Hunters are demonized as monsters who just desire to kill all that is good and sacred in the wild. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Hunters have the biggest incentive to conserve and protect the wild. In an earlier era, rampant and unregulated hunting devastated wildlife and forced countless species into extinction.
But hunters nowadays operate in a highly-regulated environment that minimizes the impact of trophy hunting on the ecosystem, while ensuring funds raised through the hunt goes toward conservation efforts and the local community.
As the Economist, in a 2010 article, pointed out, without the wild paying its way through something like supervised hunting, there's little incentive and plenty of disincentive for the people who must live among exotic animals to care about their survival. Giraffes look cute to us Westerners, but for Masai cattle-herders in Kenya, they're competition for water. A single elephant can devour or trample an African farmer's entire crop overnight. As Goodwell Nzou, a Zimbabwean grad student in the U.S., pointed out in the New York Times on Aug. 4, villagers in his country cheer, rather than mourn, when a lion is killed. They understand that lions are 400-pound apex predators that can rip apart their livestock and their children.
Furthermore, it is often hunters who do the most to preserve the species they hunt. This isn't irony, it's logical. Ducks Unlimited, a waterfowl-hunters nonprofit, has conserved more than 13 million acres of U.S. wetlands and grasslands -- habitat crucial for waterfowl and many other creatures -- mostly through buying easements and offering other financial incentives to the private owners of those properties.
Critics say that it may seem like trophy hunting helps animals on paper, but the on-the-ground reality shows a different picture. The International Fund for Animal Welfare studied the literature on the economics of trophy hunting and found only 3 percent of trophy hunting revenue actually makes its way to the local community. The rest of the money ends up lining the pockets of middle men, government officials and any of the international players that maintain the trophy hunting system.
Besides money, animal rights activists say the fact that trophy hunters seek out the oldest males to hunt is actually bad. The argument that hunters are actually helping the ecosystem by removing non-productive animals is completely false. The older and larger males play important roles in their packs too.
For example, killing a male lion with an impressive mane leaves his fellow pride leaders open to challenges from other males. If a new male does come in, they could kill an entire generation of cubs, which means that the permit for one lion hunt leads to the death of several animals.
Ameena Schelling at the Dodo writes the numbers simply don't add up. The number of animals targeted for trophy hunting is at an all-time low. If hunters truly wanted to conserve these populations, the best way would be to not kill them at all. It's not as though trophy hunting is the only way forward for conservation.
Of course, the biggest rebuttal to the hunting-helps-populations argument is in the numbers. Lions have lost 95 percent of their population since the 1940s. The African elephant population has dropped from several million at the turn of the century to roughly 500,000 today. During the past century hunting has been the primary - if not only - method of conservation, but the perilously low numbers of these animals proves that hunting is ineffective as a conservation method.
And even with these reduced populations, trophy hunters still kill around 105,000 animals in Africa every year, including 600 elephants and 800 leopards, at a time when every individual is crucial to the survival of the species.