Is Trophy Hunting Ever Okay?

Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.
Ever since news broke that an American dentist paid upward of $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil, a beloved 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe’s protected Hwange national park, people worldwide has been enraged. The man in question, who has been hit with death threats, closed his dental practice and has hidden from the public eye. And yet, this particular hunter is not that big of an anomaly. As the Washington Post reports, rich tourists, many from the U.S., kill about 600 lions every year. Still, the question remains: Why does trophy hunting persist? Since Cecil was killed, there have been loud voices opposing the practice. Here, we chat with two conservationists with two very different opinions on what to do about trophy hunting — and whether there is any justification for it. Jeff Flocken is the North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Jimmiel Mandima is a program director for the African Wildlife Foundation.

These interviews have been edited and condensed, and were conducted at different times.
So, here's the basic question: Is trophy hunting ever okay?
Jeff Flocken:
"Hunting imperiled species in this day and age just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make biological or economic sense." Jimmiel Mandima: "In cases where we are convinced that the best of science has been applied to determine population sizes, if it’s in the interest of the bigger picture of an integrated landscape, in some cases, in some countries, they may decide to go the route of consumptive use* without necessarily endangering the population. That being said, in the last decade we have been working on the preservation of the most iconic species in Africa, where the population is not well known and for which some of the management practices are questionable, and we recommend a stop to consumptive use. So elephants, rhinos, the majority — if not all — cats are threatened, and among those we recommend that they stop hunting until they are convinced that those population numbers are objective and convincing." Does any benefit come from it? You hear it argued that the money paid for a kill oftentimes goes toward conservation.
Flocken: "Paying large amounts of money towards killing animals and putting that money towards conservation is perverse. If you kill a person and get a lot of money for that, but give that money to humanitarian causes, it doesn’t make you a humanitarian. The concept that all this money is going to being realized by conservation and this community on the ground is false. Studies have shown that only 3-to-5% of that money ever goes to the people on the ground."

"In some instances, populations could easily grow to a point where the capacity may be exceeded, and it’s quite possible that in those cases the bigger picture might be threatened. So even if you want the animals all alive, you may still end up losing some of the animals. People who live with the wildlife could get into conflict with them, the human population may be driven to killing the wildlife if the animals exceed capacity, because they see them as a nuisance in conflict with their livelihood. So in specific localities, we may have cases where there is an overpopulation, and you want to balance the bigger picture."

So, say we ban trophy hunting. What are the other options? Is it even possible?

"Hunting brings millions of dollars, but nonconsumptive wildlife watching brings billions. There’s no comparing the two. To say that a one-off kill brings a little bit of money once, and then denies future revenue from people who want to come and see an animal, like Cecil, is ridiculous. [Tourism] is a more sustainable alternative to killing."

"I think [we] know that it will remain a very contentious issue. The context of different localities, where the populations exist, are driven by very diverse and different social, economic, and sociopolitical situations. It is in that respect that we don’t see ourselves as the ones to dictate a uniform approach. In some specific cases, where it is not inhumane and not a misuse of resources, there are exceptional cases where [hunting] becomes a possibility. But we are convinced largely that primarily nonconsumptive use allows our resources to serve generations and generations over time."

Do you think a ban on trophy hunting would increase the amount of illegal poaching?
Flocken: "People will poach animals and get around loopholes whether it’s legal or not, and if we can decrease the amount of kill, in the end it’ll be better for the species long term. Trophy hunting is the antithesis of natural selection. The same traits like virility, large manes, huge horns, large tusks — these are all things that would make them successful in nature, and these are the exact same traits that trophy hunters look for when they’re killing individual animals, like Cecil. He was a robust male with two prides. Now that he’s gone, the pride has been destabilized, and there can be huge ripple effects. We don’t know how many individuals have been killed because of this one loss."

"As long as there is a market, illegal killings will continue. Bear in mind that whatever system we put in place is usually not 100% effective, and even if this is criminalized, the market will still exist. If you decide to ban trophy hunting, it requires putting in place policing systems, management systems, extension systems, and that all takes value. And in situations where there may actually be a way to benefit from well-managed, controlled, legal offtake, all of a sudden this is withdrawn and it creates a gap in the vacuum. If countries proposed to stop organizing this, there needs to be a complementary alternative to replace that source of livelihood and revenue."

What's the best-case scenario?
Flocken: "We just have to shift the economic value. We have to have animals worth more alive than dead, because in the long term this isn’t going to benefit the species. There can be short-term gain to some of the individuals, but ultimately you have to value the animal alive."

"Wildlife has a very significant role to play in the modernization of Africa. The only way that can happen is if wildlife is valuable, either directly as a source of revenue, or indirectly as a contribution to how the rest of the ecosystem and land in Africa functions. That said, I think a workable balance is a situation where the management authorities keep track on the managing of the population in the most appropriate way, to benefit from wildlife, either from safaris or, in exception cases, very controlled, very well-monitored consumptive use."
*Consumptive use of animals is generally defined as hunting, fishing, and trapping for food source, sport, recreation, or commercial gain.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series