Surely everyone remembers when Cecil the lion was killed by a dentist from the US, or when the Spanish king went on holidays and killed an elephant not to mention Corey, the guy who paid $ 350 000 to kill black Northern rhino. These were all controversial cases where animal rights activists argued with supporters of sport hunting. I decided to analyse the facts and try to understand the explanations given by hunting lobby such as how hunting contributes to wildlife conservation: presumably, annually in Africa trophy hunting generates revenues of US$200 million (Rademeyer). Commercial trophy hunting is practiced in 14 African nations, the major countries being South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe (Booth, 2010). In this post I will overturn every single argument quoted by trophy hunting supporters and use data and research to back up my claims. Trophy hunting is the killing industry in Africa and it has nothing to do with conservation. Initially the post deals mostly with Corey Knowlton as it his podcast that inspired me do do broader research, further on I continue by analysing how decades of human cruelty influenced elephant’s behavior and how trophy hunting is not helping local communities at all, to finish with Jimmy Kimmel and explaining how killing one lion destroys the whole pride.
If you have heard about cruel killing of Cecil the Lion surely you must have heard of worlds most hated hunter: Corey Knowlton. I have listened to 2 podcasts with him and read articles not to mention my colleague constantly talking about him at work (yes, some long night shifts), but I did grow some respect and empathy for him, as people who targeted him were mainly haters because he has money for this, I don’t think they care so much about wildlife. But does he care? This guy has tried very very hard to explain his hunting passion. Let’s go through his excuses for killing black rhino in Namibia in 2014:
- Funding conservation
- It was an older male who was killing younger rhinos
- Sustainable use: meat is given to local community
- “Hunter have intimate, deep involvement with circle of life”- connecting with animals, learning more about animals than anyone else to be able to hunt them
- He hunted legally accroding to all regulations
- “If I enjoyed killing animals I would work in slaughter house”.
- Loves outdoors.
- You don’t hunt to kill.
- All animals are smart but they don’t have ethics and emotions.
- Other animals kill animals, as it is part of their lives.
After listening to him for 2,5h I did got impression that he has some kind of logic to it, but he tries a bit too hard to make it look like he is almost doing a favor to humanity. He explains all the diseases he got when he was hunting in tropical areas, like come on, am I suppose to feel sorry for you because you got ill when you were killing animals? Or to portray himself as a hero because you went to Pakistan when it was dangerous, but you went to hunt, I mean come on. Let’s not overdo it and glorify hunting or say how hunting animals raise awareness about them. Shall I give him a friendly pat on his arm because he wants to rent the rhino trophy to different museums? There is nothing more I hate to see than stuffed, dead animal covered in dust, how lifeless, how pointless.
“I believe in sustainable use and hunting as a tool to keep animals alive for generations”. I must admit he loves to use the “sustainable use” phrase, it is quite catchy in era of “sustainability”, “sustainable development” and the “SDG’s”.
Some highlights from the podcast:
“I ate the rhino…”
“How does it taste like?”
“Better than elephant”
“You ate an elephant?! How does it taste like?”
“Not as good as the rhino”.
Corey experienced a lot of hatred and even threats of death from public, he tried to reply to every single message to explain his reasons. Out of all the people who were publically shamed for hunting charismatic animals at least Corey sounds intelligent, educated and he puts the effort in his replies. Corey explains how hunting brings him closer and helps him to connect with animals and with what he eats because he actually makes a good point of nowadays people being completely disconnected from animals and food, he gives examples of the inhumane conditions in which animals live on farms, reflecting on this, probably the hunting he does is done in a far more ethical than how some animals are slaughtered. Corey tries to explain that when he was younger he was very poor and hunting was a way of getting food on table and by practising it since he was little, so he became very good in this, which would explain why he enjoys it so much. However I cannot understand the explanation of hunting means getting the closest to animal as possible and how amazing experience this is. How about rescuing an animal? I can imagine dozens of others ways to get close to an animal… I appreciate his comments because he did think it all through (which probably everyone would by the time they get on Rogan’s podcast…) and I understand that there is a need for hunting to control animal population or to save younger animals from aggressive elder males, as long as it it ethic and has some reasoning behind it. There is huge difference between Corey Knowlton shooting the black rhino and Walter Palmer killing Cecil the lion with an arrow and bow to then track him for 40h and kill after hours of suffering. I am trying to understand but I won’t… I will never sent hateful messages to Corey but I would not say I support this, to get a kick from killing amazing beautiful animals, I would rather pay $350 000 to hug… Just to summirise, I understand that this money went to conservation (preasumably) and for anti-poaching projects to keep rhinos save from poachers who would kill rhinos in a far more cruel way for their horns, sometimes rhinos would be still alive when their whole horns would be taken off. However, I do think that there are better ways of dealing with old non-breeding males of rhinos.
Corey killed the rhino in Namibia, country that ranks quite badly on Transparency International Index, which could indicate that his money did not go to the right hands. There is a reason why Kenya banned trophy hunting over 40 years ago and that is because corrupt officials allow animals to be killed in dangerously high numbers. Corruption leads to poor wildlife management so possibly very little of this money actually goes to conservation (actually 3%, more information below). As much as I don’t want to agree with hunting, there is some reason found in sustainable hunting that creates a value for rhino. This gives an incentive to invest in rhino, create more space for this species and ultimately protect rhino populations, not individuals, but aren’t we then trapped in the “African Hunting Party”- explored in documentary by Louis Theroux? The elder male argument will be explored further on in this post, in regards to sustainable hunting, it could only take place in areas too vast to create photography safaris. I do not support hunting in general, as I love all the animals, however I do understand reasons behind controlling too big populations of deers, foxes or wild boars, but only if it’s done in ethical way with limiting the animal’s suffering and stress.
The documentary starts in disgusting way- father teaching his young maybe 7 year old daughter how to shoot an animal. This is based in South Africa, where areas full of “trophy animals” are fenced, each animal has its price so that wealthy white hunters can come from across the world and shoot animals for their own entertainment. This is absolutely insane! It is a sad documentary, but Louis with his sober comments makes it worthwhile, when he goes on the hunting trip with couple from US, husband loves hunting, wife joined to get the “experience”, husband shoots a zebra and Louis asks:”Aren’t they just like horses?”. So the wife explains him how she doesn’t feel guilty because the meat of the killed animal goes to poor local people. She also states (in a quite well rehearsed manner) even though these animals are raised to be slaughtered they get to live “freely”until their last day, wow how exciting… How is this a sport? You shoot an animal and then you keep tracking it while they have GPS trackers on them, how is this fair? Some half-men building their ego’s over killing animals who has no chance of running away because the whole area is fenced, this is just embarrassing. So that you can later on take a trophy photograph? That is just disgusting, the whole documentary was just disgusting… This is not “conservation” or investing in wildlife and local communities, this is just some little man’s way of showing off and building his ego. These guys seemed like they just loved the excitement and the rush from killing animals and that is just absolutely impossible for me to understand. (I bet everyone loves Corey know, you cannot really compare a real sport hunter with guys who go on game ranches).
Louis takes us to professional “breeder” who breeds animals for the game, he feeds the animals that later are being killed by hunters. He manages one of many in Southern Africa privately owned wildlife areas however, the breeder does not allow Louis to film hunting. Another owner of such farm was a vet!
In the end Louis Theroux makes a very good argument challenging one of the private owners, he compares hunting in such “farms” to tennis without a net: everything it set in a way that ensures hunter’s success, how is this a sport? Chickens are bred to be eaten, while lions are bred to be killed for sake of some ridiculous sport-like activity.
After Cecil the lion was killed, National Geographic took its stand, Dereck Joubert wrote:
“Just today I was filming some lions hunting zebras and I reflected on the difference between a hunting lion and a man hunting a lion. Both are undeniably violent acts. But one is necessary, the other is not. One is for food, the other is not. One involves no great celebration of death, one ends in high fives and alcohol celebrations and often some blooding rituals.”
Privately owned wildlife areas are not that bad if you compare it to growing industry of caged lions where lions are bred in cages and released for hunters to kill. And that is not much different form big slaughter houses where animals are killed and live in far worse conditions than “clean hunting” (this is a popular explanation for hunters that they are conducting “clean hunting” and are shaming slaughter houses). Another explanation is saving the locals from lions killing their cattle or killing the old and surplus. But how is this your position to come from rich Northern country and do this? This is yet another white men’s complex savior.
I would like to qoute Dereck Joubert from National Geographic again:
“I state this again: It is not brave to shoot a lion. Wrestling a lion to death with your bare hands might be brave. But safely at the long end of a telescopic sight and a high-powered rifle, or even with a state-of-the-art compound bow and arrow, it isn’t brave. It’s target practice. Shooting elephants is even easier, a little like shooting at a barn door.”
Following his argument, Dereck explains how he has seen areas where every single male lion was killed and male cubs after they grown up they also got killed, before they had to mate with their sisters, and mothers. This resulted in development of deformities and collapse of entire population. Arguments that lions are not endangered at the moment is not good enough excuse to go and hunt as it all has its consequences, however the International Safari Clubs that sell permits for hunting are not bothered with long-term views (Corey Knowlton belongs to Dallas Safari Club). The argument that money goes to conservation efforts, is weak because there is no away or proving it, Corey just says that but does he know where the money went exactly? Even if it creates jobs it is not a full-time, it is more about hiring for one-off trip, when hunting in Botswana was still legal it contributed less than 0.27% to the national GDP (National Geographic 2015), while ecotourism hires up to 40% of working population (in Northern Botswana). Based on literature on the topic I can estimate how much revenue reaches communities, here is quote from local community members in northern Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe:
“We‘re more closely allied with the photographic operators than the hunters. They are finishing off the wildlife before we‘ve had a chance to realize a profit from it. Hunters don‘t recognize us; they only recognize the government …25 percent of hunting fees goes into the ‘hole’ at the district. We‘re supposed to get 5 percent: we don‘t even see that. (Sachedina 2008, p152)
Research published by the pro-hunting International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, supported by other authors, finds that hunting companies contribute only 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas (Economists at Large, 2013). Any comments now Corey? The fact is that the $350 000 you paid (lets say in good faith) for the hunting permit went to firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals. Local communities get barely anything while you think you are saving them, and yes this may not be your fault but corruption’s and other spending requirements. Further research shows (and please note that this research was conducted by a pro-hunting agency in coalitiom with FAO as highlighted in bold above) that nature based tourism plays a far more significant role in national development while trophy hunting is insignificant. Across the investigated countries, trophy hunting revenue was only 1.8% of tourism revenues (Economists et large, 2013).
Hunting in the countries that still allow it contributes less than 0.27% to the national GDP. In case of Corey Knowlton and black rhino in Namibia, sport hunting accounts for 14% of tourism income in Namibia and comprises of 0.08% GDP (data from 2006, Lindsay et al). “Consumptive wildlife uses [such as hunting] are relatively unimportant in terms of economic contribution, but they are the only use values possible in the less well-endowed two-thirds of the wildlife estate.” (Barnes, J.I., 2001) this is in places where animal population is not dense enough to be good for photographic safari but would help in keeping the animals safe from the locals by giving them value of targets for trophy hunting.
Once again, let’s go back to pro-hunting arguments: hunters are helping villagers to fence off animal-caused damage to their properties, either livestock (lions, tigers, leopards) or farm lands (trampling-elephants). In case of Botswana (before the ban) hunters would leave the leftover carcasses on the outskirts of the village which attracted predators such as lions and leopards.
And please don’t tell me that animals don’t have emotions or are not experiencing death the same way as humans, decades long research conducted on elephants were concluded in paper “Elephant Breakdown” written by a biologists Guy Bradshaw for journal “Nature”
“When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting. If harm comes to a member of an elephant group, all the other elephants are aware of it. This sense of cohesion is further enforced by the elaborate communication system that elephants use.” (Bradshaw, 2005)
Furthermore, Bradshaw and his colleagues observes a form of an elephant PTSD caused by decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss. Therefore today’s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma which explains extreme aggression of males which causes them to either kill each other or people as well as to destroy human villages. I was absolutely shocked to read research about incidents of elephants raping and killing rhinoceroses (data collected in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa). 3 young elephants had to be shot in Pilanesberg as they killed 63 rhinos and attacked people in safari vehicles!!!
This goes against pro-hunting argument that explains hunting old, non-breeding males that kill younger males or humans, research shows that this behaviour is in fact a result of years of hunting, poaching and loss of habitat that changed elephant’s behaviour. This is so sad, as elephants are known for their social nature and family lifestyle. Hunting of elder males destroys natural hierarchy in the herd, Bradshaw’s research shows that elder males are responsible for keeping young males in line, killing them by hunters leaves families of only female elephants. Extensive biological research shows:
“The elephants of decimated herds, especially orphans who’ve watched the death of their parents and elders from poaching and culling, exhibit behavior typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders in humans: abnormal startle response, unpredictable asocial behavior, inattentive mothering and hyperaggression. Studies of the various assaults on the rhinos in South Africa, meanwhile, have determined that the perpetrators were in all cases adolescent males that had witnessed their families being shot down in culling.” (Bradshaw, 2005)
I remain deeply amazed by the emotional intelligence of elephants and how much they resemble human beings. This astonishing research shows how much in common we have, broken families and exposure to prolonged violence change behaviour and cause anxieties, depression, aggression, inability to bond and sustain relationship, also: PTSD. Continuation of hunting will not help in animal conservation and management, it will only add to already existing disruption of animal behaviours that later harm innocent people. Violence never brings anything good, why can’t hunters learn that?
The $200 million question: is it really $200mln?
Finally, I would like to scroll back to the US£200 milion argument (as in profit in Africa for trophy hunting). This argument origins in paper published in the academic journal, Biological Conservation and it is the only published sub-Saharan African estimate of trophy-hunting revenue (Rademeyer, https://africacheck.org). Authors of this paper aimed at:
“There is a lack of consensus among some conservation NGOs and African governments concerning the acceptability and effectiveness of trophy hunting as a conservation tool. This lack of consensus is due partly to a lack of reliable information on the economic significance and ecological impact of the industry. (…) Trophy hunting is thus of major importance to conservation in Africa by creating economic incentives for conservation over vast areas, including areas which may be unsuitable for alternative wildlife-based land uses such as photographic ecotourism. “ (P.A. Lindsey,P.A. Rouletb, S.S. Roman, 2006).
However, this paper was based on research in Sub-Saharan Africa mainly in countries with expansive game farms and sport hunting facilities. Moreover, research was based on published and unpublished literature where most of it is no accessible for public or impossible to find online. In 2013 The African Lion Coalition – commissioned an Australian think-tank, Economists at Large, to produce a study evaluating the “US$200 million question” (Rademeyer, https://africacheck.org), which resulted in paper: “The $200 million question: How much does trophy hunting really contribute to African communities?”
Actually, by spreading the lie about $200mln revenue works against the commercial trophy hunting industry as local communities start asking questions about whereabouts of the imaginary money. Years of dumb bragging about how much Africa earns on hunting backfired on pro-hunting agencies, as the newest research shows that only 3% goes to local communities, thus inequitable distribution of hunting revenues is the most serious threat to the long term sustainability of the industry (Economists at Large, 2013).
In 2010 joint study by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation examined financial side of trophy hunting in Tanzania (largest commercial trophy industry in East Africa), results are shown in below table: (from paper written by Booth, 2010):
A study jointly published by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Booth (2010), explored the income and expenditure of hunting companies in Tanzania, which has the largest trophy hunting industry in East Africa.
Numbers speak for themselves quite clearly, but to make sure everyone gets the imagine:
“Attitudes towards tourists were combined with a vigorous resentment towards tourist hunting in Simanjiro, which was longstanding, intense and widespread. Villagers felt that hunting was destructive, exploitative, and disempowering, and jeopardised village [community-based tourism] revenues.”(Sachedina,2008, p166)
Probably I would not go as far as to spray-paint “Lion-Killer” on the dentist’s garage door, but I would not book an appointment at his practice either. However, such actions and public disapproving outbursts raised important questions about big game hunting and allowing hunters to bring trophies back to their countries, 46% of all trophies in Africa are being brought back to the US. The 3 largest US airlines banned transport of hunting trophies (also: Palmer’s membership at Safari Club International was suspended). Even Jimmy Kimmel took his stand on Cecil the lion and after shaming Palmer on air (not hunting, but useless killing of lion that was used for research and was lured out of the national park), Jimmy encouraged his audience to donate money to the Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (over US$150 000 raised in less than 24h). Five months after the killing of Cecil, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added two species of lions, in India and Western and Central Africa, to the endangered species list. Cecil was quite lucky to live in national park and roar for 13 years, lions on game ranches in South Africa are far less lucky- they are being raised in cages and let into the wild at age of 4 into a fenced territory to be hunted, killed and stuffed to sent to the US. South Africa has about 160 ranches with more than 6,000 lions, and 1,000 are shot each year– where is any point in that? This is as cruel as slaughter house, but then cows and chickens are killed for the purpose of their meat- these poor lions are killed because some mid aged guys need to show off… Let’s not forget about the big hunting lobby in America that regularly sponsor politicians for Congress to keep up their beloved tradition of hunting. In 2014 Safari Club International contributed US$ 451, 061 to campaigns of political candidates in Washington.
We should really rethink this disgusting industry and restrict it, animals should not be bred just to be hunted and put as trophy into someone’s living room. We should follow the good example of Australia which banned import of lion trophies in 2015. Stay smart and don’t believe people who say that the industry is a major contributor to African community development, these contributions are in fact minimal, you can see for yourself in report published by the Economists at Large. And just to answer the question: no, it’s really not US$200 million, the catchy revenue estimate is based on very weak sources and methodology and should be used with caution (Economists at Large).
Finally, these are the numbers of dead lions behind one licence to kill a lion:
“Males coming in to a pride have one desire, to start their own families, not to raise the ousted male’s cubs. So they immediately kill all the cubs in the pride. On average a pride may have between 10 and 20 cubs (if the average pride is 8 females.) One license kills one male and his partner, as well as about 20 cubs, and often a mother who wants to defend her cubs. Total tally for one license: 23 lions! This is what we can expect for Cecil’s pride, a group of six females.” (National Geographic, 2015)
Barnes, J.I. (2001). Economic returns and allocation of resources in the wildlife sector of Botswana. Environmental Economics Unit, Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism
Booth, V. R. (2010) Contribution of Hunting Tourism: How Significant Is This to National Economies. Joint publication of FAO and CIC
Bradshaw G.A., Schore A.N., Brown J.N., Poole J.M.Moss J.C. (2005) Elephant Breakdown. Nature (433), 807
Economists at Large (2013) The $200 million question. Final report.
Joubert, D. (2015) Hunting Lions for Fun. National Geographic.
Lindsey P.A., Rouletb P.A. , Romanach S.S., (2007) Economic and conservation significance of the trophy hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa. Biological Conservation (134)455 – 469
Redemeyer, J. How much does hunting contribute to African economies?
Sachedina, H.T. (2008). Wildlife is our oil : conservation, livelihoods and NGOs in the Tarangire ecosystem, Tanzania. PhD Thesis at the University of Oxford.
Siebert C. (2008) An elephant Crackup? The New York Times.
Steyn, P. (2015) Is Captive Lion Huting Really Helping to Save the Species? National Geographic.
Wilson-Spath, A. (2016) Ultimate Hunters Market: Will this giant hunting auction benefit African wildlife?