Protecting Hunting from the Hunters

Stephen Wiggins Article Leave a Comment

On the 1 January 2019, a platform “Conservation Frontlines” was launched to raise the ‘virtues’ of hunting in the public consciousness (against the swathe of negative press that has been acknowledged as swaying public opinion against trophy hunting).

Conservation Frontlines suggests that:

The best chance to secure social acceptance for hunting lies primarily in the transparent implementation of and compliance with scientifically grounded sustainability rules, secondly in the full recognition of the role of local rural people in wildlife management, and thirdly in the behavior of hunters in the field and how they present themselves to the public.”

However, the bad behaviour of ‘hunters in the field’ or the lack of supporting science are not recent phenomenon. It has just been more widely publicised recently and entered the public consciousness (including the self-publicised, self-glorifying hunting trophy poses on facebook etc.). Lest we forget the luring and baiting of a pride male lion (Cecil) by one Walter Palmer in 2015 acting as a catalyst for many, an eye-opener to wildlife killing that has been perpetrated for decades. This has highlighted the debate on how exactly does the majority of trophy hunting contribute to any notion of conservation?

The fact that the hunting industry has tolerated the whole ‘canned’ hunting industry within its ranks for decades, where big cats, mainly lions are bred in captivity to be exploited and eventually presented as a convenient, packaged (‘canned’) trophy kill for a so-called ‘hunter.’

‘Canned’ hunting has never had any ‘ fair chase element (not that ‘fair chase’ equates to conservation)  and ‘canned’ has never had any conservation imperative – until the lack of any conservation credentials started to dent the ‘canned’ business model, so efforts were made to sprinkle the industry with some notion of usefulness beyond pure profiteering – this make-over has failed.

But, until as recently as November 2015, the Professional Hunters’ Association South Africa (PHASA) supported ‘canned’ hunting as ethical hunting – it should be noted that since 2015, PHASA has reinstated (as of November 2017) its support for ‘canned’ hunting, with former PHASA members forming a new association opposed to ‘canned.’ The Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation – South Africa (CPHC-SA), encompasses “a group of experienced professional hunters and outfitters, which included most past presidents of PHASA, all remaining founding members as well as numerous high-profile outfitter.”

However, this still begs the question of the true ethics of the CPHC-SA , as its membership clearly includes those that previously support ‘canned’ hunting during their past tenure of the PHASA prior to November 2015 – ‘canned’ hunting has existed (and has been supported) in South Africa since the 1980s. Where was the revulsion and questioning of ethics by these recently converted CPHC-SA members back then? The answer is, that the epiphany to turn against ‘canned’ practices has only seemingly resulted due to the negative impact of public opinion on hunting in general, not by CPHC-SA members’ own revulsion at ‘canned’ hunting etc.

In an article by Derek Carstens (a self-proclaimed ‘ethical’ hunter) in Conservation Frontlines, “Protecting Hunters from the Hunters,” 1 January 2019, Derek analyses a defined distinction between ‘ethical’ and ‘non-ethical’ hunting practices – of course, this is purely subjective conjecture on the part of the author…..….some consider all ‘legal’ hunting (be that ‘canned’ or otherwise) ‘ethical.’ Some consider all hunting ‘un-ethical.’ Regardless, there is a clear distinction made by Derek between hunting for food and hunting purely for recreation etc. – this is not anything new to the hunting debate.

However, though interesting, informative and pleasing to see such a recognition by some hunters that not all hunting is necessary, conservation driven, ethical or moral, there are a number of points that stuck me:

  1. Why has it taken so-long for hunting to take a look at itself – and explore all the practices that fall under the umbrella of ‘legal’ hunting and question it? In the case of ‘canned’ hunting that has taken some 30+ years to manifest and still the ‘canned’ industry is supported by some factions of the hunting fraternity.
  1. Why does hunting wish to constantly label those that point out the bad practices within hunting as the ‘bad guys’ – for daring to point out the same flaws as given in Derek’s article?
  1. Conservation Frontlines aims “to catalyze positive exchanges between non-hunting and hunting conservationists.” If so, then the editorial needs to end the depiction of non-hunters highlighting the same flaws within hunting as Derek (a hunter) as “emotive attacks of the anti-brigade” (Conclusions,Protecting Hunters from the Hunters,1 January 2019) – The flaws in hunting clearly exist, whether one is a hunter or a non-hunter. The flaws in hunting are clearly evident even to some hunters (ie. bad practice, lack of science, lack of ethics/morals, lack of conservation imperative etc.). These flaws are not some apparition that can only be seen by the “emotive” “anti-brigade” (sic).

As first, I was pleased to see Conservation Frontlines offering a potential bridge between “non-hunting” and “hunting conservationists (sic)” – there has been an urgent need to eradicate the bad and redeem any mutually agreed positive hunting elements. However, there is still the notion espoused within Derek’s article that “……we all know that the facts largely support hunting in terms of the ultimate survival of the various species.” This is the kind of wide-ranging, unsubstantiated claim that hunters constantly make to excuse their killing of endangered and threatened species. There is no universal, species wide consistency with regard to trophy hunting’s claimed positive contribution to “the ultimate survival of the various species.

If we look at lion trophy hunting, whilst there are “indications that some lion populations would lose habitat if all legal hunting there were stopped (Macdonald, 2016)  (“Is there an elephant in the room? A response to Batavia et al.,” Loveridge et al., August 2018), it is duly noted that saving the habitat is key to species’ survival. Killing the occupants of the same habitat as trophies is not key to species’ survival:

For example, in Katavi, Tanzania the estimated lion numbers were recorded as zero in 2014, from a population of 1,118 in 1993. It should be noted, that from 2010, 41 adult males (less than five years old) had been “harvested” for trophies in Katavi. Could this excessive Trophy Hunting of young male lions have been the end of the Katavi sub-population? – Source: “Review of Panthera Leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia,” UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Technical Report, August 2015

Furthermore “Trophy Hunting was reported to have contributed to population declines outside of (and within some) protected areas of Tanzania (Lindset et al., 2013) and was considered by Packer et al., 2011 to pose the greatest threat to the populations in Trophy Hunting areas.”

How long will such lion hunting be sustainable in range states such as Tanzania, when hunting concessions are sold to the highest bidder (with no proven conservation imperative required) on a short term lease, thus encouraging excessive hunting just so the concession can break even?

In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe – “69 out of 100 males were estimated to have died from age-independent causes in Hwange, and will continue to do so if estimated death rates remain unchanged. This means these males do not die of old age. The most likely cause of death is to be killed by trophy hunters or local farmers protecting their herds” – Wild CRU (2016). Does the  the above statement sound like trophy hunters are helping lion conservation in Hwange, Zimbabwe?

So, any argument for lion trophy hunting based upon a given example of habitat protection does not mean that all lion hunting is necessary, ethical and conservation inspired – how exactly does luring a pride male lion from the protection of a national park to be executed in a hunting concession support the survival of the species?

The science says that the African elephant population is in decline – the attrition rate is so high (poaching, human-wildlife conflict, hunting), that the continent wide population cannot sustain current levels, let alone recover. However, the elephant trophy hunting attrition still continues. The claim is that giving a trophy target, such as an elephant a trophy value means that it is less likely to be attacked in communities where elephants reside – however, this human-wildlife conflict mitigation is not guaranteed regardless of any target species’ trophy ‘value’ – it is not a 100% reliable conservation method. It relies upon trickle down economics and communities not killing the ‘valued’ wildlife anyway, but in reality less than 3% of hunting income flows down to local communities. The IUCN (2009) reports that the economic benefits to local communities of hunting areas are minimal, if such benefits are in fact received at all:

For example, Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE programme (established 1981) was introduced to distribute dividends derived from trophy hunting to local communities. In 2007 (Mutandwa and Gadzirayi) surveyed communities that should have benefited from the CAMPFIRE programme reported that dividend had not been received since 1997, with no discernible additional benefits for employment or improved infrastructure.

The trophy hunter may also say that the demand for ivory in Asia and the poaching attrition it generates is the real enemy of elephant conservation – which is true to some extent, but why add to the attrition by killing more elephants for trophies – usually the biggest and the best, thus depleting the gene pool?

So, looking at the claimed ‘conservation’ benefits of elephant trophy hunting, those claims look increasingly dubious and unsustainable:

The African Wildlife Foundation reported in October 2017 (after intensive analysis of the CITES trade database) that between 2001 and 2015, an estimated 81,572 African elephants were killed for hunting trophies  – which equates to around some $2bn in trophy hunting income, at 81,572 x $25,000 (estimated average) per trophy. Does anyone truly believe that the majority of this hunting income went into conservation?

It is still ‘legal’ to trophy hunt hippopotamus, regardless of the species (Hippopotamus amphibius) being classed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as ‘Vulnerable,’ with an estimated global population of only around 110,000 – 130,000. Threats such as illegal hunting (for meat) and the illicit supply of hippo canine teeth as a source for ivory are among the many threats this species faces – so why add to the attrition with shooting them for trophy hunting recreation?

Trophy hunting also faces economic competition for habitat as human populations spiral in key African regions:

To put that increasing human demand into perspective for the African lion range states, between 2015 and 2050, half of the world’s population growth is expected to occur in 9 countries, 6 of which are within the lion’s range (India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda (UN 2015, p. 4). Africa has the fastest population growth rate in the world (UN 2015, pp. 3, 9; UNEP 2012a, p. 2), and future population growth in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to be large and rapid (UN 2013, p. 9). By 2100, Angola, Burundi, DRC, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia are projected to increase by at least five-fold (UN 2015, p. 9).

So no, trophy hunting is not a panacea and faces economic pressures/competition for habitat – trophy hunting ‘facts’ do not “….largely support hunting in terms of the ultimate survival of the various species” – at best, this hunting assumption looks like a thin veil to perpetuate a myth when it comes to vulnerable/threatened species whose populations are in decline.


As in many examples in human endeavour, it is not the elements that humans do not know, or fully understand that prove to be a given human endeavour’s downfall. It’s the ‘facts’ that humans that indulge in the endeavour seem to think they know for certain that just aren’t so that prove the ultimate catastrophe for the endeavour.

As with Derek’s initial analogy, smoking was once (deceitfully) promoted as providing human health benefits – but once the true harm (and even third party inherited harm via passive smoking) became evident via publicly available science, then attitudes and social acceptance changed – even in Irish pubs.

With regards to trophy hunting, there should have been greater internal recognition and effort made from within the hunting industry itself to stamp out the bad practices (ie. ‘canned’ hunting, excessive hunting quotas and under age trophies openly targeted etc.). Plus, trophy hunting (particularly of iconic, threatened species) should take responsibility to ensure it has true conservation imperatives backed by independent science – not a detached reliance on quotas set by commercial profiteering practices with no sustainable scientific backing.

Instead, hunting seems to have endured bad practices (and hoped no-one would notice), waiting until now to try to shift public opinion after hunting’s self-inflicted reputational damage has reached the public consciousness.

Further Reading

King of Beasts,” THA, 20 September 2018 – A documentary (by Urban Tales Productions Tomer Almagor and Nadav Harel) based in Tanzania, illuminating the exploration of the masculine self-image espoused by trophy hunting, namely notorious American trophy/attention seeker Aaron Neilson:

Almagor and Harel indict Neilson and his ilk for “exacerbating the problem” by exploiting the relative poverty of economically downtrodden places such as Tanzania that welcome such free-spending foreign visitors with open arms.”

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