On a planet where humans have been making use of animals for their own consumption and survival, there has been much debate over the morality of this practice. Trophy hunting, in particular, has been one of the most antagonized forms of hunting in today’s generation. As explained by BBC Wildlife, trophy hunting is the hunting of certain wild animals for the hunters’ own gratification. The trophies of these dead animals—which can be any part of its body—are then kept by the hunters as a souvenir. A lot of people see this as barbaric and selfish—as well as a threat to endangered species.
“I was around 8 years old the first time I went hunting. It was a Kudu. I was scared, but only scared that I’ll miss or only injure the animal and not kill it.” This is how Roelien Faber, a 20-year old law student, briefly recounted her first trophy hunting experience. Faber comes from a family of game farm owners in South Africa, particularly in the city of Pretoria nestled in the small province of Gauteng—where trophy hunting is a customary form of livelihood and children are trained with hunting rifles from a very young age.
“It is not as bad as people think,” she explains. The first time I heard this from Faber, I was dumbfounded. Hundreds of animals from different species are killed every year just for their heads, pelts, horns, hides, and other body parts to be hung on walls like still frames. How could mercilessly killing wild animals for an ego-driven activity be not as bad as people think it is?
“We hunt only when there is an overpopulation issue rising. The first motive will be controlling the overpopulation and thereafter the food that you get from it,” Faber affirmed. Trophy hunting, in essence, is said to be continuously practiced for the conservation, restoration, and protection of wildlife. It may come off paradoxical, but this activity helps sustain communities (including the ecosystem) mostly in Africa—where its economy is directly influenced by its wildlife. A huge percentage of revenue and incentives from this activity funds organizations and agencies that work for wildlife conservation. The meat from these animals is also donated to the rest of poor communities. As found by North West University’s Tourism Research, hunting greatly helps South Africa’s economic development. Just this 2016-2017 hunting season, trophy hunting directly contributed R13.6 billion (PHP 51.1 billion)—exclusive of all the other external incentives and offers also being given.
Controlling the population of predators is also crucial and deemed necessary. Crops have been destroyed, human deaths have been recorded, and even other protected species have also been killed—all caused by the uncontrolled behavior of some wild animals. It has been reported that elephants, especially those orphaned young, have been found killing endangered rhinos. As Faber explains, it seems no longer viable to just stand by and let all these happen to ‘let the nature take care of itself.’ Trophy hunting is then seen as one of the few and immediate solutions people from these places resort to. It is important to take note, however, that this activity comes with strict regulations which hunters are expected to abide by.
“I’ve also seen most trophy hunters do not care much for the wildlife in South Africa. So obviously their intentions won’t have anything to do with trying to sustain an ecosystem,” Faber explains that this is how the practice is exploited. It is stated in game farms’ rulebooks that endangered animals are strictly not allowed to be hunted. However, the rulebook of game farm owners has little power compared to the legislation of South Africa—which considers these animals as mere property and a resource. Dan Pannock, a member of the Centre for Environmental Rights and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, concurs that Africa’s protection of these animals’ welfare is in a state of neglect. This, in return, enables some hunters to easily distort restrictions through extortion. This is when prohibited animals get killed, and prohibited areas get disturbed.
Beyond the distinctively rich wildlife in Africa, trophy hunting also thrives on far continents. In other countries such as the Philippines, this practice is illegal and not necessary. There is no wildlife overpopulation. There are no cases of adversity caused by wild animals. Philippines’ wildlife, in actuality, is already numbered; hunting these wild animals can possibly wipe it off at full tilt. In the simplest words, there is no need for this practice.
Objection from harm
Environmental philosopher Gary Varner acknowledges that few people are willing to go far in discussing the blind spots of trophy hunting. Varner calls the argument of most people ‘objection from harm’— that it is wrong to inflict unwanted pain or death on these animals. If that should be the case, Varner says that predation among animals should then also be antagonized. When a lion attacks a wildebeest, this wildebeest experiences much unwanted harm as any hunter would—probably even worse. South Africa has also been experiencing drought, and most animals have died by nature under scorching heat and shortage of water. Even without human intervention, these animals will be pitted against harm or death—possibly sooner than a hunter’s attack. Varner admits that this still does not rationalize hunting solely for enjoyment.
“It would be unfair to debate about trophy hunting if you haven’t actually seen how a game farm works,” Faber stressed. As an outsider who only gets to see seemingly gruesome photos, it is easy to cast our hatred right away. And though there is no justification or morality in killing mercilessly, it is important to realize and understand the complexities behind this activity and to realize that there are reasons why the community must hunt certain animals for their own safety and well-being.
There are different countries, different economies, different communities, different states of wildlife, and different habitats—all have different needs and situations. The world is complex and diverse, opinions and decisions must not be enclosed from one single perspective. Cultural relativism states that practices and beliefs must be understood and judged from the culture it comes from, and we cannot impose our own cultural bias. Some areas, given their own situations and alternatives, are left with no choice but to adhere to this so-called unethical livelihood. The challenge is on us—as to how we can rightfully transform these communities without pushing their sustenance on the verge of collapse.