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Op-Ed: Justifying African Big Game Hunting

With the growth of social media, hunters who take game in Africa are being increasingly attacked. But their critics aren’t seeing the big picture.

In early 2014, a hunter in Dallas won an auction for a $350,000 permit to kill a rare black rhinoceros in Namibia. More recently, a young Texas Tech cheerleader named Kendall Jones posted several pictures posing with large game animals, including a lion and a rhinoceros, that she’d taken on an African safari.

When news of these events hit the Internet, they were met with a wave of outrage from media figures, online commentators, and celebrities, some even going so far as to issue death threats.

These fervent critics trumpeted the importance of preserving these animals, but few seem to have consulted established experts on the topic. Had they done so, they’d have been informed that the big game hunters they set their sights on were not a threat to endangered African species, but in many cases an important contributor to their conservation.

In both of these infamous news events, critics seemed to realize the hunts were legal, but didn’t ask themselves why. They ignored two realities – that hunting is strictly regulated in Africa, and that killing a group of animals is sometimes essential to the preservation of the species in an imperfect world.

In the case of the maligned rhino hunter, the animal on the permit had been one of five carefully selected by the Namibian government for culling, as it was aggressive, non-breeding and preventing younger, virile males from populating the herd. In the case of Kendall Jones, the animals she’d hunted were also chosen from older, non-breeding animals that were hindering the growth of their species.

The African governments issuing the permits for these hunts had two options—cull the animals themselves, or allow outsiders to pay for the privilege and funnel the funds back into conservation. It seems that under the circumstances, they chose the best of both worlds.

A few critics confronted by these facts remain adamant. Why couldn’t these animals have just been moved to a zoo? Again, some harsh truths were ignored. What zoo would want an aggressive, non-breeding animal at the end of its life, that couldn’t even be kept with other members of its own species? This isn’t even taking into account the costs of capturing and transporting the animals – funds that could be used for animals that would help the population grow.

Some of the objections are understandable, if not always valid. The sport of trophy hunting is controversial even amongst hunters. There are often questions raised as to if modern African big game hunts are canned for tourists or if they value honored hunting traditions like fair chase.

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Big game hunting also occasionally raises some unpleasant memories about African colonialism, when uncontrolled hunting led some species to first decline. For others, their objections are just a knee-jerk reaction to seeing dead animals that they have only seen alive in local zoos or nature documentaries.

Some have suggested the contempt for these hunts may have less to do with the animals and more with a thinly-veiled resentment for the affluent, or women like Jones who’ve invaded a traditionally-masculine sport. But I’ll leave that to the psychologists.

However, the main grievance towards these hunts is the one that can’t be realistically argued—that these hunters somehow pose a danger to the species. Legal hunting permits in fact go towards battling the real threat to endangered African species—illegal African poachers, driven by a demand for animal parts from foreign black markets.

Money gained from permits can be used to pay rangers who track down poachers and protect animals, as well as fund research and conservation programs. Hunting animals to save them may seem like a strange concept to some, but the money gained from it can be a boon for not only wildlife, but for African businesses and locals as well.

Even the acclaimed World Wildlife Fund has condoned trophy hunting under certain conditions for this very reason.

Online critics would serve African animals a lot better by targeting poachers and the markets that create them. Speak out on the trade of endangered animal parts like rhino horns and elephant tusks. Volunteer with a conservation program to spread their ideals. But if you’re an avid conservationist, before you attack an easy target on social media, stop and think. Legal African hunters, like all legal hunters, all have different motivations to do what they do, but all are allowed to do it for the same justification: to preserve and maintain wildlife populations.

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Even if you don’t like African hunting, you may find that in your fight to save endangered animals, you have more in common with hunters than you think.

Image via Flickr

Op-Ed: Justifying African Big Game Hunting