Trophy hunting is an emotive issue. Nevertheless, Born Free does not condone abuse of any kind. We aim to present our arguments in a professional and transparent way, and we have confidence in both our ethical position and the evidence we present to refute the claims made by hunting proponents.
Born Free has an ethical objection to the killing of any animal for pleasure or ‘sport’. We also strongly dispute the assertion made by some that ‘the science’ suggests trophy hunting provides net benefits for conservation or rural communities. On the contrary, there is a great deal of debate and differing opinion on this issue within the scientific community.
Studies and reports have increasingly questioned the economic, conservation and societal values of trophy hunting activities, its morality, and its sustainability. With money to be made, corrupt practices abound.
Animal populations are often manipulated and quotas set to maximise profits; recommended age-based and area-based limitations are frequently ignored; hunting levels often exceed quotas; and much of the funding generated from trophy hunting ends up in the hands of hunting concession operators, officials, and foreign companies.
The report Missing the Mark by the United States Democratic staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources, examined the trophy hunting of African elephants, black and southern white rhinoceros, leopards and lions in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Africa and Namibia. It found “many troubling examples of funds either being diverted from their purpose or not being dedicated to conservation on the first place,” and concluded that “corruption within governments or organizations can prevent trophy hunting revenues from funding conservation activities and can even lead to the mismanagement of hunted populations”.
In his recently published book Trophy Hunting: A Psychological Perspective, renowned psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie provided clear evidence that, far from being primarily concerned with wildlife conservation, the primary motivation for trophy hunting is this desire for status among peers, and that trophy hunters display personality traits one would associate with narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
Far from removing surplus, decrepit or ‘undesirable’ animals, trophy hunters typically pursue the animals with the most impressive traits which make the best ‘trophies’, but which can have a disproportionate impact on the genetic and social integrity of their family group or wider populations, and serious adverse impacts on conservation outcomes.
Examination of advertised hunts and the awards conferred by major hunting organisations reveals a clear focus on the size and traits of trophies, with little evidence of any effort to encourage hunters to restrict themselves to identified problem or ‘redundant’ animals.
The trophy hunting industry has also been implicated in the trafficking of wildlife through so-called ‘pseudo-hunting’, where trophy hunting has been used as a front to facilitate the acquisition and export of valuable parts of protected animals for illegal commercial trade. The relationship between rhinoceros trophy hunting and the illegal international trade in rhinoceros horn is well-documented. In January 2018, the Natural Resources and Tourism Minister of Tanzania accused hunting operators of being involved in poaching and illegal exports of ivory. Such associations further undermine the credibility of the trophy hunting industry’s conservation claims, and place vulnerable wildlife populations at increased risk.
In 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) talked of “weak governance, corruption, lack of transparency, excessive quotas, illegal hunting, poor monitoring and other problems in a number of countries”, and of the need for “urgent action and reform” of the trophy hunting industry. Born Free strongly aligns itself with the conclusion of the 2017 report published by the IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) Ethics Specialist Group, that “Trophy hunting is not consistent with “sustainable use”. We also endorse the statement made recently by Claudio Sillero, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Oxford, in which he says: “Not only is trophy hunting a cruel and immoral pursuit but, overall, it is counter-productive to conservation efforts as it blurs the boundary by setting a seriously adverse expectation that wildlife should be monetarised (‘if it pays, it stays’) above the many other benefits we gain from nature.”
A very recent publication questioned the conservation value of trophy hunting and wildlife farming, and suggested that a more zoocentric, rights-based approach to international wildlife law could yield better conservation results than the current utilitarian species-focused approach.
It is our view that the ‘conservation benefits’ to wildlife from trophy hunting are grossly exaggerated by hunting proponents. Published field studies have brought the conservation credentials of trophy hunting into question in relation to African lions and leopards in Tanzania, lions in Zimbabwe, leopards in South Africa, and elephants across parts of Southern Africa, among others.
A report prepared for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/France Partnership in 2018 noted that 40% of the big game hunting zones in Zambia, and 72% in Tanzania, are now classified as “depleted”, because of overhunting and agricultural encroachment.
The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in 2019, described nature’s decline as ‘unprecedented’, indicated that as many as a million species are at risk of extinction, and that changes to land and sea use, and exploitation of organisms (which would include trophy hunting), are key drivers of these declines. It described the current global response as ‘insufficient’, called for ‘transformative changes’ to restore and protect nature, and stated that opposition from vested interests can be overcome for public good.
Born Free is advocating for radical changes in the way nature, biodiversity and wildlife is valued, protected, and funded. To this end, we published our Global Nature Recovery Investment Initiative in 2020. We are also supportive of measures proposed in the UNDP Biodiversity Financing Initiative, and in the final report of the Dasgupta Review of the Economics of Biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Treasury.
Local communities are clearly key stakeholders, and we need to explore and implement mechanisms that enable those communities to see and realise the benefit of protecting wildlife and biodiversity, and the ecosystem services they provide, for their own sake and for the sake of all life on this planet. We would point to recent studies which indicate the value of keeping wild animals in the wild, for example the ecotourism value of individual elephants over their lifetime, and studies conducted under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund which have identified the significant carbon sequestration value of great whales and forest elephants when they are allowed to live out their lives in their natural habitats. Such studies strongly suggest that there are innovative ways this value might be realised through carbon offsetting programmes in order to encourage local communities to protect wildlife populations and, by doing so, to benefit from this value.
Born Free’s programmatic portfolio includes work on wildlife and animal welfare policy, education, wild animal rescue and care, and field conservation. Our website contains details of our programmes. We co-ordinate or support field conservation and education programmes in a number of African countries, including some countries in which trophy hunting does take place (including, for example, Zambia and Ethiopia), although these are clearly activities we do not support. Our work includes projects aimed at helping local communities effectively mitigate human-wildlife conflict issues, in order to protect people, their livestock, and wild animals from the consequences of such conflict.
While there are those whose advocacy for trophy hunting is supported by the trophy hunting industry, those of us who campaign against trophy hunting are supported through the generosity of people who agree with our position that killing animals for fun is morally unacceptable. Born Free does not fundraise on the back of our trophy hunting-related campaign work for restricted funds. As a UK-registered charity, Born Free operates in a transparent and open manner, and publishes its annual reports and accounts on the Charity Commission’s website, which provide a breakdown of our fundraising activities and expenditure.
In our view, trophy hunting is a cruel relic of a colonial era, practiced predominantly by a global elite, that results in intense animal suffering and disruption of wildlife populations, while contributing little or nothing to local economies or wildlife conservation. It is also wracked by corruption and greed. If we are to end this heinous activity we must find alternative ways of managing habitats that benefit both wildlife and the local communities that live alongside it.