How Trophy Hunting Works

Regulating Trophy Hunting
Two elephants play in the Mara Triangle, the northwestern part of Masai Mara national reserve managed by the Mara Conservancy, in southern Kenya. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

For those who steadfastly believe that trophy hunting is a good conservation strategy, research indicates that for it to really work, it must be carefully regulated. One study from 2012, for instance recommends that lion hunting quotas be limited to 0.5 lions per 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles). And not only should the numbers be limited, but the age of the lions should also be highly restricted. Under such circumstances, the study argues, trophy hunting could remain sustainable while helping to preserve large tracts of lion habitat.

Sorensen agrees, underscoring the fact that, "regulation plays a key role in the success of trophy hunting programs ... and administrative transparency is critical," she says. "Each area varies and is influenced by human development, climate change, etc. and each piece of land must be assessed each year to determine the need for hunting programs to be implemented." In the end, she says, there is no single activity that can fulfill the requirements of true conservation on its own. For her part, she believes that hunting isn't the only answer, but rather it's an integral part of a multi-faceted approach to the problem.

Sillero of the Born Free Foundation couldn't disagree more. He says he believes that there are more values attached to wildlife than money. "We may want to protect wild species and their habitats for their ecological role, for ethical or esthetical reasons, or even for their cultural role," he says. "Using an utilitarian argument to justify the persistence of wildlife – if it pays it stays –  is simply wrong. Particularly so when it involves wealthy individuals, paying for the right to take a life, regardless of what others may feel about it."

In the case of large charismatic mammals, Sillero says, local people can derive benefits through non-consumptive use, with visitors spending money to come and see those very animals through the lenses of their cameras, not their guns.

He suggests appealing to wealthier nations and societies to help those poorer countries that host the largest diversity of animals that may not have the financial resources to protect them effectively and sustainably. "We live on one planet, and the majestic wildlife that still roams free is our common heritage," Sillero says. "We can do more, we must do more, to protect wildlife, and we can do that without the help of those insisting that they protect wildlife over the barrel of their guns."

As far as Texas hunter Corey Knowlton goes, he still says he believes that killing that endangered black rhino will help the species survive. "I felt like from day one it was something benefiting the black rhino," Knowlton told CNN's Ed Lavendara, who Knowlton invited to join him on the hunt in early 2018. "Being on this hunt, with the amount of criticism it brought and the amount of praise it brought from both sides, I don't think it could have brought more awareness to the black rhino."

But what's really at the heart of the complex debate over trophy hunting is one of the great conundrums of the 21st century: How do we all — humans, lions, elephants, black rhinos and every other species on Earth — live together and flourish? This, surely is what everybody desires, regardless of where they stand on trophy hunting.

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