The death of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion has shone the spotlight on the lucrative business of trophy game hunting – but is there any more to this $200m (£156m) industry than the desire of rich white men to demonstrate their machismo?
There were 16,000 game hunts in Namibia alone last year, while about 600 lion “trophies” were shipped out of Africa – about half of them to the US. A 10-day “elephant package” can cost up to $36,000, while one hunter recently handed over $350,000 at a Dallas auction for the right to kill a single endangered black rhino in Namibia and take it home to the US.
Campaign groups were quick to dismiss the motivations behind such hunts, saying hunters’ behaviour amounted to little more than a pathetic attempt to prove their manhood.
“It is people who have considerable disposable income and would appear to want to cleave to the old hunter-gatherer type – ‘macho male goes out and proves his virility by killing the biggest and baddest animal that he can point his gun or bow at’,” said Will Travers, co-founder of the Born Free wildlife charity.
But it is the job of anti-hunt campaigners to rubbish hunters motivations. Could there be more to the kind of infamous trophy photographs involving leopards, elephants and bulls taken by Donald Trump’s proud sons, Donald Junior and Eric, a few years back, than this simplistic depiction?
The most controversial animal killings
The most controversial animal killings
1/6 Cincinnati Zoo worker shots and kills Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla
Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla was shot and killed by a Cincinnati Zoo worker after a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure and was grabbed and dragged by Harambe. The incident was recorded on video and received broad international coverage and commentary, including controversy over the choice to kill Harambe. A number of primatologists and conservationists wrote later that the zoo had no other choice under the circumstances, and that it highlighted the danger of zoo animals in close proximity to humans and the need for better standards of care
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
2/6 Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion (pictured here with another lion shot in Africa)
Walter James Palmer has been named by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force as the shooter of Cecil, a 13-year-old prized lion. He is now wanted by Zimbabwe officials on poaching charges. The lion was protected and the subject of a decade long study by the Wildlife Unit of Oxford University in the UK. He was outfitted with a GPS collar and was killed in Hwange National Park. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that two men were charged with poaching in connection to Mr Palmer
3/6 Kendall Jones hunting images
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech university student, has provoked worldwide fury after posting pictures of herself smiling next to animals she hunted, including a lion, rhinoceros, antelope, leopard, elephant, zebra and hippopotamus
4/6 Rebecca Francis hunting images
Rebecca Francis, a huntress who has killed dozens of wild animals has been sent death wishes by furious social media users after a picture showing her lying down next to a dead giraffe was circulated. Rebecca Francis has a website and Facebook page dedicated to the animals she has killed in hunts across Africa and America. Francis, a prolific hunter who has also co-hosted the television show Eye of the Hunter, regularly posts pictures of herself posing next to dead bears, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, among other animals. She uses a bow and arrow to kill her prey
5/6 The slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo
Copenhagen Zoo made the controversial decision to euthanise a healthy giraffe named Marius, which was later dissected and fed to lions as visitors watched. The slaughter sparked a furious backlash from social media users and zoo staff have received death threats by phone and email. Soon after the incident, Copenhagen Zoo faced an international outcry once again after four healthy lions were put down
6/6 Swiss Dählhölzli zoo kills healthy brown bear cub
A Switzerland zoo faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups, after keepers put down a healthy brown bear cub to spare it from being bullied by its dominant male father. The 360 kg male bear Misha had already killed one of his 11-week old cubs in public and was bullying the second, staff at the zoo said, because he was jealous of the attention the cubs were receiving from their mother, Masha. Both adult brown bears had been donated to Bern’s Dählhölzli zoo in 2009. Campaigners condemned staff there for not separating the cubs, who are being referred to as Baby Bear Two and Baby Bear Three, and their mother from Misha after their birth in January
A Michigan State University study of photographs of 803 hunters with their trophies used in 14 magazines found the hunting to be an overwhelmingly white, male pursuit. It challenged the argument often made by hunters that they are bonding with and appreciating nature’s beauty, and supports suggestions that it is primarily related to proving manhood.
“Instead of love and respect for nature and wildlife, we found extreme objectification and marginalisation of animal bodies, with severed deer heads and cut-off antlers representative examples of the contradiction in the love-of-nature hunting stereotype,” said the study by the researchers Professor Linda Kalof and Dr Amy Fitzgerald.
“The vast majority of the hunters in the images were white males, and when women or men of colour were included their representations were usually consistent with gender and race stereotypes,” they added – with women typically “striking poses of confusion or helplessness” in photos often focusing on their clothing and appearance.
Meanwhile, the 2 per cent of hunters identified as non-white men were primarily portrayed as guides or assistants and none was shown holding a weapon, according to the research.
Asked by The Independent to summarise her thoughts on the motivation of trophy hunters, Professor Kalof, a sociologist and director of animal studies at Michigan State University, said: “The ‘sport’ is infused with power and masculinity, the need to prove oneself by killing large, dangerous animals.
“This goes back to antiquity when kings had fake hunts with captured lions, released just to be shot from a chariot by the waiting king. The public were witness to the kill, which validated the king’s power. The trophy hunt of today is similarly a display of power and control by wealthy men,” she said.”
Hunting in the US typically involves more young people than the African trophy hunts because it costs much less. But in other ways, the motivation is the same. “It’s like a bar mitzvah. When you go deer hunting, they start to look at you as a man and you feel like a man,” teenager Todd Dennis told the Los Angeles Times.
Another study, conducted in 1974, also suggested hunting was primarily a male-bonding exercise. “Urban hunters seemed to enjoy companionship as much as actually hunting deer,” according to research by James Kennedy, then professor at Utah State University.
Some 75 per cent of hunters he surveyed in Virginia would prefer hunting with companions in an area with only a 10 per cent chance of killing a deer, to hunting alone with a 50 per cent chance, suggesting the activity is primarily a pretext for more fundamental rituals, Professor Kennedy found.
Hunters often use the argument that their activities boost conservation, generating income that keeps the national parks running and safeguards populations of large animals. But campaigners dismiss that idea, and play down suggestions that it benefits the economy. They point to a report from the environmental economics consultancy Economists at Large which found that trophy hunting revenue accounts for no more than 0.27 per cent of GDP in any of the nine countries it investigated, while only 3 per cent of the money it generates trickles down to rural communities.Reuse content