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No matter how big or ferocious an animal may have been, posing with its body after killing it will never be impressive.
Despite the controversies surrounding trophy hunting, it’s not uncommon to see photos shared on social media showing hunters stood over their kill, posing proudly with their gun or holding up the animal’s head, often while they’re still bleeding.
Fellow hunters do offer an appreciative audience for this kind of content but the reason these photos usually go viral is to call out the original poster for murdering the animal.
In recent months images of British trophy hunters standing over hundreds of slain puffins made headlines, as did photos of dead polar bears. Both are endangered creatures and examples such as this are only the tip of the iceberg.
Other threatened species which can be hunted around the world include black rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, leopards and lions.
Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, explained the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has three categories when it comes to endangered wildlife.
Cheetahs, leopards, and some populations of lions and elephants, among other animals, are listed under Appendix I, prohibiting trade of the species except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
However, CITES exempts trophy hunting, so while it is illegal to shoot an elephant and sell its tusks it is absolutely fine for someone to shoot the very same elephant and take its tusks if they are a trophy hunter, because trophy hunting is considered to be a non-commercial activity.
There are some measures in place to protect these creatures, for example the recently updated Endangered Species Act, which is focused on the recovery of rare species in the US, however hunts can still take place.
The Humane Society explain in the US, the Fish and Wildlife Service can issue permits for certain listed species to be killed on captive hunts – private trophy hunting facilities which offer their customers the opportunity to kill exotic and native animals trapped within enclosures.
Some regions generate a huge income from hunting tourism, resulting in an incentive to keep it legal. For example, The North West University’s Tourism Research in Economic, Environs and Society estimated trophy hunting contributed close to $131 million to the South African economy in 2016.
In some locations where animal populations are at risk, trophy hunting is permitted under the claim it promotes conservation efforts.
South Africa recently increased the number of black rhinos which can be hunted from five to nine annually, saying adult males would be targeted in order to protect breeding females and support conservation.
Guav Johnson, a professional hunter from Zimbabwe, has been hunting ‘basically his whole life’ and regularly posts images of lions, leopards and buffalo he has taken down.
The 38-year-old told UNILAD he enjoys hunting because it gives him the opportunity to be out in the wild and close to nature. He described hunting dangerous game as ‘exciting’, ‘challenging’ and ‘risky’ and argued the practice can have positive impacts.
Without safari hunting there would be little to no wildlife left outside of parks and reserves, we are the only reason these wild areas still exist.
We have a strict hunting quota per year, normally working on less than 2 per cent of the population of a species, meaning what we hunt does not impact the population of animals. We only hunt old males.
In turn, we protect these areas from poachers, we pump water for the wildlife in dry areas, the communities outside the hunting areas utilise all the meat and we create employment.
Similarly, Tess Talley, a 38-year-old hunter from Texas, told UNILAD hunting can provide jobs and income for anti-poaching efforts as well as keeping a value on wildlife.
She said hunting also funds agencies which help conserve habitats, however wildlife charity Born Free say evidence shows hardly any of the revenues from trophy hunting ever reach local people or parks authorities, with ‘corrupt officials and trophy outfitters’ taking most of the spoils.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) told UNILAD the Federal Aid in Wildlife Act, or the Pittman-Robertson act, of 1937 placed a federal excise tax on firearms, archery equipment and ammunition.
Funds from this tax are then reportedly distributed to the states based on certain criteria and the WDFW said they use the funds for hunter education, habitat restoration, game management and other conservation efforts.
However, some social media users have pointed out that if hunters are going after animals in order to help them, they should just donate the money they would otherwise spend on equipment, ammunition and licenses to conservation efforts.
It’s difficult to say whether there really are benefits for wildlife populations in all locations which justify hunting as a form of conservation and as a result it’s hard to dismiss the entire practise as useless and unnecessary. The same cannot be said, however, for showing off a dead animal on social media.
Speaking to UNILAD, Eduardo Goncalves pointed out trophy hunters ‘are not professional pest control officers paid to do a job’ but rather people who have ‘paid for the privilege’ of taking down an animal.
Trophy hunters do not hunt because they are conservationists and they have taken up trophy hunting in order to save wildlife. They are hunters who enjoy hunting and taking trophies.
They then come up with a number of excuses to try and retrospectively justify their horrible hobby.
When a trophy hunter makes any kind of claim about the supposed conservation benefits of trophy hunting, that claim should be taken with a barrel-load of salt.
Tess explained she posts her photos as ‘a way of putting a visual’ with her stories of hunting. She considers pictures to be a way of ‘honouring’ the animal, though there’s no doubt letting the animal live out its life would be a more humane way to honour it.
The hunter also claimed sharing pictures has been a tradition ‘for thousands of years’.
[By sharing photos] I gain the ability of connecting with other hunters about their passion for hunting and encourage them to share their pictures as well!
Pictures of harvested animals have helped in many educational situations in the aspect of starting conversations about certain animals that are hunted. It also allows those that are maybe not able to participate in certain types of hunts to feel connected to those that can participate.
Tess went on to argue posting pictures of hunts does not take away from conservation, saying:
It simply is a way of connecting with fellow hunters. Whether I show my pictures or not, hunters do more for conservation than any other single group.
Guav Johnson also said he shares photos in order to connect with other hunters, who ‘understand and appreciate what it takes to hunt, for example, a big old lion’.
While it is natural for those with a shared hobby to have a communal platform to connect on, the way the hunter wants people to ‘appreciate’ his kill indicates there is a sense of gratification from taking down an impressive-looking animal.
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A beautiful old male lion , hunted in a totally free range area , no fences … Matetsi Safari Area – Kazuma, Zimbabwe 🇿🇼Hunted this magnificent lion on day 13 of 21 , took us 5 days of persistence from the day the bait was first hit as the lion was vary wary and was difficult to catch him in broad daylight, finally we managed to get him just after 7am . This hunt is 100% LEGAL, conducted within the laws and regulations of the Parks & Wildlife Act with a National Parks Ranger present on the hunt . The proceeds of such a hunt benefit this area in a big way , anti poaching, pumping water , fireguards and paying the staff, not to mention that the meat is consumed, nothing goes to waste . #lionhunting #lionhunter #bigfive #dangerousgamehunting #classicafricanhunting #safariclubinternational #safari #zimbabwehunting #zimbabwe #africanhunting #africa #professionalhunter #freerange #freerangehunting #huntingisconservation #proudhunters
Much like the desire to get a drool-worthy picture of a meal or an attractive selfie for Instagram, the motivation behind sharing pictures of kills will often be to get approval of the scene from others.
Many hunters pose with a leg on top of the animal, as if they have conquered it, or stood next to the animal to demonstrate its size. There’s clearly a sense of worth and competition which comes from showing off an impressive-looking kill and having other hunters give validation in the form of comments and likes.
Eduardo explained how images can be used to assert dominance and express wealth, as often trophy hunters have to pay large sums of money in order to get their hands on an animal.
The selfie and the display of the trophy are crucial parts of the psychological motivations behind trophy hunting.
There are various books and guides giving advice on the size, shape and lighting in hunters’ personal trophy rooms. Similarly there is advice, and even professional companies, to help trophy hunters capture the best possible picture of the hunter kneeling over their recent kill.
Psychologists have speculated it is about the hunter asserting dominance and control, and also showing off their financial prowess and therefore power. Trophy hunting can be a very expensive business and few people can afford to go on these expeditions.
At the end of the day, trophy hunting is considered a ‘sport’; the hunters aren’t just killing animals out of necessity to help them but instead for their own enjoyment. The Safari Club International (SCI), an organisation composed of hunters dedicated to protecting the freedom to hunt, fuels this by setting milestones which encourage hunters to shoot large numbers of rare animals.
The ‘Africa Big Five’, for example, is a record for hunters who have killed lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo. According to the SCI Record Book, other awards include the Africa 29, the North American 29, White-Tailed Deer of the World, Indigenous Animals of South America and Bears of the World.
Some hunters even go to the effort of making a kill more ‘interesting’ by using weapons other than guns, such as crossbows.
The WDFW told UNILAD they give hunter education in which they discuss effective range of firearms and archery equipment and how hunting equipment will function at varying distances, however evidence suggests animals are often left to suffer longer than necessary due to shots injuring but not killing them.
According to PETA, a member of the Maine BowHunters Alliance has estimated 50 per cent of animals who are shot with crossbows are wounded but not killed. A study of 80 radio-collared white-tailed deer reportedly found that of the 22 deer who had been shot with ‘traditional archery equipment’, 11 were wounded but not recovered by hunters.
Of course, many wild animals lose their lives as a result of poaching, when animals are hunted or caught illegally. Both Tess and Guav said legal hunting helped stop poaching but Eduardo argued ‘the only difference between poaching and trophy hunting is a piece of paper’.
If you’re the elephant that is killed, it doesn’t matter who it was done by. You’ve still been killed by someone who did it just because they wanted your tusks.
It’s plainly ludicrous and hypocritical to say to local African villagers that it’s strictly prohibited to kill a wild animal even if you’re desperate and hungry but that it’s fine for a rich white foreigner to jet in and kill the same animal just for the fun of it – and to get a selfie.
What we are also seeing is that the trophy industry is directly enabling poaching. There have been high-profile court cases which have shown how international wildlife trafficking syndicates have used CITES-issued trophy hunting permits to kill rhinos for horns worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The bottom line is, animals should not be considered as the opponent in a game which hunters are looking to win. Eduardo argued that a ‘sport’ is where you have ‘consenting, evenly-matched opponents’ and therefore ‘shooting a defenceless animal from 200 metres away with a high-powered rifle doesn’t qualify.’
So much of our wildlife is under threat. Trophy hunting is unnecessarily adding to those problems, and in many cases is directly contributing to them.
Trophy hunters can differ in their reasons for killing animals, whether they claim to do it in an attempt to assist conservation efforts or whether they just openly enjoy the satisfaction of having a stuffed head on their wall, but ultimately there is no reason to show off about ending a creature’s life.
It’s heartbreaking to see someone standing over any dead animal but it’s even more ludicrous when that animal is at risk of extinction.
Achievements shouldn’t come at the expense of another living thing.
You can sign the petition to ban trophy hunting here.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
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