When lions are just a commodity

Trophy hunting's PR nightmare

Trophy hunting’s PR nightmare

Does it matter if wild animals are treated as a commodity? If farming and hunting animals contributes to their survival, then should we not just regulate the industry so it is done with high animal welfare standards and maximum conservation benefits? Or does trophy hunting actually contribute to the decline of species as some NGOs claim?

Last year, the trophy hunting business committed two PR disasters. Firstly, Michelle Bachmann became an overnight bete noir by posting a picture of herself on Facebook kneeling over a dead lion she had shot on a trophy hunt. The industry then unwisely held an auction in the US instead of Africa for the right to shoot an old rhino, thus drawing the fire of enraged animal welfare groups.

The trophy hunting industry argues that they produce substantial economic and conservation benefits. Animal welfare and conservation NGOs oppose it and are lobbying for lions to be added to the US Endangered Species Act. This protection would ban the import of trophy lions into the US and thus remove a significant source of the industry’s revenue. Presumably there would be negative economic and conservation consequences.

So why does the trophy hunting business attract so much vitriol? Part of the reason is the different views that we take on human utilization of animals. Half the world think it is acceptable to harvest animals for our food and clothing needs (and sport) and the other half think it is unethical and must be stopped.

Here I present two voices for and against trophy hunting. Please feel free to comment.

For: The lion farmer

Driving through the bush, lion farm owner and former vet Piet Venter demonstrates the conservation benefits of trophy hunting to the BBC’s Louis Theroux.

“Its about farming…there are so many people who want to hunt and that is what they like and there is demand for it. All this that you see here was paid for by the Americans…30years ago. We had cattle here, this was orange trees..30 years ago this was all orange trees, now it is all bush and game because they pay us more money than we did with the cattle.”

Standing outside the pen of 6 lions, he explains to Theroux that lions will fight when they are hungry but “…with 120,000 (£10,000) Rand walking around there, why would you allow him to get hungry they will all be hunted”. He asks “what other value is there to the lion”? He says they are like chickens, they have to lay eggs or they will serve no purpose like a barren chicken. Theroux asks if he loves his lions. Venter answers flatly “no…look at his eyes..walk past him and see if you feel any love there”.

After Theroux politely turns down the offer, Venter sums it up by saying “they are just a plain commodity”.

Against: the animal welfare lobbyist

An op-Ed in National Geographic by Jeff Flocken, US Director of IFAW last year makes the following criticisms of trophy hunting:

1. Hunting…” kills healthy members of an imperiled species. The adult male lion is the most sought-after trophy by wealthy foreign hunters. And when an adult male lion is killed, the destabilization of that lion’s pride can lead to more lion deaths as outside males compete to take over the pride.

Once a new male is in the dominant position, he will often kill the cubs sired by the pride’s previous leader, resulting in the loss of an entire lion generation within the pride”.

2. “Trophy hunting is also counter-evolutionary, as it’s based on selectively taking the large, robust, and healthy males from a population for a hunter’s trophy room”

3. Income from hunting does not arrive with the communities but with government and foreign companies

4. Trophy hunting revenue is insignificant compared to safari tourism revenue

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