A common claim of trophy hunters is that they’re helping to conserve species by regulating numbers and removing old and infirm animals. A trophy hunter who killed over 5,000 elephants claims he was serving conservation through ‘major population reduction’. He also added that the killings were a ‘great thrill for him’.
To set the record straight, biologist and conservationist Ian Redmond, renowned for his work with elephants and gorillas, explains the true impact of trophy hunting on wild populations and their odds of survival:
· Killing trophy animals in their prime effectively removes their genes from the gene pool, and so selects against the very characteristics valued by most people, including tourists, photographers and filmmakers but also the hunters themselves. It is un-natural selection, and results in the removal (or at least a reduction) of genes for big horns, tusks, antlers, manes over time. It makes economic sense to protect such iconic individuals and celebrate them alive, as well as being more ethical.
· Trophy animals are also likely to be the fittest, in evolutionary terms, and their genes might well include those for a strong immune system, able to survive emerging diseases. The fact that they have lived to reach their prime implies their immune system is effective!
· In the case of mega-herbivores such as elephants, given their role in the ecology of their habitat, and the fact that numbers are already reduced by more than 95%, each individual performs an important service. Killing an elephant decades before death by old age means that roughly 50 tons of manure and millions of seeds are not being spread every year that he or she would have lived.
· The knowledge of how to best survive extreme weather events (such as a once in 50 year drought) is held by the elders in an elephant population – killing them is likely to have an adverse effect on the overall survival of the population of an area when that knowledge is next needed.
· In the case of predators, killing alpha males leads to social disruption, increased conflict and in some cases, infanticide, further depleting the population of the species concerned.