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Trophy Hunting in the Spotlight (Again)

Nice, France – Trophy hunting came under the spotlight again when a father of three was killed on his property after being accidentally shot by a boar hunter. The local hunting society immediately closed the hunting season until September 2014. The accident has spotlights why there is a need for boar hunting in the first place, and why many residents are calling for the ‘sport’ to be abandoned altogether.

This follows on the heels of another recent hunting drama that sparked a global outrage when American TV wildlife presenter, Melissa Bachman, posed on Facebook with a lion she shot during a hunt in South Africa. The accompanying message read: “An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60-yards on this beautiful male lion… What a hunt!” The posting led to a storm of criticism, with an online petition in South Africa calling for authorities to prevent her ever returning to that country again.

The reaction to both incidents has been largely emotional but it highlights the questionable value of trophy hunting.

Proponents of the sport say it is good for conservation. “Wildlife management and hunting are an integral part of the ‘green economy’”, said the International Council for Game & Wildlife Management (CIC) President Bernard Lozé.

The CIC argument is threefold.

First, in order for hunters to enjoy their sport, the animals need to be preserved. They point to observances such as restricted seasons and permits to ensure the continued survival of the animals.

Then there is the economic necessity of hunting. A Namibian rancher said “hunting brings in five times more revenue than normal tourists, which goes back into conservation of the species, and assists with the upliftment [sic] of the local communities”. This sentiment was echoed by the owner of a South African wildlife reserve, Alan Watson, who also added the usual ecological explanation to justify hunting. “Kudu are killed with a bullet to the head… because we are totally over browsed and cannot capture game in the traditional manner due to the terrain,” said Watson. “The balance of the meat not directly utilized is sold to supplement this reserves voracious appetite for income to keep this wildlife haven alive and kicking.”

The same argument is prevalent here in France, where the hunters argue that there has been “an explosion” of wild boar populations in recent years. They do admit the ‘problem’ is human-induced as the boars’ natural predators, bears and wolves, have long-ago been hunted into local extinction. I have spent the past two months among the forests and woods of southern France, and can report that the number of hunters operating on a daily basis is astounding. On some days the supposedly tranquil forests felt like a war-zone, the gunfire was that prolific and I certainly did feel unsafe walking about.

Third, the CIC argue that hunting provides much need income for the isolated and impoverished communities by providing job-opportunities, food, and financial investment. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) officially recognizes the benefits of investments and hunting in the reduction of poverty, especially in Africa.

This all sounds very altruistic but many of those against trophy hunting say these justifications are masking the fact that trophy hunting is nothing more than a morbid blood sport with negative ecological ramifications. Ian Michler, a well-known safari guide and commentator, states that justifying trophy hunting is “anachronistic thinking that advocates the use and abuse of wildlife for profit and other questionable reasons. Even with the advances in both the sciences and humanities, trophy hunting is increasingly being shown up as an exploitative and useless practice”.

The very notion of trophy hunting is paradoxical when touted as conservation. The word ‘trophy’ proves that the practice is ecologically flawed. Trophies adorn the heads of dominant male animals, be it Melissa Bachman’s lion, a large tusked boar or a kudu with great spiral horns. It’s always the animals in their prime that get hunted. This is against the basic laws of nature. Nature ensures that the dominant genes survive. A big male kudu, tusked boar or big lion is more equipped to survive longer. They can deal with predators, rival males and pass on the dominant genes as a result. With hunters continually removing these trophy animals, the gene pool of the species effectively gets weakened.

Lions in particular are vulnerable to trophy hunting. Wildlife photographer and conservationist Christina Bush says: “In South Africa around 1 500 lions are killed each year in the name of trophy hunting”. That is doing irreparable damage to a species that already has been reduced by 75% in the wild. At current trends experts believe that lions will go extinct in the wild by 2025.

Beverly and Derek Joubert, National Geographic film-makers based in Botswana, say there will be environmental havoc if lions go extinct.  “They are the most vital centre point in many ecosystems. If we lose them we can anticipate eventual collapse of whole environments, right down to the water systems, as prey shifts or migrations stop, and species overgraze and destroy the integrity of important vegetation, especially along rivers.”

It could also hurt the economic systems of people who rely on tourism to survive.

“Many come to Africa to see the big cats in the wild. Losing that could devastate areas where this tourism is the sole source of income,” the pair believes. Studies show that tourism is a far greater income-earner than hunting. What the hunting lobby do not realize is that tourists won’t share the same environment as hunters. Nobody wants to watch an elephant peacefully browsing moments before its brains get blasted out. Hunting therefore prevents regular tourism. The practice is probably more harmful than not. Certainly, if I were a tourist I would think twice about hiking or biking in the woods of France.

Last week a panel of US wildlife officials voted unanimously to lift the Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. That would open the door to trophy hunting. Would you visit Yellowstone if you knew the bears you see on one day might not be around the next?

Adam Cruise

Adam Cruise is a published author and writer specialising in Africa, Europe and it’s environment. He travels extensively throughout the two continents commenting, documenting and highlighting many of the environmental concerns that face the regions. He is a well-known travel, animal ethic and environmental writer having his articles published in a variety of magazines and newspapers. The rich and varied cultural and historical aspects of both continents have also fascinated Cruise and are evident in much of his writings.

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