Conservation considerations of trophy hunting

Nelson, M. P., Bruskotter, J. T., Vucetich, J. A., & Chapron, G. (2016). Emotions and the ethics of consequence in conservation decisions: Lessons from Cecil the Lion. Conservation Letters

This essay discusses the controversial subject of trophy hunting in general, and refers to the well-known case of Cecil the African lion in particular. It explores conservationist views in support of trophy hunting, whilst also questioning whether these views are valid enough to justify the ‘sport’.

The paper begins by discussing the consequentialism beliefs of the conservationist community, i.e. that ‘the ends justify the means’. It considered the factors that support trophy hunting and the sport’s contribution to conservation itself. Most conservationists maintain that they would continue to support trophy hunting as long as it continued to fund conservation efforts and refrained from endangering a species when doing so.  The authors then highlight some of the limitations with the conservationist way of thinking. They suggest that the ethics raised by trophy hunting would have an impact on the way conservationists view the sport if they were aware of them in the first place.

Ethics, emotion & endless debates

Firstly, they argue that the ends do not always justify the means – can killing an animal can ever be justified? Just because we can does not mean we should; there are ethical considerations to be made.  Secondly, they explore the appropriate motivation behind hunting; is it a necessity or a want? As the motivation for killing Cecil was purely leisure many people believe that there was no valid reason for hunting him, or indeed others like him. Finally, they discuss our inabilities to truly predict the future consequences of a kill. We, as humans, are simply unaware of the intricacies of nature and wild animal populations.

The final part of the essay refers specifically to emotions and the benefits reaped when these psychological deliberations are taken into account. Although emotions may sometimes prevent us from making difficult decisions, they can also be important indicators that the act and/or decision is unjust - and as such they should not be overlooked. The authors concluded that there are many flaws in the conservationists’ favoured consequentialist arguments, and that new perspectives (which include emotional reactions) are needed.   

World Animal Protection’s view

World Animal Protection is opposed to all forms of trophy hunting and actively discourages tourists from visiting or participating in wild animal hunts, and from buying products from wild animals that have been slaughtered to produce them.  The death of any endangered animal is a terrible loss, and we believe there is never a just reason for animals like Cecil to be hunted for trophy purposes.

Compassionate Conservation principles recognise that conservation and wild animal welfare should implicitly respect the inherent value of wild animals and the natural world and proposes a reduction in harm and suffering of individual wild animals. Trophy hunting does neither of these things regardless of whether the revenue funds other conservation initiatives.

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