Trophy hunting of endangered species and big game, especially in Africa, has suddenly gained a lot of attention from the media and public alike. Until recently, it was a relatively unknown phenomenon; a transaction handled quietly in local communities, between buyer and seller and barely gaining any attention from the rest of the world. However in recent times, the involvement of celebrities as well as the paying of seemingly exorbitant fees for the rights to hunt a specific animal has made the subject more newsworthy.
What is trophy hunting?
Hunting is basically defined as the killing of animals for food, clothing or sport. Trophy hunting is a specific type of sport, where rare and exotic wild game animals are captured and/or killed and a highly recognizable or valuable body part is removed, treated, and displayed as a “trophy” or souvenir of the kill. The US has the highest number of hunters who seek this form of sport, whether locally or internationally.
Trophy Hunting in the US
To meet this demand, there are trophy hunting ranches in 28 states of the US, Texas having the largest number of these. These ranches, the first of which was established in the 1920’s, imported and raised non indigenous and endangered species of deer, goat and antelope from Asia, Africa and other parts of world. These animals are specifically bred to be “sold” to hunters for a kill fee. As hunting of domestic wildlife becomes more restricted and controversial in many parts of the country, these ranches are becoming more popular, especially with the added allure of killing an exotic and threatened species.
An unforeseen, yet potentially devastating side effect of the lucrativeness of this business is the increased number of these non-indigenous animals in the US. A growth that is seriously affecting the local ecosystem because of their vegetation consumption behavior, and the foreign diseases,and parasites that they carry.
Spotlight on Trophy Hunting in Africa
A more recent phenomenon, is the growth in revenue and controversy generated by trophy hunting in many parts of Africa. While trophy hunting has been around for many years, the extreme decline of many species in the wild, has put a spotlight on this practice. In the past few 50 years or so, numbers of many unique, yet well-known, animals including lions, elephants, and rhinos in the wild have dropped by as much as 70%. More critically, many sub species, like the norther white Rhino, which has only 5 of the species still living, are on the brink of extinction.
Given the steadily declining numbers of these animals, and the critically endangered status of many, trophy hunting has been claimed by many – conservationists, hunting business owners and government authorities alike, as a way to fund conservation efforts. Hunters, most again from the US, are willing to pay a lot of money for the rights to hunt and shoot these big game animals. In fact these rights are so highly coveted that often the kill rights are sold in auction to the highest bidder.
The money generated by these hunts is supposedly funneled back into multiple conservation strategies, including supporting the local economy to counter the attractiveness of poaching, the creation and protection of wildlife reserves through patrolling and fencing, and research. The anti-hunting lobby strongly challenges these arguments, both from an ethical standpoint as well as a financial standpoint, questioning how much of the revenue generated actually goes towards conservation.
We all have a role to play
While the argument rages on, with both sides presenting facts and data for or against the practice, the key issue we need to focus on is the protection and preservation of these unique and beautiful creatures and their natural habitat in the wild. We each need to get involved in conversation and influence the best decisions to support international efforts, as we also need to ask ourselves, is killing even one of these majestic beings justified in the fight to save them?