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Fierce Lion
Author: Josh Robertson  👨‍💻 

What is trophy hunting?

Trophy hunting is the marmite of conservation issues — it divides opinions worldwide. It's a 'sport' in which people pay money to hunt an animal and take a part of that animal (usually the head) as a trophy of their hunt. As you can imagine, people have very strong beliefs about this. One camp argue that trophy hunting has conservation benefits, whilst the other say it's simply a cruel practice that should be stopped. The debate has been going on for decades — what do you think? This guy below looks far too smug for me to condone his actions, but please read on before you make up your mind.

Trophy Hunter with leopard
 📸  Lord Mountbatten

What happened with Cecil the lion?

The issue has recently been a hot topic in the news after US dentist Walter Palmer illegally killed Cecil the lion in July 2015. There was global outrage and death threats flying here there and everywhere on social media. Cecil had been collared and studied by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) since 2008, and was a well-known character in Zimbabwe. The publics outrage was well founded, Cecil was baited outside of Hwange National Park into a farm (although this farm lay in Cecil's normal home range), the professional hunter hired by Dr Palmer had no permit to shoot a lion making it illegal, and Cecil was an iconic lion… I mean imagine if Simba was shot by a hunter?


However, Cecil isn’t the first lion to be killed by trophy hunters; a total of 617 lions were hunted in South Africa in 2012 generating $15,270,750. It looks simple at first - shooting an animal, taking a selfie with its limp body, and hanging its head inside your house is pretty barbaric and seems wrong no matter how much money it makes. However, the issue of trophy hunting isn’t all black and white, good vs evil, Republic vs Empire. Here’s Adam Conover and CollegeHumour explaining it better than I can:

Just because I like you, I've compiled a list of the pro's and con's to be read at your convenience:

📽️ College Humour

What are the pros & cons of trophy hunting?


  1. The land allocated to trophy hunting can help to protect many different species that wouldn't otherwise be protected. If trophy hunting were to be banned, this land would likely be transformed to generate the most money (probably for agriculture or pastoralism), having negative impacts on wildlife and reducing available habitat.

  2. Trophy hunting can create conservation incentives in places where ecotourism isn't viable because it's economically unfeasible or too remote. 

  3. Trophy hunting can benefit local people (via employment, money, and meat) and wildlife if done correctly.

  4. In most African countries conservation is underfunded, and many areas simply don't have the money to effectively manage wildlife without the significant revenue generated from trophy hunting.

  5. People managing hunting build and maintain waterholes and try to maximise wildlife populations to make it sustainable, whereas in ecotourism there's less need for large populations as a few individuals of a species are enough to make people happy and maximise profits.

  6. If the money goes to the right people, it can provide incentives for local people to tolerate animals like lions.

  7. Trophy hunting has a smaller footprint than ecotourism; fewer people provide a higher revenue, meaning less flights, and hunters require less infrastructure, meaning habitat degradation is minimal. Additionally, hunters don't mind hunting in less attractive areas meaning more areas can facilitate hunting.

  8. Trophy hunting may provide an anti-poaching presence.


  1. Trophy hunting encourages 'canned hunting', where animals are raised in captivity to be shot in hunts.

  2. Ethically speaking, shooting an animal and taking it's head as a 'trophy' doesn't sit well with the majority of people.​

  3. The money generated from trophy hunts doesn't always go back to the right people, i.e. the community suffering as a result of living alongside these animals, or the conservationists and rangers trying to protect the people and wildlife.

  4. The number of animals allowed to be shot for trophy hunts aren't always based on what the science says, meaning too many can be killed, e.g. lions are over-hunted in Tanzania.

  5. Restrictions on the age of animals killed aren't always followed, meaning animals are killed too young and don't get a chance to reproduce.

  6. Many sub-Saharan countries don't have the management capacity or governance to provide adequate legal controls over many aspects of the hunting industry, meaning suggested protocols can be easily avoided. 

  7. Trophy hunting creates anxiety and unease amongst animals, affects their demography, and can even increase human-wildlife conflict, e.g. old bull elephants pass on knowledge to the youngens (like which areas to avoid) and when they're killed without passing on this knowledge, the youngsters may stray into agricultural lands.

  8. Males with the best genes (e.g. biggest tusks, darkest manes etc.) father a high proportion offspring, meaning their traits can spread rapidly. Consequently, the population can adapt quickly to new environments (like the ones we're creating for them). Trophy hunting targets these high quality males, leaving the population very vulnerable to change.

I'm not much of a Piers Morgan fan, but he often makes some great points. Here's an interesting debate on trophy hunting between him and Ben Fogle. You can't beat a good conservation conversation!

📽️ ITV - Good Morning Britain

What is canned hunting?

The main issue with trophy hunting for me is 'canned hunting'. No, not stuffing lions in giant baked bean cans and hunting them down as they try to hop away... but perhaps just as unethical. This is when animals such as lions are raised in captivity for the sole reason of being killed in a trophy hunt and are killed in a confined area so it's easier for a hunter to make a kill. Between 2009 and 2013 around 80% of the trophies from South Africa (the largest exporter of lion trophies across sub-Saharan Africa by a long way) were from lions raised in captivity or ranched. Unfortunately, the business is typically and unknowingly fed by tourism, when people pay to pet and play with young lions not knowing the consequences of their actions.

Why can't we just ban trophy hunting?

So can we not just ban trophy hunting all together? Would that not solve the problem? Well no, not really. There needs to be an alternative in place. Poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict cause way more wildlife deaths in comparison to trophy hunting, which helps to protect animals from these bigger issues through funding. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to look for solutions (or work with us to develop them together via our forum!) that don't involve killing a few animals to save the majority. Here's a great TED talk by Mikkel Legart on how banning hunting in Botswana actually led to a worse situation for both people and lions - and as a side note, how Europe's demand for beef leads to more human-lion conflict. So put that burger down and save a lion today!

📽️ TED

Want to learn more? Check these out!

Interesting Articles, Reports, & Books

Ever heard of canned hunting? Patrick Barkham from The Guardian explores this issue in an amazing article and great short film.

Scientific Papers

Check out the IUCN's 2016 briefing paper on 'Informing Decisions on Trophy Hunting' below: 

Macdonald et al. (2017) sum up the current research on trophy hunting and lions in their paperLions, trophy hunting and beyond: knowledge gaps and why they matter '


E. Di Minin et al. (2015) in their paperBanning Trophy Hunting Will Exacerbate Biodiversity Loss suggest a list of 12 things to make trophy hunting more effective for conservation (pg. 102)

Loveridge et al. (2007) talk about some consequences of lion hunting in their paperThe impact of sport-hunting on the lion population in a protected area

Knell & Martínez-Ruiz (2017) guide us through the effect of targeting animals with attractive features for trophy hunting, in their paper "Selective harvest focused on sexual signal traits can lead to extinction under directional environmental change"

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