Necessary evil: Is trophy hunting ethical?

Jan 29, 2024 | Studies

By Adam Cruise


Trophy hunting is a controversial topic. On the one hand, the idea that a handful of the wealthy elite pays top dollar to shoot iconic and rare animals for ‘sport’ draws the ire of a far greater number of sensible (and sensitive) humans. On the other, trophy hunting is touted as a ‘necessary evil’ that brings in much needed funds to support the conservation of targeted species, while at the same time providing economic benefits to impoverished local and indigenous communities living among and alongside trophy hunted wildlife.

Proponents of trophy hunting often argue that without such funds these targeted animals will not be better protected, especially in remote wilderness areas that do not enjoy the financial benefits of mass wildlife-watching tourism. For the opportunity to blast the life out of an iconic animal, trophy hunting ostensibly provides much-needed capital for anti-poaching measures, fences and wilderness protection from anthropogenic habitat encroachment. Furthermore, proponents of trophy hunting recognise the need to include local and indigenous human communities in the activity, both in the form of direct employment and wider community economic benefits. Most significantly, in response to the increasing clamour of public outcries, trophy hunting defenders caution against such emotional responses, stating that hard facts and reason should be the only factors to consider when judging the activity.

This last point is where, ethically, the pro-trophy hunting argument unravels. The sole reliance on reason while at the same time ignoring the emotive responses to the practice, places trophy hunting firmly in the camp of iniquitous wrong-doers. Taken on its own, the act of destroying the life of an endangered wild animal for fun makes no ethical sense. This explains trophy hunting’s reliance on economic justification and its moniker ‘necessary evil’. That reason alone has, in the past, lead to dangerous political certainties that insisted on a hierarchical dualist world of us and them. ‘Them’ as the ‘other’ in the form of powerless and vulnerable minorities. Proponents of trophy hunting, therefore, may need to be a little more careful in their thought processes and adherence to reason over emotion.

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