Confronting the elephant (head) in the room – researchers challenge the conservation community on the ethics of trophy hunting

Corvallis, Oregon, USA & Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Writing in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, an international team of conservation scientists is challenging the conservation community to fully consider the ethics of trophy hunting and think critically about endorsing the practice as a key funding mechanism for wildlife protection. The authors argue that trophy hunting – hunting that involves the collection of animal body parts, or “trophies,” – is morally wrong, identifying it as an expression of Western chauvinist, colonialist, and anthropocentric norms. They propose that alternative strategies for conservation and community development be fully explored before the conservation community embraces trophy hunting as a core policy.

Coming at a time of the removal of restrictions on trophy hunt imports to the US and the proposed trophy hunting of grizzly bears in the US, the research team from Oregon State University, University Technology Sydney, and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation addressed many in the conservation science community who express broadly tolerant, if not supportive views, of trophy hunting.

“When we examined the conservation literature many ethical concerns were not being duly addressed. The one that really struck me was the idea of the ‘trophy.’ There was a conspicuous lack of commentary on what this practice involves, in a very basic sense: killing an animal, and claiming its body or body parts as a trophy of conquest,” said Chelsea Batavia, lead author and Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State University. “In my mind that immediately raises some moral red flags. Why was no one else talking about it?”

Oppressive forms of speech, thought, and action have been persuasively exposed and yet they remain embedded in many social practices, including practices of conservation. The researchers believed a scholarly contribution drawing attention to the socially and morally significant connotations of trophy hunting was long overdue.

“If trophy hunting can be situated in a Western cultural narrative of (white, male) human supremacy over nature, can we, as conservationists and moral agents, continue to defend it in good conscience, without fully exhausting other options?” Batavia continued.

Speaking especially to members of the conservation community who assert conservation success is inextricably bound to the practice of trophy hunting, the researchers urge more concerted efforts to develop appropriate alternatives. They write, “rejecting trophy hunting as a legitimate conservation tool could open up much-needed space for innovation and creativity among conservationists. It could be the impetus for coordinated effort, including collaboration with local communities, to find socially, economically, and ethically sustainable conservation strategies.”

“If wildlife conservation is broadly and inescapably dependent on the institution of trophy hunting, conservationists should accept the practice only with a due appreciation of tragedy, and proper remorse”, added Paul Paquet of Raincoast Conservation and the University of Victoria.