Banner Image “Gruesome photographs show Alex Goss posing beside the bodies of two lions after they were slaughtered during hunts in South Africa. Goss, from Oswestry, Shropshire, owns and manages Blackthorn Safaris” – Daily Mail, 22 June 2019
On 30 August 2019, ‘Science’ magazine (the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)) published (paywall) an ‘Open Letter’ titled “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity” – also reference the BBC News’ initial article, “Scientists: Banning trophy hunting ‘doesn’t protect animals’,” 30 August 2019.
The letter was authored by Amy Dickman1,2, Rosie Cooney2,3, Paul J. Johnson1, Maxi Pia Louis4, Dilys Roe2,5, 128 signatories* – 1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney, Oxfordshire, OX13 5QL, UK. 2 IUCN SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, 1196, Gland, Switzerland. 3 Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, 0200 ACT, Australia. 4 Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations, Windhoek, Namibia. 5 Natural Resources Group, International Institute for Environment and Development, London WC1X 8NH, UK.
* “Many of the letter authors work for a group within the IUCN which has been funded by the trophy hunting lobby group called ‘Conservation Force.’ Another signatory is actually a consultant for ‘Conservation Force’” – Ban Trophy Hunting (BTH) Newsletter update, 26 October 2019
However, the independence and therefore, the impartiality of the main authors and signatories is being openly questioned:
“Funding secret of scientists against trophy hunt ban,” The Times (paywall), 25 October 2019 – [Update] “Cooney et al. v The Times,” Independent Press Standards Organisation, 24 April 2020
“What a pro-trophy hunting open letter failed to mention about two of its conservationist backers,” The Canary, 10 September 2019
‘Science’ magazine has since published an “Editor’s Note” stating ‘conflicts of interest’ were not (at the time) deemed applicable to ‘Letters’ and issued an addendum update (dated 24 October 2019) – given in full at the foot of this article stating the referenced ‘Open Letter‘ authors’ ‘conflicts of interest.’
‘Science’ has also published (paywall) five ‘Letters’ from global groups of scientists (and a letter authored arguing against trophy hunting on moral grounds), that point out the bias/incompleteness in Dickman et al.’s “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity” ‘Open Letter’:
“Trophy hunting: Role of consequentialism,” Guillaume Chapron1,2, José Vicente López-Bao3, 25 October 2019 – 1 Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 730 91 Riddarhyttan, Sweden. 2 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney, OX13 5QL, UK. 3 Research Unit of Biodiversity (UO/CSIC/PA), Oviedo University, 33600 Mieres, Spain.
“Trophy hunting: Values inform policy,” Chelsea Batavia1, Jeremy T. Bruskotter2, Chris T. Darimont3,4, Michael Paul Nelson1, Arian D. Wallach5, 56 signatories, 25 October 2019 – 1 Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, 97331, USA. 2 School of Environment & Natural Resources, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA. 3 Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2, Canada. 4 Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney, BC V8L 3Y3 Canada. 5 Centre for Compassionate Conservation, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, 2007, Australia.
“Trophy hunting: Broaden the debate,” Hans Bauer1, Bertrand Chardonnet2, Mark Jones3, Claudio Sillero-Zubiri1,3, 25 October 2019 – 1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney OX13 5QL, UK. 2 African Protected Areas and Wildlife, 92210 Saint Cloud, France. 3 Born Free Foundation, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK.
“Trophy hunting: Bans create opening for change,” Katarzyna Nowak1,2, Phyllis C. Lee3,4, Jorgelina Marino5, Mucha Mkono6, Hannah Mumby7,8,9, Andrew Dobson10, Ross Harvey11, Keith Lindsay4, David Lusseau12, Claudio Sillero-Zubiri5,13, 71 signatories, 25 October 2019 – 1 The Safina Center, Setauket, NY 11733, USA. 2 Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of the Free State, Phuthaditjhaba, 9866, South Africa. 3 Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK. 4 Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Langata, Nairobi 00509, Kenya. 5 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney OX13 5QL, UK. 6 Tourism Cluster, University of Queensland Business School, University of Queensland, QLD 4072, Australia. 7 School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong. 8 Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong. 9 Centre for African Ecology, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2000, South Africa. 10 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1003, USA. 11 School of Economics, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. 12 School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK. 13 Born Free Foundation, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK.
“Trophy hunting: Insufficient evidence,” A. Treves1, F. J. Santiago-Ávila1, V. D. Popescu2,3, P. C. Paquet4,5, W. S. Lynn6,7, C. T. Darimont4,5, K. A. Artelle4,5, 25 October 2019 – 1 Nelson Institute for Environmental studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706 USA. 2 Department of Biological Sciences and Sustainability Studies Theme, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA. 3 Center for Environmental Research (CCMESI), University of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania. 4 Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2, Canada. 5 Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney, BC V8L 3Y3, Canada. 6 Marsh Institute, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, USA. 7 Knology, New York, NY 10005, USA.
“Trophy hunting: A moral imperative for bans,”Arie Horowitz, 25 October 2019, Philadelphia, PA, 19106, USA
Impartial Science and Ethics in Science
Let’s be clear regarding the fundamental need for impartial science and its definition:
“Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence” – Science Council
Furthermore, ‘science’ is not static, but is based upon the best available evidence and should be impartial to politics, or wedded (biased) to any theoretical dogma (such as ‘sustainable utilisation’ and/or ‘trophy hunting’) – credible ‘science’ is impartial:
“Speaking as a scientist, cherry picking evidence is unacceptable…..when public figures abuse scientific argument…..to justify policies that they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture” – Stephen Hawking
Last month, a 2017 legal opinion surfaced from within the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) own ethics group (World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) Ethics Specialist Group (ESG)) of the acceptability of some of these same groups (linked to the ‘Open Letter‘) within the IUCN’s membership – contributing to and steering the IUCN’s policies on trophy hunting.
This ESG opinion was not adopted at IUCN Council is 2017, but should serve to illustrate why the same pro-hunting lobby group’s opinions should be met with scepticism and caution.
Amy Dickman signed a letter opposing a trophy ban but did not say that her [WildCRU] lion conservation project in Tanzania has accepted funds from hunting groups – “Funding secret of scientists against trophy hunt ban,” The Times (paywall), 25 October 2019
According to Ban Trophy Hunting (BTH) research (given in BTH’s Newsletter update, 26 October 2019):
“Another 20 [of the original ‘Open Letter‘ in Science magazine] work for Oxford University’s WildCRU, which has also received donations from Dallas Safari Club. A third named author has ties to Dallas Safari Club as well.”
Furthermore, BTH has found that the pro-hunting organisation Conservation Force Incorporated (in USA – “a Louisiana-based charity that advocates trophy hunting as a conservation tool“) is an IUCN member (and an observer member at Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)) and contributed to the ‘Open Letter‘ in ‘Science.’ It should be noted that Conservation Force Inc., was founded by John Jackson, former Safari Club International (SCI) CEO.
The question is, can Conservation Force Inc. be seen as a credible, impartial member of a world body (previously renowned for its impartiality) such as the IUCN when Conservation Force Inc.’s impartiality is openly questioned in the public media:
“………critics have described it [Conservation Force Inc.] as a “an around-the-clock international communication headquarters and advocacy ‘war room’” for the pro-hunting lobby that has repeatedly blocked attempts to protect species including lions and giraffes – “Anti-hunting groups seek to oust big-game hunters from global conservation body,” The Telegraph, 3 October 2019
‘Science’ magazine has now moved to try and restore its reputation for scientific impartiality, before publishing Open Letters:
“When the letter “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity” (A. Dickman et al., 20 August, p. 874) was published, Science’s policy of asking all manuscript authors to declare conflicts of interest did not apply to Letters. This policy is now under revision to ensure that authors of Letters also make readers aware of financial and advisory competing interests. Science has therefore requested the authors of Dickman et al. declare their competing interests. They have done so in an addendum to their letter” – Editor’s Note – ‘Science’ magazine, Jeremy Berg, (Editor-in-Chief), 25 October 2019
But the slip in ‘Science’s’ judgment had not gone unnoticed:
“The journal has in effect admitted that it was wrong to have published a letter from scientists without including their potential conflicts of interest……The letter to a prestigious journal was signed by senior scientists and claimed that trophy hunting encouraged wildlife conservation. What it failed to mention was that four of the scientists who made the claims had financial links with hunting bodies. Their connections to bodies including the Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club and Dallas Safari Club have been disclosed in an “addendum”…” – “Funding secret of scientists against trophy hunt ban,” The Times (paywall), 25 October 2019
[Update] Note: “08417-19 Cooney et al. v The Times,” The Independent Press Standards Organisation, Complaint Concluded, 24 April 2020
The IUCN’s credibility as an impartial body of scientific wisdom, in addition to the IUCN’s standing as a moral and ethical leader remains in question:
“The critical question is whether trophy hunting as it is practiced by individuals and promoted by certain hunting organizations may be consistent with IUCN’s general objectives as expressed in Articles 2 and 7. This is clearly not the case. Any other view would threaten IUCN’s credibility for providing moral and ethical leadership in conservation policies. It would certainly undermine the many efforts of IUCN members to promote a just and sustainable world” – This  report has been provided by the following members of the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) Ethics Specialist Group (ESG), all professors of environmental law: Klaus Bosselmann (NZ/Germany), Peter Burdon (Australia), Prue Taylor (NZ), Ngozi Stewart (Nigeria), Louis Kotzé (South Africa) and Thiti Waikavee (Thailand) – “Compatibility of Trophy Hunting as a Form of Sustainable Use with IUCN’s Objectives,” IWB, 2 October 2019
“Part 5: Manipulating the Lion Trophy Hunting Narrative,” Jared Kukura, Wild Things Initiative, 29 June 2020
“Science for Success—A Conflict of Interest? Researcher Position and Reflexivity in Socio-Ecological Research for CBNRM in Namibia,” Stasja Koot, Paul Hebinck and Sian Sullivan , Routledge, 23 April 2020
“Botswana’s Conservation Policies Are Driven By Profit, Not Science,” Jared Kukura, Wild Things Initiative, 20 February 2020
“Inside The Global Conservation Organization Infiltrated By Trophy Hunters,” Robert Jurkschat, BuzzFeed, 13 February 2020
“Saving Africa’s lions will rely on evidence around trophy hunting, not emotion,” Amy Dickman and Catherine E. Semcer, The Hill, 5 February 2020
Addendum to “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity” (paywall) Amy Dickman1,2, Rosie Cooney2,3, Paul J. Johnson1, Maxi Pia Louis4, Dilys Roe2,5, 128 signatories:
Authors and Affiliations
1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney, Oxfordshire, OX13 5QL, UK.
2 IUCN SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, 1196, Gland, Switzerland.
3 Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, 0200 ACT, Australia.
4 Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations, Windhoek, Namibia.
5 Natural Resources Group, International Institute for Environment and Development, London WC1X 8NH, UK.
Amy Dickman is the Director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which has received funding from phototourism (Asilia, Nomad) and hunting nongovernmental organizations (the Dallas Safari Club, and Safari Club International), with the latter two occurring more than 5 years ago and representing less than 1% of overall project funding. She is also a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group and on the Steering Committee of the IUCN Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force.
Rosie Cooney and Dilys Roe are Honorary Fellows of the Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA) Consortium; they are also past and current Chair of IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), which receives no core funding and <5% project funding from hunting-related sources. SULi co-convened a meeting in 2018 that received funding from a wide range of hunting and nonhunting-related organizations, including Safari Club International Foundation, Wild Sheep Foundation, the Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club, and a member of The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation delegation.
Rosie Cooney is a member of the Global Environment Facility Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel.
Dilys Roe is a Fellow of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Maxi Pia Louis is affiliated with the Namibian Association of CBNRM (Community-based natural resource management) Support Organizations.
Paul J. Johnson has no competing interests.
“Trophy hunting: A new front opens in the War of Words,” By Andreas Wilson Spath, Conservation Action Trust/Daily Maverick,
“Exposed: Pro-Trophy-Hunting Scientists Are Tainted by Big-Game Industry Ties,” Lady Freethinker, 25 October 2019