Do trophy hunters kill endangered animals?

Tess Talley poses with 'rare' giraffe

How many times have you seen a newspaper headline or post online ‘exposing’ another evil trophy hunter for killing an endangered animal? The post usually includes emotionally charged words like murder, slaughter, killing, corpse, defenceless animals, cruelty, sick, sadistic, evil, or our favourite, toxic masculinity. 

Trophy hunters kill endangered rhino

Trophy hunter kills endangered animals

Trophy hunter slaughters animals

Then there’s Ricky Gervais, who takes the emotionally charged language to a whole new level. I wonder what Ricky thinks is an acceptable solution for dealing with a charging lion… 

Ricky Gervais slams trophy hunter

Another prime example of this kind of emotive language and blatant ‘fact’ twisting can be seen on the not-for-profit website, Lady Free Thinker, which claims it is working towards a free and compassionate world by ‘educating’ its 1 million + readers per month on the ‘truth’ about animal cruelty.

But it seems that truth, Lady Free Thinker style, is subjective based on the agenda being pushed. In a recent article on the site, Erica Schneider claimed trophy hunters are killing animals so endangered, they’ve been declared extinct. In it, she said, “instead of protecting these magnificent creatures, CITES awards permits to trophy hunters to brutally murder them for fun.”

Of course, these posts usually elicit the usual angry tidal wave of hateful responses, with people wishing some suitably awful fate to befall not just the evil, sadistic bastard trophy hunters themselves, but also their children, families, and pets. There are now whole websites and Facebook pages dedicated to doxxing hunters and ruining their lives, or pushing the agenda to ban trophy hunting. 

Bullying comments online Bullying comments online

These organisations are extremely well funded and well connected, and gaining traction, even among the hunting fraternity.

We have seen an alarming number of hunting brands and hunters deliberately distance themselves from anything even remotely connected to trophy hunting, as if the word itself denotes evil

Animal Justice Party opposes all hunting

Unfortunately, that plays right into the hands of organisations like Animal Justice Party and PETA, who have a clear agenda to not just ban trophy hunting, but to ban anything to do with the human use or consumption of animals. Their ultimate goal is to end ALL hunting, fishing, and meat eating, and enforce a plant-based diet. Trophy hunting is just the first step on that agenda. 

Push for plant based diet

Some of the most hateful anti-hunting bullying occurs when the trophy hunter in question is female. Take Tess Talley for instance. Almost two years after a photo of her posing with an allegedly rare and endangered black giraffe went viral, Tess still gets daily death threats and has been the victim of some of the most grotesque hate mail and smear campaigns.  

Tess Talley

So what is the truth? Are the activists right? Are hunters really killing endangered animals, and if so, do they deserve worldwide condemnation?

To find the answer, we need to stop doing what the activists are doing – responding emotionally about an individual animal or situation – and instead, look at the big picture.

Using the example of Tess Talley, much of the furore and anger resulted from two equally mistaken beliefs:

  1. That all giraffes are endangered (how many times have you read that claim in one of these sensationalist posts).
  2. That black giraffes are a rare sub-species of an already endangered species.

As usual, the lie is grounded in a modicum of truth. Yes, some giraffe species are endangered in some African countries. In fact, the International Union for Conversation of Nature (IUCN) has listed two sub-species of giraffe on the Red List of critically endangered and threatened species. That’s two sub-species out of a total of nine sub-species of giraffe spread across the whole of Africa.  

So when people see a photo of a rich, white American woman smiling over the corpse of a ‘rare’ black giraffe, we understandably see red and think ‘how could she?’.

Unfortunately, most people have jumped to a conclusion, mistakenly believing that ALL giraffes are endangered, and as my mother used to say, when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of you and me (ass_u_me).

The first mistake was really the result of a lack of general geography skills. Most Westerners forget that Africa is not a country but a continent made up of 54 different countries!

The critically endangered giraffes that the IUCN have listed are located in East, Central and West Africa. Tess Talley hunted her giraffe in South Africa, where the giraffe population is robust and healthy,  thanks in large part to the well-established tourist industry that is centred around those very trophy hunters people love to attack!

Yes, thanks to trophy hunting, South Africa has seen a massive 4000 percent increase in wildlife populations since the 1960s.

The second mistake was in believing that black giraffes are a separate, rare sub-species of the giraffe family, when in truth, giraffes naturally darken as they get older – kind of like us going grey as we age.   

Giraffes go black as they age

Unfortunately, we live in an era of fake news and clickbait headlines, which is somewhat ironic since we are supposedly at the height of the Information Age.

Instead of researching the truth about the situation and publishing a factual article, we instead end up with hundreds of emotionally charged and factually incorrect articles and posts that stirred up a frenzied mob of ignorant, misinformed ‘do-gooders’ – and as we all know, once the bell has been rung, it’s very difficult to unring it with the truth. We could categorically prove that Tess Talley did not shoot an endangered and rare black giraffe in Africa, and people would still remain convinced that she did. 

This problem is often compounded by our limited first-hand knowledge of African wildlife. For most of us, we have only ever seen giraffes, elephants, lions, zebra and other majestic wildlife on National Geographic documentaries or in zoos. We have no concept of what it is like to live among those animals – yet we want to dictate to African nations how they should manage their wildlife populations. 

This has been highlighted in the media recently, with Western nations trying to force Botswana to change its mind about allowing hunting of elephants, despite Botswana having far more elephants than the landscape can sustain. 

Botswana condemned for lifting hunting ban on elephants

Can you really imagine other countries trying to impose bans on Australia culling native wildlife when we need to, just because they think kangaroos are iconic? The truth is, one man’s exotic animal is another man’s local pest.

Another concept that is really hard for most people to grasp is the fact that killing animals actually helps them. It might seem completely paradoxical, particularly when viewed in isolation. I mean, how do you save an animal that you just killed? You can’t. It’s dead. But it makes sense when viewed in the context of the greater good.

In many countries, there is a symbiotic relationship between trophy hunting and conservation.  

  • In America, the money raised from hunting fees and licenses pays for more than 60 percent of all wildlife conservation.
  • In Africa, the money raised from trophy hunting pays for the upkeep of other animal species. For instance, one property that we hunted blue wildebeest on used the fees raised from hunting plains game animals to pay for a breeding program for endangered rhinoceros.
  • In Pakistan, a UN-funded project has helped the locals set up a trophy hunting system that has brought the endangered markhor back from the brink of extinction. The program means the locals now have an incentive to protect the goat instead of killing it for meat or to protect their crops.

Markhor in Pakistan

Let’s be clear here. The vast majority of trophy hunting in Africa, particularly South Africa, is for plains game and antelope species that are in huge abundance. Since 1960, wildlife populations have grown from 575,000 to more than 24 million! 

A tiny fraction of hunting in Africa involves iconic big game species like lion, giraffe, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and other animals that could be considered threatened and endangered – at least in some places – but even that is convoluted and muddied by the sheer size of the African continent.

Take elephants for instance. In some parts of Africa, elephant populations are severely threatened, and the two biggest threats to elephants are human encroachment on their habitat, and illegal poaching (hunting and poaching are completely different and should never be used interchangeably).

But while they are threatened in some countries, they are not threatened in all countries. In fact, there are some African countries that have an overabundance of elephants, and urgently require their elephant populations to be culled.

Bull elephant stampeding

This is where things get really convoluted. A trophy hunter shooting an elephant in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia or Zimbabwe is not hunting an endangered animal but engaging in a legal and ethical hunt. In Botswana and South Africa, where elephant populations are too high and causing massive problems, that trophy hunter would actually be helping solve a problem for those countries and locals. But a trophy hunter shooting an elephant in most other countries across the African continent may not be acting ethically because elephants there are likely under threat.

But even that depends on the individual situation and circumstances surrounding the hunt.

The hunter may have been asked to kill an elephant that has gone rogue and is causing damage to local villages. Or the government may need to remove a small number of older bull elephants to allow the younger males to breed – in which case that hunter is doing nothing wrong and is actually providing a valuable service. 

Corey Knowlton

Remember a few years back, when Corey Knowlton, a well-known trophy hunter from the US, paid $350,000 to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in Namibia? Knowlton received huge media backlash and the usual barrage of death threats and hate mail from people who immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion – that he was just another rich guy trying to make himself feel more masculine by shooting rare animals.

Corey Knowlton hunts rare black rhino

And, of course, when you see all those words strung together in a headline on social media, you can almost understand the outrage it caused. But dig just a little deeper and you learn the truth – that the animal was an older male that was no longer contributing to the gene pool and was actually killing the younger males. He had become an expensive problem that needed to be solved. Sure, the owner could have simply euthanised the animal, but that would have just incurred a cost and given nothing back to the other animals. Instead, the money raised from that hunt went directly back into the breeding program, renewed the bloodlines of the herd, and ensured that the important conservation work could continue for many more years. One animal died so many more could live.

There are many animal activists that reject the concept of hunting to save animals, but opinions don’t pay for conservation. Unless those same activists are willing to put their hand in their own pocket and fund the conservation programs (not just the PR programs and advertising costs to further their agenda), they need to stop foolishly trying to shut down the very people who contribute the most funds to conservation worldwide.

Useful resources:

Learn more about the giraffes that really are endangered, and how to help them – https://www.bornfree.org.uk/news/giraffe-critically-endangered

Learn more about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals – https://www.iucnredlist.org

Learn more about South Africa’s giraffe populations – https://www.getaway.co.za/environment/conservation-environment/south-african-giraffes-moved-to-malaw-reserve/

Learn more about how giraffes darken as they age – https://www.livescience.com/19686-aging-male-giraffes-black-spots.html

Learn more about how the hunting industry in South Africa has helped increase wildlife populations – https://www.iamhunter.net/into-the-wild/advocate/how-can-killing-animals-save-them/

Learn how ending trophy hunting could be much worse for endangered species – https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/24/opinions/trophy-hunting-decline-of-species-opinion-dickman/index.html

Learn more about the North American conservation model that has been used to help vulnerable wildlife – https://www.iamhunter.net/into-the-wild/advocate/what-can-australia-learn-from-the-north-american-wildlife-model/

Learn more about the Pakistani trophy hunting program helping endangered markhor – https://www.iamhunter.net/into-the-wild/advocate/how-hunting-is-saving-the-markhor-in-pakistan-conservation-in-action/

Learn more about whether elephants are endangered or not – https://www.nrdc.org/stories/status-check-african-elephants 

Read the full story about Corey Knowlton’s rhinoceros hunt and the positive benefit it played in conservation – https://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/19/africa/namibia-rhino-hunt/index.html

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