Trophy Hunting and Conservation

Jan 2, 2020 | Conservation

Despite the irrational hatred for hunters on social media pages and the rhetorical hyperbole, real conservation deserves a fair understanding of the facts, or as Oscar Wilde said “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”.

Few things stoke the fires of emotion like the idea of endangered species dying unnecessarily. The African lion, one of the most iconic species on the planet, has become a symbol of conservation worldwide. But while Disney’s The Lion King personalizes an anthropomorphic view of animals in the American psyche, the debate on how best to conserve lions and other threatened species is not always consistent with pop culture notions. 

The recent introduction of the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Trophies Act of 2019 in US Congress is guaranteed to heat up the debate.

H.R. 4804 seeks to prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will undermine or stop captive breeding projects like the one that has successfully saved the scimitar-horned oryx, and other endangered hoof stock from extinction— returning them to the African savannah.

Sixty percent of big game hunted in Africa are destined for trophy rooms in the United States. Proponents of the ProTECT Act say allowing hunters to export trophies back to the U.S. sends the wrong conservation message. They say lions and other listed species would be best conserved by blocking access to American hunters, thereby reducing pressure on populations.

Although the idea of trophy hunting does not enjoy wide popularity, its value as a pragmatic conservation tool has proven to have great merit. Animal rights advocates completely dismiss the conservation benefits of hunting. They value protecting individual animals over actions that favor preservation of species. However, a study of trophy hunting by the University of Zimbabwe supports claims of conservation success tied to responsible hunting practices. 

To date there appears to be no clear evidence that would support the premise that banning Americans from trophy hunting would inure conservation benefit to wildlife in Africa. To the contrary, banning hunting could undermine real conservation efforts by diminishing the value of lions and other listed species to local African communities. 

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