The wrong kind of photo shoot: Nikon in the line of fire over rifle sights for big game hunting

Camera company synonymous with wildlife photography accused of hypocrisy for making rifle sights

Nikon, one of photography’s most respected names, faces a backlash from within the industry for portraying itself as a friend of wildlife photography while making sights for rifles for big game trophy hunters in the US and Africa.

The Japanese camera manufacturer makes a rifle scope designed specifically for killing large game, the £170 “Monarch African”.

Nikon’s marketing literature boasts that the scope is perfect “for those seeking their dangerous game adventure on the dark continent” and is “the proven choice for dangerous big game hunting”, adding: “Africa has long been a continent of dreams for hunters around the world.”

In its latest catalogue for amateur and professional photographers, meanwhile, Nikon describes itself as being “at the heart of nature”. Next to a photograph of two polar bears, it states: “Nature is full of moments of timeless beauty, to be captured before they are gone forever.”

Many leading wildlife photographers use Nikon’s cameras to catch elegiac scenes of wild animals. Stefano Unterthiner, winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2008, criticised Nikon’s connection to hunting.

“I’ve used Nikon since I was a young boy, fascinated by nature and wildlife. I always saw Nikon as a company close to nature, but I was wrong,” he said.

“I don’t understand and can’t agree with their support for trophy hunting, which sends out entirely the wrong message to global photographers who love nature. Wildlife needs protecting now more than ever, and I urge the company to end its support for trophy hunting.”

Nikon in the UK failed to respond to The Independent’s questions. Animal welfare campaigners criticised the stance of the company, part of Japan’s vast Mitsubishi conglomerate. Trophy hunting is highly controversial among wildlife campaigners. Wealthy western hunters typically pay tens of thousands of pounds to shoot big game. South Africa earns around $100m a year by sanctioning the hunting (which it classes as “eco tourism”), leading to the deaths of approximately 54,000 animals. Hunters typically target the biggest and strongest animals, who provide the more attractive trophies (stuffed animals and fur rugs etc). In the case of lions this is often the dominant male.  In the absence of the dominant male, a rival lion will move in and kill any cubs fathered by the absent male, diminishing the lion population.

According to Scientific American magazine, trophy hunters  have played a part in the halving of lion population in Africa over the past 30 years.

Most of Nikon’s hunting optics are produced for the US market, where it makes rifle scopes for turkey hunting and one called the Coyote Special – saying it is “...proud to introduce the first line of rifle scopes built specifically for predator hunters”.

Nikon previously marketed its rifle copes on a website called Nikon Hunting which has recently been renamed Nikon Sport Optics. Gruesome photos of grinning hunters have disappeared from the redesigned site, but the same rifle scopes are still for sale. Joe Duckworth, chief executive of The League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Big game hunters slaughter tens of thousands of animals, many of which are listed as endangered or bordering on extinction.”