directly competes with livestock (aka: rural villagers only assets) and is shot, snared, and poisoned to ease pressure on their farm animals.

It is easy for us living here in the first world, in extraordinary wealth ironically built on extreme environmental degradation, to demonize something we know little about or that repulses us at first sight. Just think of when we take our children to the zoo and feed a giraffe by hand, I assure you we see charismatic wildlife very differently than a subsistence farmer living in a mud hut one the other side of the world who actually shares the land with these incredible animals and this must be taken into account when discussing conservation policies.

By William Dellinger, Sonoma State University Departm on Mon, March 06, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Hello, I am a student at Florida International University and I am conducting a paper on the negative effects of hunting. I would like to interview someone, it’s just 5 questions. If someone can please assist me with this? Thank you.

By Jessica Suarez on Wed, February 22, 2017 at 1:12 pm

I believe that if people are going to leave rude comments on someone’s writing that they must’ve worked very hard on, they might as well not even read the article. People write research papers to inform people and get nice reviews that encourage them to write more, not be put down. This was a very interesting and informative research paper, and I loved it. Anyone who thinks otherwise can go read an article supporting trophy hunting and stop leaving rude comments. Teresa M. Telecky has a PHD, so she is very intelligent and should get the respect she deserves.

By Azalea Shevchuck on Thu, January 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Theresa, I really appreciate what you write and I enjoyed reading your article.

By Azalea Shevchuck on Thu, January 26, 2017 at 1:55 pm

I love this article. It really helped me understand more about the destruction of trophy hunting, and made me appreciate African wildlife more.

By Bellaliese Black on Thu, January 26, 2017 at 1:53 pm

This article is a travesty to anyone who genuinely cares about wild animals. Beyond being a waste of time, this article borders on propaganda comparable to what PETA produces and promotes. Sad.

By Elizabeth on Wed, November 02, 2016 at 9:18 am

While it us true that Kenya banned trophy hunting and all other consumptive use of wildlife in 1977, what is not widely realised is that since then Kenya has lost 80% of her wildlife and that the rate of loss continues to this day. Compare this to South Africa which in 1977 had roughly the same number of wildlife as Kenya, around 1.5 million head. South Africa adopted a policy where wildlife became fully “fungible” and over the same 40 year period in which Kenya lost 80% of her wildlife, numbers in South Africa increased over 20 times, especially those of critically endangered species like elephant and rhino.

By Mike Norton-Griffiths on Tue, April 26, 2016 at 3:30 am

Trophy hunting is not a sport if it was wouldn’t both sides know the rules!???

By Linda Rubino on Mon, December 14, 2015 at 3:21 pm

This article lacks information and DATA. Here, let us all be enlightened.

By Chris on Thu, October 29, 2015 at 6:02 am

All the hunters I’ve ever known, and I’ve known quite a few, are liars and poachers.  You say that hunters care about conservation. They only care about killing, not preserving.  The only reason why they do anything regarding conservation is because they are require to pay for hunting license.  This just keeps them legit to some extent.  If they don’t get caught poaching, and it’s very easy to not get caught they will.  They don’t care if they can lose there vehicle, guns etc. It’s the thrill of the kill.  If they run upon something that they aren’t suppose to kill and haven’t had a kill or enough kills they will most likely kill or poach to fill their obsession and that’s what it is for a great many of them. Like having to get their fix.

By Debbie. on Tue, September 01, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Exactly as Mary says. You were misinformed, Dr. Telecky, or didn’t do enough research. The rhino would have been killed anyway to better the reproductive capabilities of the herd.

Do I think that paying to simply put a bullet in an animal, especially for use as a “trophy” is inane? Yes, but there are people willing to pay.

With the premise that the rhino is to be killed anyway (therefore, one cannot argue “but… it shouldn’t be killed in the first place”), why should money NOT be gained from its death?

Basically, what Mary said.

By Bradley Beer on Wed, January 28, 2015 at 8:59 pm

I will start by saying that, in most cases, I loathe the idea of trophy hunting, especially the “canned hunts”, where animals are bred to be shot in cages. BUT, unfortunately, the world is not black-and-white, and I do believe there are some instances, like this one, where very carefully managed hunting can have a huge benefit to the species as a whole.

In this case, the rhino to be hunted is a post-breeding male. He can no longer reproduce, but he’ll attack (and possibly kill) any younger males that enter his harem. Is it somehow more “humane” to allow this animal to gore several others? No! It’s more “natural”, sure, but for now, our rhino herds need all the help we can give them. So, to help things along and protect the fertile males, this particular rhino was scheduled to be culled anyway, with or without the permit auction. This is a normal wildlife management technique usually done by the game officials.

If some trophy hunter, as sordid as his hobby may be, wants to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to pull the trigger, money that will be put to good use protecting other rhinos, I can’t complain. And before you start suspecting that the “cull” is some kind of corrupt, irresponsible conspiracy to kill rhinos, look at the data - Namibia is one of the only African nations to have an INCREASE in rhino populations! Clearly, they must be doing something right, even if it seems counter-intuitive at first.

By Mary on Thu, June 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm

The hunting and fishing public represent some of the best allies of conservations efforts, so it is unfortunate to see an article that leads with the very unambiguous, un-nuanced statement that hunting is a setback to conservation.  Worse, the article then wastes a lot of ink attacking trophy hunting for being, in essence, tacky.  Some people show they have money by buying Teslas, some do it by going on expensive hunts, or going to a fishing lodge in Alaska. 

The basic premise of the article, that trophy hunting may not in some circumstances be the best at advancing conservation goals for a given area, could have been articulated without the broader anti-hunting agenda being put forward.  I actually am sure that basic premise is in some situations correct.  So, why the broader, baseless attack on hunting itself?

By JS on Wed, June 18, 2014 at 9:57 am

It’s incredibly frustrating reading articles like this (and many of the subsequent comments) as it really goes to show how little people understand of this situation. I ran a nature reserve in South Africa for many years. I have acquired years of experience and I have the qualifications to back this up. I have also always throughout my career maintained an unbiased perspective on such things, rather letting the conclusions of solid scientific surveying speak for themselves.

There was no hunting permitted on our reserve. I am not a hunter myself and largely find the idea of trophy hunting pretty distasteful. However, there are times when hunting would have certainly been of use to us on our reserve, instead we had to cull or capture animals in order to prevent the habitat deteriorating.

There is no arguing with the fact that South Africa has the wildlife it has now because of hunting. It is the reason the white rhino did not go extinct! However, you can’t make the same argument that this would work elsewhere. Kenya’s poaching did not get worse because of the ban on hunting. It was already a huge problem and it’s corruption that needs to be addressed here.

People need to stop looking at this issue in such a black and white perspective. Sometimes hunting is good, sometimes not. Put emotion out of the equation and think about how we can make a current situation work a little better, not reinvent the wheel entirely. Ultimately, whatever you think you know about animals and Africa from watching a few documentaries is pretty inadequate to base a viewpoint on.

By Liam on Tue, June 10, 2014 at 6:15 am

I loath hunting. Hunting should be halted and trophy permits should be stopped. There are too many folk that love to shoot for the fun of it and the thought of animal “heads” hanging on walls in so called trophy rooms is sickening. The issuing of permits for endangered species such as the black rhino is outrageous and should certainly not be allowed. Poaching has escalated so much over the last decade that animals such as rhino, elephant, lions etc etc will no longer be roaming the countryside. The hunting of endangered animals and especially those of “big five” should no longer be permitted as these animals are rapidly heading for the endangered list.

By Geoff Tapson on Mon, June 09, 2014 at 10:46 pm

There is no such thing as a hunter/ conservationist! One destroys lives most times without compassion or sympathy….the other protects and enhances lives!

By Sue kiff on Mon, June 09, 2014 at 12:07 pm

“What a nauseating piece of writing very typical of so called animal rights people who so mis-understand the sentiments of most hunter/conervationists who also ignore any scientific facts.”

Simon, your words are vile, and could not be further from the truth. Wake up! It is you that have been misled.  Just follow the money on this one.  The hunting “INDUSTRY” does not care about animals, but profits.  Only natural predators can properly regulate animal populations.

By Sateah on Sun, June 08, 2014 at 3:03 pm

What a nauseating piece of writing very typical of so called animal rights people who so mis-understand the sentiments of most hunter/conervationists who also ignore any scientific facts.

There misuse of emotive words give then away every time, designed primarily to woo the gullible into filling the coffers of these organisations.

Scientists have discovered that too many male black rhino simply leads to more fighting/less breeding. Its to do with the way they defend there whole range from intruders as oppose to just the home range (too lengthy to explain here).

The example of Kenya is a great one, no hunting - disastrous wildlife situation! Travel across South Africa and you see very little wildlife until you come to hunting areas, then its teeming with it. We must educate the general public as to the real harm animal rights are having on African Wildlife due to the political power they are able to exert in these countries, enabled by the huge wealth handed to these organisations by the misled public.

By Simon Williamson on Tue, June 03, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Those who kill for sport, recreation, or trophy collecting constantly claim that “hunting is a timeless tradition.”  That’s simply not true; the “timeless tradition” may have been killing for sustainability—staying alive—where almost all of the animal was utilized.  To hang a trophy head, head and hide, or showcase a stuffed animal in a room, was never a tradition until relatively recently.  Killing wildlife is never necessary for conservation, although that is the standard mantra of those who partake. 
As far as wildlife “management” is concerned, nature on its own needs no “managing” per se.  But note how those who want to kill wildlife want to manage:  For maximum yield for THEIR killing and NOT natural predators.  Many sport killers want to kill off as many apex predators as possible.  Just look at wolf recovery efforts and read so-called “Sportsmen’s” blogs—it’s proof that management is a very self-serving, easily manipulated term.  Deer are NOT (possibly “NEVER”) managed for herd benefit, but rather for more deer to kill the following year.  Compensatory rebound is a fact, so the more killed, the greater the odds for multiple births.  If management for conservation were indeed an objective, then the biggest and the best (trophies) would never be killed.
Those who kill always cite Pittman-Robertson Act (PRA) as if they are the only contributors; however, they never mention that the vast majority of people who buy firearms and ammo and pay the PRA tax, are NOT planning to use it on wildlife.  More households make those firearm/ammo purchases but do not use their weapons on wildlife.  Thus, 95 to 99% of NON-hunters in the U.S. are actually paying more via the PRA than hunters, funding state conservation and recreation projects, and paying that same 95 to 99% of regular taxes per year for their regulatory agencies.  Contrary to their claims, hunters pay a pittance for conservation, yet they deplete our natural resource—wildlife—that cost the 95-99% non-consumptives the opportunity to view and photograph.   
African “hunting” can use cameras and gain a much larger share of tourism, since making money seems to be the end goal.  The World Wildlife Fund may do good work, but they support killing for sport, recreation, and trophy collecting, and are not objective with this matter.  Poaching and illegal killing is totally opportunistic and cannot be stopped by more killing, legal or otherwise.  That’s where the blackmail or hostage taking comes in:  If you don’t support this trophy being killed, we’ll kill ‘em all. 
We do agree that habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are growing threats, but the culprit is man, not wildlife.  When one livestock predator is killed, another takes its place—nothing is gained in the long run.  Ranching is expanding and doing more environmental and habitat damage; thus, THAT is what should be targeted.  Hunting is not a conservation tool, and most regulatory agencies will confirm that fact.  Trophy killing is definitely doing a great deal of harm.

By Katie Cather on Tue, June 03, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I have never trophy hunted before. Never been to Africa on a sight-seeing safari either. But when I read a one-sided op-ed piece like this, it only makes me want to seek out the opposing perspective. I know that the Humane Society and PETA and other organizations like them are completely opposed to any sort of harm to animals, and there is a place in the world for that perspective, but the militant attitude and one-sided perspective that is portrayed by either side of the hunting argument makes it difficult for the average person to make an actual educated decision on where they stand. We know someone from the humane society is not going to offer up an unbiased scientifically based argument. I would rather see a neutral party argument that presents the positives and negatives of both sides of the issue. I just can’t respect such one-sided propaganda from anyone, regardless of how many letters of the alphabet they have behind their name.

By Jason on Tue, June 03, 2014 at 9:36 am

“... but those funds will not necessarily go back to black rhino conservation as some claim. Instead, they will go into a general pot of money allocated to all manner of projects including those that have nothing to do with rhinos, or which could even be harmful to rhinos, such as “rural development.” “

I’d like to know exactly what is wrong with this. Namibia’s successful conservation policy has been based on it benefiting the local people. Have you even seen these rural settlements? I can assure you they have very little indeed and it is this poverty and inequality which to a large degree perpetuates the issue. These rural developments often involves little more than giving people a slightly more comfortable way of life which they are entitled to. It’s often hard to lose perspective of this when you’re on the outside looking in.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with the mentality of trophy hunters and I do agree that in many cases it leads to corruption, but I don’t believe you’ve entirely grasped a full understanding of the issue here. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Trophy hunting may be a greater or lesser evil dependent on the circumstances of each nation, but these countries need us to have an open mind and assist them to come to the right solution for them. Not simply try to force their hand.

By Liam on Tue, June 03, 2014 at 1:10 am

What about Darting Safaris, in which the hunter participates with researchers by darting an SCI listed animal which also counts in the SCI trophy list?

By Chris on Mon, June 02, 2014 at 8:00 am

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