It seems so obvious: you don’t save rare animals by shooting them. Yet, trophy hunters stubbornly argue that this is just the case. They claim that their hunts help raise awareness about species extinction and that the money they pay for the hunts helps conservation efforts and contributes to local economies. Conservationists point out that these arguments are not based on solid proof and that trophy hunting – the killing of big game for taxidermied body parts or photos with the killed animal, typically in Africa – fails to account for the fact that rare animals have a much higher value alive than dead, not to mention the interest by virtually everyone in safeguarding the species for the long run.
While this debate continues to rage, the world’s grandest and most threatened animals are disappearing rapidly. In 1900, for example, there were about half a million rhinos in the world. Today, less than 30,000 exist. In the early part of the 20th century, there were as many as 3-5 million African elephants. Now, there are only around 415,000 left with tens of thousands being slaughtered every year. 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012 alone. On average, one elephant is currently killed every 25 minutes. In just one decade, the Central African elephant population has declined by 64%. Other species fare no better. Once the “King of the Animal Kingdom,” the African lion population has declined from about 100,000 in the 1960s to no more than 35,000 today. Since 1970, a whopping 80% of all wild animals have been lost to poaching, habitat loss, human-wildlife interaction, and hunting.
These numbers are sobering: we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. As many as 30-50% percent of all species may be extinct by 2050. Even so, trophy hunting continues. Many of the targeted animal species are highly endangered or threatened with extinction. For example, despite the low and declining population of African lions, American hunters killed more than 5,600 of these majestic animals and imported parts of them as trophies between 1999 and 2008. Between 2005 and 2014, more than 1.2 million “trophies” of over 1,200 different kinds of animals were imported into the United States. When it is typically illegal to import actual parts of the animals, trophy hunters often resort to taking a picture of themselves with the animals they have just killed (“kill shots”) as a means of commemorating the occasion.
This practice contributes to the extinction of already very rare animals and has become objectionable to the majority of people, including even hunters. It must come to an end.