People have always had the primitive proclivity for bloodshed and violence. Killing for sport dates back to ancient times, where men were thrown into rings with ravenous lions and bears, and only one emerged alive. Since then, many other versions of blood sport have been invented, trophy hunting being one of them.
Trophy hunting is a recreational sport, in which the hunter keeps parts of the animal that they have shot down or killed, usually the skin, head, antlers, horns or claws – trophies, which are then mounted and displayed. It is a popular practice in North America as well as Africa.
You may recollect the story of Cecil the lion, whose death raised worldwide outrage when he was slaughtered by Walter Palmer. The widely loved big cat, who was being studied by the University of Oxford for years, was allegedly lured out of his protect area, and shot and injured by an arrow, and later killed.
Trophy hunting can either take place on reserves ranches set up specifically for this, or in the wild. Hunters often pay ridiculously high prices for a chance to gun down an exotic animal. As you might have deduced by now, this activity can be incredibly polarizing. It brings up debates on a range of issues, like morality, ethics and animal welfare and conservation issues.
Despite the controversy surrounding trophy hunting, it is not outlawed in several countries, but there are restrictions on where hunting is allowed to take place, which animals can be hunted, and even the weapons the hunter is allowed to use. This is mainly done for conservation reason, to prevent endangered species from dying out.
But these laws, unfortunately, due to the lack of proper checks and regulations, are violated all the time. Reports allege that hunters kill vulnerable and threatened animals all the time. The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reported in 2015 that over the past 15 years, over a million animals have been killed by American hunters in African counties, whose carcases are then shipped back to the states.
This obviously has several detrimental effects on the ecosystem. Trophy hunting, to a large extent, contributes to the rapidly declining wildlife population in Africa. The giraffe population, for instance, has drastically dropped in 2016, by 40% estimates the International Union for the conservation of Nature. Giraffes, along with lions and elephants, other popular targets for trophy hunters, are listed as vulnerable in the body’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Apart from contributing to the rapidly declining animal population, the sport is riddled with corruption. Hunters often pay large sums of money in order to gain access to restricted areas, or illegally gun down animals that have been protected by law. Animal by-products, obtained through trophy hunting, or by poachers illegally posing as game hunters, often make it into the black market. Rhino horns, elephant tusks and tiger skins are all banned products, but still somehow find their way into the hands of the rich.
The sport also messes with sex ratios. Males are the main target for hunters, females are rarely on their agenda. And since the main philosophy surrounding trophy hunting is “the bigger the better”, the fittest animals with impressive genetic features are often targeted. If not regulated properly, this could lead to an eventual decline of a species for reasons other than wide scale hunting, as we are left with animals with less desirable traits, and as most of you may know, according to Darwinian Theory, this can spell out doom for any species.
Conversely, many believe that trophy hunting can actually be beneficial to the ecosystem. When managed efficiently, trophy hunting can be used to curb overpopulation in the animal kingdom. But it is difficult to gauge just how many animals can hunted in a sustainable manner, without threatening their existence. Also, a portion of the fees paid by hunters is donated to conservation efforts. Yearly, large sums of money is raised for this cause. It also contributes to the host country’s economy, as well as helps out local communities. However, reports claim that a very small sum of money actually goes towards aiding the latter. Without this revenue, natural habitats would be cleared out to make room for urban development and agricultural reasons, which could have far greater implications when compared to hunting. It also generates a higher revenue, while creating a smaller carbon footprint, when compared to other forms of ecotourism.
Trophy hunting without a doubt falls into the list of the more controversial sports that exist today. It has both pros and cons. Which side outweighs the other is left up to subjective opinion.