How Trophy Hunting Works

A Short History of Trophy Hunting

Teddy Roosevelt with elephant kill Teddy Roosevelt with elephant kill
Teddy Roosevelt, seen here with an elephant he took down in Meru, Kenya, was an avid big game hunter and was the founder of the Boone & Crocket Club in 1887. Library of Congress

The link between hunting, money and conservation is an old one. Since at least the time of William the Conqueror, elites have been concerned about preserving game for recreation [source: Usman]. The very name given to the prey, "game" is revealing. It refers to hunting for fun, rather than necessity.

In ancient and medieval Europe, maintaining game was primarily achieved through land ownership. Those with enough money controlled vast acreages set aside for sport hunting. Poaching was harshly punished. William the Conqueror, for instance, stipulated that poachers could variously be castrated, banished or have their eyes torn out [source: Usman].

But hunting game for sport wasn't quite the same as trophy hunting. The "trophy" in question refers to some form of evidence gathered from the prey. Trophy hunting as we understand it today can be traced back to the late 19th century. In 1892, a man named Rowland Ward outlined what he called the Horn Measurements and Weights of the Great Game of the World. It was the first official record of trophy hunts [source: IFAW].

Across the Atlantic, decades later, in 1930, the Boone & Crocket Club, which had been founded by Teddy Roosevelt in 1887, drew up the Boone & Crocket Trophy Scoring System for North American animals [source: Boon and Crocket Club]. In that same year the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), which has its own Trophy Evaluation System, was registered in Paris [source: CIC]. Trophy hunting as a cultural phenomenon was up and running.

Note the words "Game" and "Wildlife Conservation" in the name of the CIC. From its beginning, trophy hunting aligned itself closely with the idea of conservation. Although counterintuitive to non-hunters, the logic is clear: if you don't protect the prey's habitat, there won't be any prey left. For trophy hunting advocates, this is a cornerstone of their philosophy — wildlife populations flourish where hunters hunt.