By Wallace Kaufman
This is Part I of a three-part article.
Many or most readers will soon strongly, even angrily, disagree with the conclusions of this essay, so let’s begin where we almost certainly agree. Hunters and their organizations have been heroes of wildlife habitat preservation and creation and of wildlife populations saved and restored. With some obvious exceptions, hunters have every right to think of themselves as environmentalists, but not “those environmentalists.”
Hunters plant thousands of acres in wildlife crops. Hunters paying their license fees have supported habitat protection with hundreds of millions of dollars. Long before the environmental movement began, hunters in Ducks Unlimited were doing work that saved more than six million acres of wetlands. Taxes on guns and ammo, along with license fees, now pay 60 percent of the budgets of state wildlife agencies. In Idaho alone, hunting permits contribute almost a half billion dollars to environmental programs. That is not the future. The social, environmental and economic services of hunting are already being replaced.
Three strong trends diminish the importance of hunting as a significant or desirable environmental strategy. Those trends are:
- The rapidly shrinking number of hunters of all kinds (trophy, sport, and meat)
- The motivation of hunters (as opposed to the rationalizations for hunting)
- Economic and social alternatives to hunting are far greater in all measures than the economic, social and environmental benefits of hunting.
Every time a hunter kills an albino deer or moose or a trophy hunter kills a big lion, giraffe, bear, or elephant predictable, anti-hunters open fire with verbal paintball guns in a predictably sentimental reaction. Equally predictable, hunters return fire with three arguments:
- Trophy hunting revenues are shared with locals who will then preserve wild animals to preserve their new income.
- Hunters of all kinds contribute irreplaceable revenues to support wildlife science and habitat preservation.
- Wild animals must be saved from overpopulating their now limited habitat by culling.
“Cull” has a nice scientific halo, unlike kill. The argument is clear—killing wild animals is necessary for their own good. Well, not for the good of the dead, but something like the old communist argument, individuals must be sacrificed for the common good.
All three arguments for hunting, however, are valid, an adjective I use because it falls necessarily short of “true.” Those who make these arguments imply that hunting is the only means to a desirable end. False. I’m going to argue these rationalizations are unnecessary and that they are a mask for people who like to kill animals. Sometimes all of the above.
Disclosures: I have owned large parcels of forested land for 50 years, and I have allowed a few people to hunt what they will eat. I have no argument with hunters who eat what they kill even though I limit my meat to seafood. Homo sapiens is an omnivore and hunters are part of nature “red in tooth and claw.” Anyone who eats meat either kills or hires killers. My argument here is with how hunters who enjoy killing justify their pursuit.
The literature on the economics of hunting and trophy hunting is voluminous, both pro and con. I’m not about to evaluate this great mass. Examined out of context, economic arguments for hunting appear large. In context one has to account for how much of the revenues is siphoned off by corruption and administration. Put the seemingly large figures of millions of dollars in the context of national revenues and they might shrink to a pinpoint. Australian-based Economists at Large studied eight African countries and reported in 2017 that trophy hunting amounted to less than 1 percent of tourism revenue.
The economics of photo-tourism (and just gawking tourism) far outweigh the economics of hunting. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated the following economic contribution of wildlife tourism in 2017:
- Directly contributed $120.1 billion in GDP to the global economy in 2018 or 4.4 percent of the estimated direct global travel and tourism GDP of $2.751 billion in 2018. Significantly, this represents over five times the value of the illegal wildlife trade.
- Once additional multiplier effects across the global economy are allowed for, the total economic contribution of wildlife tourism comes to $343.6 billion. Equivalent to the entire economy GDP of South Africa or Hong Kong.
- Wildlife tourism therefore sustained 21.8 million jobs, equal to 6.8 percent of the total jobs sustained by global travel and tourism in 2018. The 21.8 million jobs supported by wildlife tourism is the equivalent of the entire population of Sri Lanka.
- Across Africa, wildlife tourism represents over one-third of travel and tourism revenue.
Cut these numbers in half and they still make the economics of hunting a puny argument for killing animals.
Hunting does control wildlife populations, but that control can seriously damage the gene pool as hunters, unlike natural predators, prefer to kill the largest and most attractive—healthiest—animals. “A study of one sheep population in Canada shows that hunting can harm the gene pool of a species over just a few years.” Does anyone expect we will see hunting regulations that mandate taking the smallest buck, the lame, the albino, the thinnest?
The hunting arguments, seen in context and considering far better ways to achieve far more impact, largely serve a psychological fact that hunters try to avoid as if they were a covey of quail hiding from the hounds. Killing an animal because it is big, wonderful, and beautiful is an evolved behavior reserved for a few elite, and it is easily replaced by what many consider more civilized behavior available to almost everyone. (I assume treating animals kindly is more civilized than killing them.) This year we might also note that the Chinese tradition of killing and marketing wild animals for upscale and luxury food has given rise to the dangerous new coronavirus. [To be continued.]
 For an interesting variety of figures documenting this trend see Natalie Kreb, “Why We Suck at Recruiting New Hunters, Why It Matters, and How You Can Fix It,” Outdoor Life, October 15, 2019, https://www.outdoorlife.com/why-we-are-losing-hunters-and-how-to-fix-it/.
 World Travel and Tourism Council, “The Economic Impact of Global Wildlife Tourism” (p. 2), https://travesiasdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/The-Economic-Impact-of-Global-Wildlife-Tourism-Final-19.pdf.
 John Whitfied, “Sheep Horns Downsized by Hunters’ Taste for Trophies.” Nature 426 (December 11, 2003), https://www.nature.com/articles/426595b.pdf?origin=ppub For a more thorough review of the issue see also https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228768257_Genetic_consequences_of_hunting_What_do_we_know_and_what_should_we_do