Trophy hunting: ‘A way of honouring that animal for all time’

By Tracy Brighten

Big game hunters have a perspective on wildlife slaughter that is difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.

Louis the lion med by Tambako“Of course, it is a personal achievement to harvest any big-game animal with a bow and arrow,” said Glen Hisley of the Pope and Young bow hunting organisation in The Telegraph. “It is a way of honouring that animal for all time.”

This is an interesting perspective and one reserved for the animal kingdom. After all, the desire to honour a person by murdering them, posing beside the body, and keeping the head as a trophy would surely be considered psychopathic. And deriving pleasure just makes matters worse.

If it’s the chase and the thrill of danger that drove Palmer, then killing might have been replaced by capturing living images of “the magnificent, mature lion,” described by his accomplice. But there isn’t the same sense of mastery that must come with a deadly weapon.

Killing endangered animals could mean that one day there’ll be none left to honour, especially as animals face increasing human-related threats. Volunteering with conservation or wildlife protection groups, or making an altruistic donation would be more appropriate if it’s about honour.

Then there’s the argument that trophy hunting helps to fund conservation, but this is hard to accept from a moral viewpoint. Jonathan Young, editor of The Field, reports this idea and offers South Africa as an example where there is legal hunting and white rhino numbers are increasing. He says that wildlife hunters believe in giving a value to the animals they live with.

Is killing at risk or endangered animals for pleasure really a way to fund conservation and prevent species extinction, or does it just ease the conscience of those involved in this dirty game?

Of course, if the lives of local villagers are threatened then killing the attacker may be necessary.

Young also says hunters argue that it makes sense in conservation terms to sell permits to kill older animals, yet there is concern among experts about the social disruption caused by hunting. Infanticide is common when new males enter a pride. Twelve cubs in the two prides led by Cecil and Jericho may not survive with only one male to protect them. There’s also the problem of corruption surrounding permits in Zimbabwe.

Misidentification and blunder, as was the case with Cecil who was GPS collared and supposedly protected, can mean the wrong animals are killed. Running late and keen for a kill, Palmer’s team baited and lured Cecil beyond the safety of the Hwange national park.

Can we trust big-game hunters with testosterone and cortisol – known to increase risk-taking – coursing through their veins in the thrill of the hunt?

When money does the talking, there’s potentially no check on the hunter’s prowess. Even if the hunter is an ace marksman, as Palmer is reported to be, minimising animal suffering isn’t a priority. Cecil’s death was a slow one.

At least some good will come from Cecil’s sacrifice and its publicity. A petition urging the U.S and Europe to ban the import of wildlife trophies is an effort to reduce the attraction to hunters of paying big money for big game. No trophy means reduced status and reduced value in killing.

Zimbabwe has called for Palmer’s extradition to face charges. The professional hunter involved is being charged with illegal hunting, so it’s only right that the dentist who paid him stands by his side.

If trophy hunting involves honour then these big-game hunters need to own up when they’re in the wrong. Even the editor of The Field, who hunts for food, doesn’t quite understand their motivation.

Also published on The News Hub Aug 2, 2015

Image credit:

A portrait of Louis by Tambako on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0