Dr. Mark Jones

Busting the Myths – the truth behind trophy hunting

Flickr/las.photographs/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hunters claim that the fees they pay benefit wildlife conservation, local communities, and the economics of the countries when trophy hunting takes place. They also claim that by targeting ‘problem’ or ‘redundant’ animals their activities represent a legitimate form of wildlife management. Today, international wildlife charity Born Free has released the findings of their 18-month cross-disciplinary investigation into the practice, finally unveiling the truth behind the myths.

Taken from the field, from within hunting organisations, with hunters, communities, academics; psychologists, economists and conservationists, the top line results are broken down in the report, backed with evidence, rather than beliefs and prejudice – with facts from the front line:

MYTH – Trophy hunting aids wildlife conservation

TRUTH: Evidence suggests that, far from benefiting wildlife conservation, the effects of trophy hunting are all too often detrimental. The fact that many species are in serious decline in the very countries which allow them to be hunted tells its own story.

Because hunters value rarity, the rarest species are disproportionately affected by hunting pressure and may be driven towards extinction as a result[i]. Trophy hunting also has wider implications for the welfare of non-target animals. Removing particular animals on the basis of specified individual traits may have a disproportionate impact on the behaviour of remaining animals in the group, and its genetic integrity.

MYTH – Trophy hunters use humane methods to kill their prey

TRUTH: Some hunting organisations acknowledge that trophy hunters have a responsibility to avoid inflicting undue suffering and should aim to make quick and humane kills[ii]. However, many trophy hunting organisations offer awards for methods of killing a trophy animal which might include the use of bows and arrows, handguns, or ‘traditional’ weapons such as muzzle loaders or spears, methods that clearly do not prioritise the welfare of the target animal[iii].

It’s not just at the point of killing where animal welfare is compromised. Target animals may be pursued for long periods of time (in some cases days) during hunts. Individuals may be separated from family groups or populations which may result in considerable stress. In some cases, target animals may be deliberately lured into hunting areas.

MYTH: Trophy hunter fees help the local communities

TRUTH: Local communities do not benefit from trophy hunting to any significant degree. An analysis of data published by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, found hunting companies contribute on average just 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas. The vast majority of their income goes to government agencies, outfitters and individuals located in national capitals or overseas.

MYTH: Trophy hunting contributes to a country’s economy

TRUTH: Trophy hunting’s contribution to the economy is negligible. A 2017 study[iv] concluded that “the current total economic contribution of trophy hunters from their hunting-related, and non-hunting related, tourism is, at most, about 0.03% of GDP” and an economic study published in 2013 estimated that trophy hunting generates just 1.8% of total tourism revenues in countries that allow the practice[v].

Alternative economic activities can generate far more revenue from wildlife than trophy hunting. A live elephant may be worth as much as US$1.6m over its lifetime through income from photographic tourism[vi], many times the fee typically paid by a trophy hunter. Furthermore, non-consumptive photographic wildlife tourism can often operate year-round, host a significantly larger number of guests, employ more people, generate higher average revenues, and offer higher staff wages than trophy hunting outfitters[vii].

MYTH: Trophy hunting can help with wildlife management

TRUTH: Trophy hunters do not generally target problem, redundant or old and infirm animals, preferring to set their sights on animals with impressive traits – the darkest mane, the biggest tusks, the longest horns. This often results in the killing of key individuals, removing vital genetic resources and causing disruption to family groups, populations and, by extension, the wide ecosystems of which they form a part.

MYTH: Trophy hunting is well regulated

TRUTH: The degree to which trophy hunting is regulated varies according to the country and species concerned. At an international level, CITES regulates international trade in species listed on its Appendices, which requires that trophies for export conform to relevant definitions, are legally obtained in their country of origin, their export is not detrimental to the survival of the species concerned, and the trophy-hunting operations are sustainably managed. However, the mechanisms for scrutinising the sustainability of trophy hunting operations are weak and left largely to national governments, and there are no provisions relating to the welfare of the animal or animals from which the trophies are derived.

“Given that the same conversations kept circling about trophy hunting, whilst the same denials and obfuscation bounced around, we decided to pull together this shockingly eye-opening report. It seemed to us that there was something very odd about a human enterprise that could provoke so much interest, produce so much evidence, and generate huge passions, but which washed around in an apparently fathomless sea of conflicting truths. Our thanks go to those who must live where hunting takes place and suffer the consequences. At Born Free we are indebted to them and will continue to do all that is in our power to free them and the wildlife with which they live from this absurdity,” said Howard Jones, CEO of Born Free.

Dr Mark Jones trained as a vet at Liverpool University and worked for many years in fish health and disease control, before spending five years travelling extensively and working on rescue and rehabilitation projects for primates, bears, birds, and reptiles in South America and Asia. He has Masters’ degrees in both aquatic and wild animal health, and several years’ experience in the non-government animal protection sector covering international wildlife trade, wildlife management and animal welfare issues. He joined the Born Free Foundation in 2014 where he is currently Head of Policy.

[i] 66. Palazy, L. et al. 2011.Cat Dilemma: Too Protected To Escape Trophy Hunting?

[ii] https://www.boone-crockett.org/about/LRS.asp?area=about&ID=6B4550

[iii] https://www.safariclub.org/sites/default/files/2018-10/world%20hunting%20award.pdf

[iv] https://www.hsi.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/pdfs/economists-at-largetrophy-hunting.pdf

[v] http://www.ecolarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Ecolarge-2013-200mquestion-FINAL-lowres.pdf

[vi] http://iworry.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Dead-or-Alive-Final-LR.pdf

[vii] Ian Michler, ‘To Snap or Snipe?’, Africa Geographic, Oct. 2, 2002.


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