Few things generate strong emotions as quickly as trophy hunting. At first glance, it seems like the impact of trophy hunting on wildlife populations is superficial. But the more you delve into the topic, the more you will realize that the issue is more complicated than it appears. It is true that trophy hunting can cause significant harm to the environment, especially when done illegally. But there are also times when it can help conservation efforts. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand the facts surrounding trophy hunting, and here’s to get you started.
One of the most important things that one needs to know about trophy hunting is that it revolves around economics. Some trophy hunters pay extraordinarily high prices for the right to hunt rare species. An example to this is the case of Cecil the Lion, a famous lion that got killed by an American hunter who paid a staggering $55,000 to carry out the deed. It’s been said that the rarer the animal, the higher the cost associated with hunting it.
Most trophy hunting incidents occur in relatively poor countries where governments are unable to provide significant funding to animal conservation programs. As a result, they allow hunters to pursue a small number of animals every year. While the practice helps in reducing the population of certain species, it also provides money that conservation programs can use to make sure that a larger population of wildlife remains untouched. The conservationists sacrifice a few animals so that they can have enough money to protect the rest.
However, this is not the only way to generate funding. Tourists are often willing to pay significant amounts of money to view animals, a method that has greater earning potential without resorting to killing. It also gives locals an incentive not to poach animals. But choosing between these options is in itself a delicate balancing act, and most governments rely on a mixture of both methods.
Corruption and Losses
- Hunting can raise money in nations that are otherwise unable to support conservation programs.
- The money that comes from trophy hunting is often used to fund campaigns aimed at protecting more animals.
- Alternative sources of income exist, but the implementation in poor nations is usually met with greater challenges.
The downside to generating money through hunting is the possibility of corruption and inefficiency. In principle, most or all of the money that come from trophy hunting should find its way into conservation programs. In practice, this is rarely the case.
Some governments will claim a portion of the revenue for non-conservation purposes, leaving the remainder to fund the conservation programs.
It is relatively easy for government workers in many nations to intercept the money, in the form of taking bribes or by taking money directly from the group’s budget for their personal gain, that should be going to conservation. The fraudulent act is even more insidious than hunting.
Legitimate conservation groups will stop allowing hunts if the practice of trophy hunting results to greater loss. But dishonest organizations or individuals will continue to support it for as long as they are earning. This can go on for a long time, and it can be tough for hunters to tell the difference between legitimate conservation groups and profit-oriented ones.
- Not all of the money that comes from hunting will go to legitimate conservation programs.
- Corruption can replace the desire to preserve wildlife with a profit motive.
- Differentiating between honest and corrupt conservation groups can be hard.
No discussion of hunting can take place without addressing the trophy hunting impact on populations. On the surface, this seems very simple. Hunting involves killing individual animals, which naturally decreases the size of the population. However, those deaths have the intention of saving lives in the long run, even without taking the economic impact into account.
The most useful aspect of hunting for the purpose of population control is the removal of problematic animals. In some cases, animals can survive until they are too old to reproduce, while still retaining the instincts that enable them to compete for mates. The process can stop population growth because it prevents younger animals who can breed from getting the opportunity to do so. In this case, killing the problem animal leads to population increase by allowing more infants to be born.
Hunting can also help prevent the spread of disease. If an animal suffers from a lethal and contagious disease, it needs to be removed from the herd before the disease spreads. The loss of an animal still causes the herd to shrink, but not to the same degree as if the animal had lived to spread the disease.
The downside of this method is that relatively few animals need to be eliminated for the good of the herd.
- Killing one animal can increase the population if that animal is a threat to other members of the species.
Poorly-managed hunting programs cause the population to decline at an unsustainable rate. While most communities can absorb a few losses and still have a net increase in animals, every animal that dies during the hunt removes some of that safety margin. If there are too many hunters, the population will start to decline.
Trophy hunters are only part of the problem. Poachers and habitat loss also contribute. Since increasing the number of legal hunts often reduces habitat loss and poaching, conservation groups try to strike a balance to ensure the lowest possible number of deaths. This often means finding ways to make sure that the animals are worth more alive than dead to the local population. Trophy hunting can be a useful tool if the intention is to protect the larger community. But if applied poorly, it can be very harmful to endangered species.
The Balance of Factors
- Excessive hunting destroys populations.
- Other factors also contribute to declining populations.
Trophy hunting is not a simple issue. It can raise money for conservation, but it can also disguise corruption. It can improve populations by removing problematic animals, but unrestrained hunting can destroy those populations at record speeds.
Whether a program is a net gain or a net loss for the local wildlife populations usually comes down to the skill of the people who manage it. If they carefully control the number of hunts, direct hunters towards specific animals that are less valuable to the herd, and manage their money well, they can be a useful tool. If the hunts get out of control or the money is invested poorly, the program will be a disaster.
Many governments try to deal with these risks by mixing their hunting programs with other initiatives, such as tourist-focused animal preservation. These programs can fund conservation without killing animals, which gives them the best of both worlds. On the other hand, many of these programs can only start with the funding that comes from hunters. The hunting becomes less important as the alternatives expand and become self-sufficient, so it is likely that trophy hunts are at their most valuable as an intermediate tool that allows nations to transition to other, less violent methods.