August 15, 2016
WANTED: Dead or Alive
- as seen by -Natalie Ingle
Hunting and conservation make controversial bedfellows. In our field, there are the animal advocates who believe sport hunting has no place in the quest to save wildlife, and there are those who argue that carefully regulated trophy hunts can provide, among other benefits, significant funding for conservation. Indeed, in 2014, a member of the Dallas Safari Club paid $350,000 to hunt an endangered black rhino in Namibia, a deal which required a “significant” contribution to the country’s Game Products Trust Fund which supports “conservation of wildlife resources.”
Globally, hunting licenses and concessions generate untold revenues for protected areas, local communities, and species-focused management efforts; our own U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepts trophy hunting like that of the rhino where it fits into a strategic and CITES-approved conservation plan, and when it determines that the program benefits the survival of the species in the wild.
What can’t be quantified is the potential for bad publicity (remember Cecil?), corruption, and increased demand for illegal wildlife products. Many of my colleagues will tell you that the science behind “conservation-friendly” hunting is disastrously weak.
For the animal advocates it’s hard not to see hypocrisy in the killing of a creature whose species is threatened with extinction. Admittedly, I’m among the “bunny huggers” with a distaste for killing on principle, preferring to hang photos on my wall rather than heads.
But the concept does raise uncomfortable questions that conservationists can’t always reconcile. Is the legal loss of one rhino worth the amount of money it might take to employ a local ranger force for a year? Did the media backlash surrounding Cecil’s death actually catalyze greater conservation action or only stimulate anti-hunting campaigns? What hidden dangers exist when we begin “managing” at-risk species with hunting programs?