Dentist and big game hunter Walter Palmer is under intense fire and possible criminal investigation for the role he played in the death of Africa’s famous lion, Cecil. Dr. Palmer is a sport hunter, defined as a hunter whose primary pleasure derives from successfully stalking and killing a wild animal. Philosophical arguments for and against sport hunting focus on the intention and character of the sport hunter, and the psychological motivations behind the desire to kill animals that would otherwise present no threat to the hunter, and in the absence of hunger. Sport hunters do not tend to eat the animals they kill.
While philosophical arguments against sport hunting may be complex, economic arguments are not: Sport hunting plays an important role in the preservation of animal habitats and provides employment to local guides and organizers, and allows the gross number of animals to increase overall. Namibia, another country in Africa, permits oryx, hartebeest, kudu and springbok to be ‘hunted and harvested sustainably’, resulting in an increase in the number of those animals, preserving the country’s biodiversity while providing both protein and a reliable source of income as hunters purchase tags that allow them to hunt. Peter Lindsey, from the University of Pretoria, calculates that trophy hunting in Africa is worth approximately $200M a year, and could be increased, if Africa were to open elephants to planned, sustainable hunts.
Africa’s National Parks, supported in part by trophy hunters, have preserved and even increased their biodiversity as hunters pay large sums to take a set number of animals legally. The largest wetlands conservation organization in North America, Ducks Unlimited, has increased wetlands under protection, covering 12.8 million acres, since 1927, in part by allowing duck hunters to hunt on their grounds. Canada, where 15 000 of the world’s 25 000 polar bears live, conducted an economic analysis of the value of sport hunting polar bears, calculating that individual hunts contribute $10 000 to local communities, with overall contributions exceeding $1.8M dollars, a significant percentage of remote communities income over all. Polar bear hunts are handled by the Inuit population, who have a spiritual connection to the animals, and who overwhelmingly support the sport hunting of a select group of bears each year.
The death of Cecil is a tragedy that appears to have been criminal in nature, because Cecil was not an animal it was legal to hunt. He was lured off of protected land, and it is appropriate to mourn his loss. Cecil was contributing to conservation efforts in other ways. Lions who fall to sport hunters are also contributing to the survival of their species in their natural habitat. The option is to allow the continued loss of habitat, leading to the eventual death of the entire species under consideration. Sport hunting means a few animals perish. Refusing to allow sport hunting to support conservation activities means all will perish. If we value the magnificent animals that attract big game hunters, we should allow hunters to indulge their pleasures, extract the maximum price we can, and sacrifice a few animals to save many more.