Saturday, April 4, 2015

The big issue about trophy hunting conservationists ignore

The big issue about trophy hunting conservationists ignore

Lately there have been several papers and essays in the literature about the value of trophy hunting to fund conservation of rare and endangered species.  Aside from the ethical and aesthetic issues around killing a magnificent animal so its head can be severed and displayed, the main point is that the people wanting trophies will pay a lot of money for the opportunity do so.   The follow-on to this argument then is that the money they spend creates a value for the animal and provides funds to poor countries to conserve living trophy species populations.   For the sake of discussion I’ll call the two schools the conservation hunters and the conservation professionals.  The hunters want to fund conservation by permits and fees to hunt, the professionals do not want animals killed for trophies and think conservation funding from other sources should suffice.

The underlying truth is that for the species in question, the status quo is not working.  More funding is needed.  Traditional funding sources seem not to be enough.  The hunters school say they can fill the funding gap.

But why should a relatively small amount of trophy funding make that much difference?  Even if there are a lot of hunters willing to pay, for rare species there just are not that many trophies to be had.  The income will be relatively small compared to the millions of people, some of them wealthy donors and foundations, willing to contribute for the conservation of charismatic endangered species (and all the species that might make good trophies are charismatic).   With all the millions of dollars available and being spent via the conservation professionals, how could the relatively small contribution of hunters make a difference?

A large part of the answer to this question is that the money from hunters largely goes directly to the countries where the endangered trophies can be hunted.  Permit fees go to wildlife departments, pay for guides and trackers go right to the communities around the endangered populations.  Funds from hunters might be relatively small compared to the overall pool for conservation.  But they seem to be inordinately effective because where they are spent.

Neighbors to the wealthy trophy hunters here in the United States might make comparable donations for conservation.  But their funds often do not go straight to foreign wildlife departments, guides and trackers.  Their donations go to conservation professionals.  They support a team of vice-presidents, policy analysts and accountants in the United States.  They support the office buildings, heating bills and all sorts of overhead for the people making sure the money that does make it to the trophy host country is well spent.  They support the annual gala and numerous wine and cheese events, asking for ever more money to protect those endangered species.  The hunters don’t need a gala, wine or cheese, much less a high-paid team of experts and administrators to manage the conservation spending.  Hunters send the money to the country, they get their permit, essentially buying an animal, they go there hiring local guides; their overheads are the lodges and inns where they stay.   Funds from trophy hunters, unlike typical conservation donors, are not spent in the United States.

Whether you think trophy hunting is ethical or not, whether you think it threatens populations more than saves them, there is a message conservation professionals and conservation donors should learn.  If we learned how to direct conservation donations more directly to where they have benefit, if we learned how to eliminate money-sucking middlemen, if we essentially paid for conservation the way hunters pay for trophies, then we might have less need for trophy funding and quite possibly fewer endangered species.