NEWS AND COMMENT: It has been decided, late in the day, that trophy hunting on the African continent is threatening the gene pool of these iconic species which trophy hunters so love to shoot dead. The reason is this: they have to select the biggest animals to kill. And when you do that, you take out of the gene pool the best, biggest and healthiest animals. This damages the gene pool and makes it less robust.
A great problem is that the trophy hunting associations set objectives and targets or they have aspirations to set records as to the largest animals that they kill. This desire to shoot the biggest and best knocks out of the gene pool of lions and elephants the best specimens.
Clients on hunts led by Britons have been breaking records in taking the largest safari animals. But British politicians are frightened that this emphasis on size is removing the strongest and fittest from the breeding stock.
In the UK, the primary legislative chamber i.e. the House of Commons, is considering a private members bill to ban the import of animal parts such as heads and horns as trophies. Backbenchers are stepping up the pressure on the Conservative government whose manifesto stated that they would outlaw trophies from endangered animals. They are being dilatory.
Apparently, a book of world records for hunters who shoot the biggest animals has been maintained by the trophy hunting organisation Safari Club International.
The scientists state that when you target the biggest you target the genetically fittest animals and in doing so you strip the species of genes essential to its survival. And survival is harder when bearing in mind the increasingly hostile environment due to climate change.
Scientists have warned that lions have lost 15% of their gene pool over the past 100 years. The hunting industry records suggest that the average size of lions may have dropped. And elephant tusks are shorter than in the 1980s. In fact, there are a growing number of adult elephants with no tasks at all. This has been reported on earlier. They put that particular genetic issue is down to poaching for ivory but the same argument applies.
The record book for trophy hunters stipulates a minimum size of animal trophies for entries to be eligible. For example, elephants must have tasks which together weigh at least 90 pounds. And the length and width of a lion’s skull must total at least 23 inches. The criteria for rhinos are based on the circumference and length of their horns.
One of the world’s most notorious trophy hunters is Robin Hurt who has his own family firm called Robin Hurt Safaris.
He used to be a Londoner and now lives in Namibia. His organisation holds an astonishing 921 Safari Club International records. Hurt, 76, told The Times on a recent visit to Britain: “I have always hunted carefully and selectively for the oldest animals, which often, because of their age, happen to be significant large trophies. The proposed UK ban on hunting trophies would be most harmful to African communities that depend on hunting as a means of livelihood”.
His organisation helps to fund patrols that have caught poachers and provide education, health and other benefits to villages around the game reserves in Tanzania.
Trophy hunters and their organisations constantly find a way to justify what they are doing. They always fall back on the old adage that killing animals improves conservation. And now we have this further threat, a threat that really should have been accepted and acknowledged many years ago which is that the gene pool of these large animals is being damaged by this obnoxious business and behaviour.
There have been research studies by scientists on an objective premise in which they have concluded that trophy and sport hunting does not benefit conservation. The man I mention above may be an exception but overall, this is a misconception. The money often does not get back to where it matters, at the sharp end. It goes into the pockets of corrupt officials. And there is strong evidence that trophy hunting adds to the decline in the population size of these iconic species which has dropped dramatically over the past 100 years.
It is time to protect them not kill them for fun. Common sense dictates that shooting animals for the fun of it simply is unviable and immoral. There is no place for it today.