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When Does Hunting Earn a Trophy?

  • Hannah Downey
  • Photo courtesy of Roman Boed.

    Last Monday, the film Trophy was shown at the Roxy Theater. Hailed by The New York Times as “Layered, thoughtful and infinitely curious… Filled with astonishing sights,” the film sets out to investigate big-game hunting and the questions that surround hunting as a means of conservation.

    Appallingly, the stories depicted in Trophy are a far cry from our Montana hunting ethics. The animals and local people featured are not respected, and there is no greater concept of conservation.

    Trophy’s message, however, does not represent all hunting. Throughout history, hunters have demonstrated an ethical conviction to putting environmental conservation before the harvest of animals.

    Hunting has long held a vital role in preserving wildlife in the United States. In the 18th century, no rules governed hunting and over-harvesting occurred. Understanding the potential for destruction of a valuable but unowned resource, hunters led the charge to close the wildlife commons and adopted the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation in the late 19th century. While maintaining public ownership of wildlife, seasons and bag limits set by professional managers became tools of conservation.

    Current state wildlife agencies continue to set hunting quotas to promote healthy wildlife populations. Hunting can be limited to bolster wildlife numbers, or seasons and quotas can be expanded to prevent overpopulation and the resulting decline in health of game animals. Hunters have also voluntarily taxed hunting equipment to fund conservation which, combined with proper management, has helped bring back deer, elk, turkey and duck populations.

    Today, wildlife populations across Africa are facing a plight similar to those of animals in the United States in the 1800s. Black rhino numbers have plummeted from 70,000 in 1970 to just over 5,000 today, and the African lion population has decreased by more than 40 percent in the past 20 years. Clearly, something needs to change.

    In many African countries wildlife regulation efforts are susceptible to corruption, and poaching is a leading cause of dwindling wildlife populations. In addition, in places where Africans lose crops, livestock and human lives to wildlife, animals are often seen as a liability to be avoided or killed rather than an asset to be protected.

    Trophy hunting is one way locals can benefit from living with large wildlife. Sankuyo, a village in Botswana, signed on to a community-based natural resource program that emphasized hunting in 1996. By 2010, the community earned nearly $600,000 from the 120 animals hunted that year, with the funds going to local projects to create improved water accessibility and toilet access. Wildlife populations, as a result, increased. According to wildlife management expert Dr. Brian Child, “When hunting was introduced, we actually ended up killing less animals.”

    In 2014, Botswana banned trophy hunting. “Before, when there was hunting, we wanted to protect those animals because we knew we earned something out of them,” villager Jimmy Baitsholedi Ntema explained to The New York Times. “Now, we don’t benefit at all from the animals. The elephants and buffaloes leave after destroying our plowing fields during the day. Then, at night, the lions come into our kraals.” Poaching and human-wildlife conflict has increased without hunting to make wildlife a local asset, and dozens of locals are left jobless.

    Though perhaps an uncomfortable reality, responsible hunting can help ensure exotic species are protected from poaching and corruption. It can make wildlife an asset to local communities, thus ensuring the survival of at-risk wildlife. Sustainable hunting with local input is an essential tool in ensuring these species are around tomorrow and have a chance at lasting recovery.

    This article originally appeared in the Missoulian on October 31, 2017.

    Written By
    • Hannah Downey
      • Policy Director

      Hannah Downey is the policy director at PERC, helping to bring PERC ideas to the policy world.

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