In 2015, a doctor from Minnesota, Walter Palmer, paid a guide to kill Cecil the Lion who had been living in a park in the savanna grasslands of Zimbabwe. The death of Cecil raised a considerable stir as some people condemned the act of killing such a magnificent animal. The end of Cecil became an instant media sensation all over the world, and the Palmer was regarded as a monster and resulted in hiding. The death coupled with the fact that the lion was left to die a long agonizing death compounded the bitter response. This story is not uncommon in African wildlife conservation parks where foreigners hunt and kill wildlife only to display their skulls and skins on their walls. This commentary focuses on trophy hunting and explores the logic behind the practice.
Cecil the lion lived in Hwange National Park and had become a darling to many tourists who frequented the area to see and be photographed with him. While speaking from Oxford, Andrew Loveridge, who knew and tracked Cecil for many days before he was killed, told the story of a lion he dearly loved. He also articulated the broader issues that faced these and more creatures which are targeted by the trophy hunters. He explained why Palmer received much condemnation but said that it was not enough to ban hunting for wild trophies (Loveridge, 2007).
Trophy hunting carries a lot of sentiments as different people especially the locals wonder why it carries a lot of sentiments. Africa is endowed with a lot of wildlife and in some places, it is not uncommon to find animals finding their way into the homesteads. In some homes bordering the forests, animals come out and plunder the crops or even attack the domestic animals. The damage infuriates the locals who turn against the animals and kill them often sharing the game meat amongst themselves before the game rangers arrive. To such people, it would come as a surprise that the world is concerned with the killing of a lion especially when the hunter paid handsomely to do it. On the local level, the issue is of relative importance as most people do not see the need to keep a single animal which is worth a lot of money.
According to a number of biologists, trophy hunting can play a big role in the conservation of wildlife through the money that the hunters pay. But the question is, does the money really go to the cause? In a recent study done in 23 African countries that allow trophy hunting, over 18,000 tourists pay over $200 million per year to hunt wildlife for the skins and ivory. The study also shows that the land used for the sport is only 22% of the land reserved for the national parks. As populations swell, so is the demand for land and therefore, the conservationists argue that if they work with the hunters, they can regulate the industry.
According to Peter Lindsey, a conservation biologist in a Zimbabwe University, sport hunting can be a sustainable venture if well managed. He says that it creates financial incentives to promote and retain wildlife and use the land in large areas. In his journal ‘Conservation Biology’, Lindsey and other colleagues call for plans to have measures to increase the benefits of the hunting which would include a program to certify the practice so as to regulate the industry more tightly. He says that to justify the wildlife having so much land at the expense of humans, then the wildlife has to pay for its existence and make contributions towards the economy an trophy hunting effectively caters for this. He proposes a plan where the hunters would prove their commitment to the welfare of the wildlife, manage the hunting quotas well and other conservation efforts with regard to the communities around. He calls for the scientists to play a role in maximizing the benefits of hunting. Also, there needs to be concerted efforts to weed out the unscrupulous dealers who take advantage of this window (Lindsey,2007).
In the developed world, trophy hunting is portrayed in a bad light mainly because of the indiscriminate hunting by the settlers from Europe. The European settlers hunted recklessly and this led to the extinction of many species such as quagga and other rare species of rhinocerous ad elephants. However, Lindsey continues to argue in his paper that game hunting has helped to recover some species. For instance, the southern rhinoceros increased from just 50 animals to over 10,000 animals because the gains from the hunting gave the ranchers a chance to reintroduce the rhinos. Also, the hunting has helped the cape mountain Zebra and wildebeest in South Africa. The hunters usually take about 2 to 5% of males of the animal they wish to hunt and this has a negligible effect on the reproduction of the others.
However, the issue of game hunting still remains one that continues to draw many sentiments all across the world. Animal right group are vehemently opposed to this practice of killing animals for sport and trade. They view the idea of hunting animals for conservation purposes as the greatest irony. While the certification program proposes a meaningful idea, to put it to work well would pose difficulties and complexities involved in the process. Again, corrupt officials are often greedy and would steer the prospective hunters away from the following the official way and the money would end up in their pockets. In the Cecil case, Palmer who had a lot of money chose to deviate from the legal route and did something that raised a lot of dust both locally and internationally (Linsey, 2007). Probably if he had approached the issue lawfully, negotiated with the government and follow the law, nobody but the government of Zimbabwe would have known of the issue. Instead, he used a guide who went to a private protected land, lured the lion using a carcass of an elephant and killed it. There has to be humane ways of conserving the wild animals rather than killing some to conserve others, says Marc Bercoff, in his book, ‘The Emotional Lives of Animals.’
Trophy hunting does little to benefit the community or the conservation of other animals. It is all about greed and financial gains to the few individuals who manage to pocket the money without the knowledge of the government. Palmer paid $50,000 to his guide, Theo Brockhorst and the owner of the ranch. Prior to the investigation, the trio were not planning to give the money, but rather had shared it amongst themselves. The government officials are not any better. Little or no money goes back to the local community or even go towards the conservation efforts. Such money could be used for compensating in some incidents where locals are wounded by wild animals or even when their crops are damaged. However, the people engage hide and seek with the wildlife officials who refuse to compensate such incidences. As a result, the people hunt down the animals, kill them and share the meat. Recently, the Maasai of Kenya hunted down four lions which had been terrorizing them and their cows and killed them to the chagrin of the wildlife officials.
The big question is, does trophy hunting contribute anything to wildlife conservation? No. Palmer might not have targeted Cecil but it is likely that he wanted a big male lion worth his money. According to Loveridge, the death of Cecil would likely lead to other males in the herd to kill the cubs. This effectively plays a role in reducing the lion’s herd and thus endangering the species. While this happens in the lion society in normal circumstances, constant targeting of male adults would cause a big problem. Those who support the trade would be quick to point that the detractors are creating a fuss out of a small thing. To them, killing a wild animal for money is not bad as they give the rationale that it would help to preserve wildlife.
Wildlife deserve to live and the fact that they do not talk does not mean they do not feel pain. Instead of killing them, the governments can embark on vigorous campaign to market their wildlife for people to visit their countries which would in turn generate the revenue they need. Again trophy hunting changes the way we regard animals. In some countries, like South Africa, they breed lions in order to sell them to trophy hunters even though such lions are not from the wild. If the uproar raised over Cecil is anything to go by, then it shows that people still value the wild and would not like them misused to the benefit of a few people. To some countries, the wildlife is their national heritage, a national pride and a unique possession that not many countries in the west cannot brag to have.
Loveridge, A. J., Searle, A. W., Murindagomo, F., & Macdonald, D. W. (2007). The impact of sport-hunting on the population dynamics of an African lion population in a protected area. Biological Conservation, 134(4), 548-558.
Lindsey, P. A., Roulet, P. A., & Romanach, S. S. (2007). Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa. Biological conservation, 134(4), 455-469.
Nelson, M. P., Bruskotter, J. T., Vucetich, J. A., & Chapron, G. (2016). Emotions and the ethics of consequence in conservation decisions: Lessons from Cecil the Lion. Conservation Letters, 9(4), 302-306.