Why would anyone shoot an elephant for fun?

Every year, trophy hunters slaughter tens of thousands of wild animals, bizarrely claiming that killing rare species is an effective way to protect them. Our Head of Policy, veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, reports.

An image of an elephant with a target projected onto its side

(c) George Logan

Trophy hunting is the killing of selected wild animals for sport or pleasure, by predominantly wealthy Westerners, and it is a big business. Hunters pay huge sums to kill wild animals, then post pictures of themselves next to the dead bodies of their victims, before displaying the animals’ heads, skins or other body parts on their walls or trophy cabinets.  
Born Free has campaigned to end the grotesque, so-called ‘sport’ of trophy hunting since our inception. We strongly refute claims that trophy hunting significantly supports conservation or local communities, and are currently raising funds to fight elephant exploitation and protect elephants in the wild.


Mark Jones headshot

Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy

Every year tens of thousands of wild animals are brutally killed by trophy hunters. Among them are hundreds of elephants in southern Africa. The individual elephants who are targeted for this so-called ‘sport’ suffer immensely at the hands of the hunters. Many have to be chased and shot multiple times before they finally succumb. 

But it’s not just the individuals who suffer. The trophy hunters say they target ‘redundant’ or ‘problem’ animals, and that their fees pay for conservation efforts. But the reality is that elephants are highly intelligent, socially complex animals, and no elephant is ‘redundant’ in their complex society. The killing of elephants can disrupt herds and lead to increased conflict between elephants and people, with more victims on both sides. 

In April 2022, we learned that two ‘big tuskers’ – older male elephants whose tusks weigh upwards of 50kg and may reach the ground – had been killed by foreign trophy hunters in a remote corner of Botswana. There may be as few as 20 big tuskers left in the wild across Africa. Their knowledge and experience are irreplaceable. 

Elephant populations across Africa have already been devastated through habitat loss and poaching. By cruelly taking out important members of their remaining social groups, trophy hunters are only making matters worse. 

Elephants also have a dramatic impact on the wider ecology through their role as the ‘gardeners of the forest’, dispersing seeds and creating habitats for a myriad other species. The activities of forest elephants have been shown to increase the ability of forest ecosystems to sequester carbon. The unnecessary and premature loss of even one elephant damages this potential. 

As a vet, a keen naturalist and a student of animal behaviour, elephants fascinate me. They display traits such as empathy and compassion, they care for each other’s young, and they communicate over long distances, traits we tend to think are exclusive to us humans. 

The desire among trophy hunters to pay to kill these and other animals is something I am at a complete loss to understand. 

Born Free is ethically opposed to the hunting or killing of any animal for sport or pleasure. We also challenge the claims made by proponents of trophy hunting that it delivers significant conservation and community benefits, or that it positively contributes to the sustainable use of wildlife. We strive to highlight to policymakers and the public, the negative impacts of trophy and sport hunting activities on the welfare and conservation of animals. 

You can help us by calling on the government in the UK to make good on its promise to ban the imports of hunting trophies from elephants and other threatened and protected species. It may not bring an immediate end to trophy hunting, but it will send a clear message that, as a society, we believe it should be consigned to history where it belongs. 


Help protect wild elephants by supporting our current Hope for Elephants appeal.