Google "trophy hunting" and you’ll be met with a mixture of press coverage. Some demonstrates the ethical issues involved in hunting for sport, as well as highlighting species we expose to extinction through trophy hunting.
Elsewhere, it’s argued that regulated practices can actually benefit conservation over time as the profits allegedly flow from trophy hunting into the hands of local people. Unfortunately, as outlined a in a report by environmental anthropologist, cultural geographer and political ecologist Sian Sullivan for The Land, “Stating that local people simply ‘harvest’ money from hunters obscures dramatic inequalities in who this money goes to, as well as in who gains from the labour and land underpinning trophy hunting activities.”
The resulting coverage can make trophy hunting a contentious and confusing topic for the public to engage with, but for Born Free the issue is clear: they want trophy hunting to stop. That's why they're hosting Beyond Trophy Hunting, an event to explore viable alternatives to trophy hunting that can deliver on economic and conservation goals without some of the world’s most iconic species, such as lions, elephants, giraffes and rhinos, paying for it with their lives.
The evening invites “people from a variety of persuasions to look Beyond Trophy Hunting” to try and flesh out what those alternatives could be.
Ahead of the event we spoke with Will Travers OBE, president of the Born Free Foundation, to discuss why the complexities of banning trophy hunting aren’t enough to halt debate over the topic, how incentivized hunting is driving trophy trends, and why current practices for the “sport” are failing to deliver on promises made to people and wildlife.
What are some of the complexities of banning trophy hunting?
The proponents of trophy hunting, or those who support it in some way, like to characterise the whole issue as being extremely complex. They like to sort of almost say, “Please don't worry your pretty little heads about it. We know what we're doing.” I'm not sure it's quite as complex as they want to make out because it disenfranchises the rest of us from the conversation, but I do acknowledge that it's not simple.
There are a number of stakeholders involved here: you've got the animals, of course, you've got the habitat that the animals rely on. And you also have those human communities that live around their habitat. Now, that's not to say that the human communities aren't, or rather are, benefiting substantially from the financial drivers of trophy hunting’s financial outcomes, because it seems that in many cases, they're not. But they are still living in those spaces. So, wildlife is potentially a challenge, particularly larger wild animals that are more dangerous to humans.
And when, for example, as has happened across much of Sub Saharan Africa, particularly on the eastern and southern side, you have a long term drought, then wild animals will do whatever they need to do to survive. That might be that they take on livestock, or if they’re elephants they may raid crops. So those people do have a very intrinsic relationship with the wildlife that they share that space with. Now, those who advocate trophy hunting say, well, in order to compensate for the challenges that wildlife represents, they need to get something out of the relationship and therefore they get something from trophy hunting.
The problem is that they don't really get much, and our objective at Born Free – and I know it's shared by many people – is to find ways of supporting those local people, giving them choice and opportunity and life chances that out-compete whatever trophy hunting has brought to the past. And having looked at some of the numbers, I just don't think it's beyond us to do that. And not just to do it by a small margin, but to do it substantially.
What are the next steps to achieving this goal?
Well, I don't have I don't have the answers, and part of the reason that we're holding the event on December 15 at the Royal Geographical Society is to begin to tease out what some of those answers might look like.
There may be some alternatives that don’t fly from a financial point of view, or some which have other significant consequences that make them non-viable. But we’ve already seen examples of former trophy hunting land that’s been absorbed into a different kind of Land Management System that delivers benefits to human beings in a way that has a positive impact on the natural environment and the wild species that live there.
For example, we've seen in the rainforests of British Columbia former trophy hunting land that’s been bought up and turned into an opportunity for what's called “adventure tourism” for people who want to get truly close to nature and are willing to travel to more difficult and remote areas to see it. So that example is not a million miles away from what could go on elsewhere.
What some trophy hunters claim is the reason why photographic tourism in trophy hunting areas won’t work is because photographic tourists like the luxuries, they want their four-by-fours and luxury lodges, but I would love to find the evidence – which I believe is out there – to disprove that, and to say that there are people who will pay a premium for an authentic wilderness experience that will deliver not just the same, but better benefits than the trophy hunting experience.
What species and geographic areas are currently worst affected by trophy hunting?
Well, I think we've got to be clear that trophy hunting itself is not the primary reason why species may be in decline are negatively impacted. There's lots of reasons why the 8 billion people on the planet are having a negative impact on biodiversity, and particularly in the sense of wide ranging, large, iconic terrestrial species. Elephants need a lot of space; lions need very large areas of land. There is more trophy hunting going on in Africa simply because it's still where you can find trophy species that are favoured by the incentivised trophy hunting industry.
The very big trophy hunting organisations promote awards that are given to individuals who have killed a certain number of species, or shot particular species, or killed animals in different geographic locations around the world. Some of their top awards mean you have to have killed more than 100 different species around the world in order to claim your prize. This is incentivised trophy hunting.
It's also important to point out that trophy animals, far from the narrative that some people like to promote, are not the old and the infirm, or the weak ones that would die anyway if they weren’t taken out by a trophy hunter. The record books focus on the very large features like the biggest tusks, the most magnificent, all those things which are desirable for an award-winning trophy.
What’s your goal for the future with regards to trophy hunting?
My objective ultimately, is to persuade people that trophy hunting is an unethical activity predominantly practiced by a wealthy white male, Western elite that does not deliver on its promises and should not be tolerated for both practical and moral reasons.
"My objective is to try and identify what the alternatives to trophy hunting could be...and to find the resources to begin the process of implementing them".
I recognise that that is going to take probably the rest of my working life to prosecute, but at the same time I do not agree with those who say that you cannot put an end to trophy hunting unless you have a fully funded and costed alternative programme. Because, if you go down that route, frankly no one would do anything. It would be like saying to the renewable energy sector, “You can't abandon coal or oil until you have a fully funded and costed programme with alternatives in place to replace them.”
My objective is to try and identify what the alternatives to trophy hunting could be. And to find the resources to begin the process of implementing them, as well as demonstrating that we can do better for wildlife, nature and people.
What can people expect at the Beyond Trophy Hunting event?
They will encounter a fascinating discussion for a couple of hours. I'm hoping through technology that we will be joined by Her Excellency, Professor Judi Wakhungu EGH, calling in from Kenya. We will have in the room with us Tom Lalampaa, who's the Chief Executive of the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. We'll have Timothy Kamuzu Phiri, Executive Director of Mizu Eco-Care in Zambia, as well as many others. I think it will be a fascinating evening, and there will be a chance for those who are attending in person to ask questions.
It's a step. It's highly unlikely we're going to come out of this with the answer, but my hope is that what we may come out of this with is a sense of direction, and a sense of momentum. Some idea of areas which deserve further examination, scrutiny and research in order to deliver some viable alternatives to trophy hunting, which we would then take into the wider marketplace and say to people “if you think this will work, and you believe it will, and here's why.”
Click here for more information on Beyond Trophy Hunting.