How Trophy Hunting Works

The Case for Trophy Hunting

big game hunter big game hunter
Sara Brandenburg is seen here next to an eland antelope she killed in South Africa. The eland was her first African big game kill, and in Africa, it is tradition for hunters to paint their face with the blood of the first animal they kill. James Ambler/Barcroft USA/Getty Images)

Caroline Sorensen, a conservation officer with the CIC, says that trophy hunting "is often rejected as a term, because it is really 'conservation hunting.'" The hunter, she says via email, "typically isn't only going for the trophy, but rather the experience and memory. [They're] taking the trophy as a reminder of that time."

Sorensen goes on to argue that the major benefits of hunting include the consistency of funding (hunters are not as easily dissuaded from traveling to remote areas, or during conflicts); employment (professional hunters, trackers, butchers) in local villages; and community development (schools built, educational programs implemented). Most of the concrete benefits arise solely from trophy hunting's steady, large income.

"There are numerous cases where there is not only some, but sufficient evidence of population rises associated with the implementation of well-regulated community-based natural resource programs," Sorensen says. "Of course, trophy hunting is not the only answer to, or factor in, rising populations; however, it is a major component of these successes.

"The existence of hunting and hunters not only protects existing habitat, but also provides a viable incentive for land-use changes (typically from agriculture to forested land)," she says. Trophy hunting, she explains, puts a price on a certain quality of animal. The money paid for these hunts then can be returned to help manage the land where the animal lived.

"Furthermore, animals which are taken by a hunter who is paying would typically be marked for removal from the population [due to age], even if there is no one paying," Sorenson explains. "This, therefore, means that populations still have to be managed, but if no one is paying to hunt the target animals, then there is a financial loss."

This last point might be one of the most compelling arguments, especially for conservationists who otherwise balk at the idea of killing individual animals to save their species. Mikkel Legarth, founder of the Modisa Wildlife Project, has professed that he was, at one time, among those out on the street trying to get passersby to sign petitions to end lion-hunting. But when he saw the effects of a lion-hunting ban in Botswana, he changed his mind [source: Legarth]. The ban, he says in a YouTube video, actually resulted in the deaths of more lions than when they were pursued by trophy hunters.

That increase could be due to poaching. Previous bans on hunting in Kenya (1977) and Zambia (2001-2003) were followed by an increase in poaching in both countries [source: Mbaiwa]. In Kenya in particular, wildlife numbers dropped 40 percent between 1977 and 1996. As of 2013, the wildlife population in Kenya was half what it was before the hunting ban was implemented. Some sources attribute this precipitous drop to poaching [source: Mbaiwa].

The idea is that if a lion is no longer a valuable source of trophy-hunting tourist dollars, it's just a huge, extremely dangerous cat stalking local livestock and children. And if poached, not only would the nuisance be removed, its claws, head and hide might fetch a pretty penny from foreign buyers. Similarly, elephants, rhinos and other large species can make troublesome neighbors for struggling farmers. And since ivory, tusks, horns and other body parts can be highly valuable, the math is clear: For the people living near these animals, they're often worth far more dead than alive. That is, unless there's an incentive to maintain their habitats.