Let's talk: Does hunting aid conservation?

The furore over the killing of a famous lion in Zimbabwe has sparked a heated debate over the ethics of so-called trophy hunting. Emotions run so high on this issue that the American dentist who shot Cecil the lion with a bow and arrow has gone into hiding.

In this case, the man is right to hide because the kill was illegal. It is alleged Walter Palmer and a professional local hunter Theo Bronkhorst lured Cecil out of the conservation area with a dead animal tied to their vehicle. Mr Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow but did not kill the beast. Reports say it took 40 hours for the men to track down the beast and kill him with a gun shot.

Before disappearing, Mr Palmer defended himself by saying he had relied on the locals to ensure the hunt, for which he paid $50,000, was legal.

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But what about the case of the Texan cheerleader Kendall Jones who recently started a firestorm of social media anger when she posted Facebook pics with her legally acquired big game trophies?

The young woman defended herself vigorously, explaining, “The rhino was a green hunt, meaning it was darted and immobilised in order to draw blood for testing, DNA profiling, microchipping the horn, and treating a massive leg injury most likely caused by lions.”

young woman with lion


In response to criticism for killing a lion with a bow and arrow, she wrote, “Controlling the male lion population is important within large fenced areas like these in order to make sure the cubs have a high survival rate.”

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In another post, Ms Jones explained that meat from some hunts feeds local villagers.

But it’s not just hunters who say hunting is good for the animals and communities that live with them.

Niki Rust, PhD candidate in Carnivore Conservation at University of Kent, and Diogo Veríssimo from Georgia State University, writing in The Conversation, explain that legal hunting of lions in Zimbabwe is highly regulated, with quotas and permits.

“Lions are only killed once they have reached a certain age to make sure they’ve had the chance to pass their genes on. As a result, lion populations in Zimbabwe are either stable or increasing.”

They also tell us that Zimbabwe has a tradition of using trophy hunting to promote wildlife conservation. Through the CAMPFIRE programme, which ran from 1989 to 2001, more than US$20m was given to participating communities, 89% of which came from sports hunting.

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“Zimbabwean trophy hunting generates roughly US$16m of revenue annually. While it has been rightly pointed out that only 3% of this goes towards local communities, the ethical implications of removing this money without a clear alternative need to be examined,” say the academics.

“So if hunts are conducted following these rules, can trophy hunting really help conserve lions? Some argue that even if this were the case, the practice still shouldn’t be allowed because it involves killing a charismatic and threatened animal for fun.”

What do you think? Is legal trophy hunting right or wrong?