From an ethical point of view we at ATE are totally against trophy hunting. Here I want to examine hunting from a biological point of view.
A sport hunter in Zimbabwe recently killed a large bull elephant with tusks weighing over 100 lbs. each. The male was estimated to be between 40-60 years old. The professional hunter who guided the client said, “This elephant was probably 60 years old and had spread its seed many many times over.”
Brent Stapelkamp, the scientist who was studying Cecil and the other lions in the Hwange National Park area reported that Cecil was 13 years old, which is old for a lion, but he was in excellent condition and along with his pal Jericho controlled two prides of females. Cecil did almost all of the mating.
When a hunter kills individuals such as these two what are we losing? In the case of the elephant we have lost a prime male who, by reaching the age he was (whether it was 40 or 60), proved that he was a vigorous, healthy male who survived the many trials and dangers of life in the wild. He gained tremendous wisdom in those years and he was passing that knowledge on to younger bulls who were following his example. His experience of his ecosystem and the paths to and from important resources was invaluable and a benefit to other bulls as well as to females and calves. Our studies show that females would have been preferentially mating with him whenever he was in musth. By doing so they were choosing a male who would be passing on his genes for longevity.
By killing older males for their tusks the very individuals who should be breeding are taken out of the population and younger, in a sense unproven, bulls are mating instead. Eventually the health and vigor of a population decreases when natural selection is removed and replaced with human selection for males with the biggest tusks. In addition, older males play an important role in the very complex society in which elephants live. They are explorers, teachers, and friends to males, females and calves.
In the case of male lions, the repercussions are even more immediately evident and devastating. If a male lion holds a pride by himself his females will usually be taken over by another male who will kill the cubs in order to mate and father his own cubs. If there was more than one pride male the remaining male or males will most likely lose control of the territory and often they will be killed. Sometimes females will leave the territory and look for safety for their cubs in new areas and often this can lead to them leaving a protected area and moving closer to human habitation with ensuing conflict.
Lion researcher Brent Stapelkamp argues that hunters usually kill the biggest male in the area with the result that smaller and weaker males then mate with the females. “By hunting the biggest and strongest males, we’re interfering with the natural process and artificially allowing the genes of the weaker, smaller males to proliferate…Hunting of lions is just not natural or healthy. From an ecological and scientific point of view, there is no justification for it. Economically, there may be a reason because it brings in a bit of money, but that’s short-term gain for long-term loss, and that’s when money starts overruling logic and hard science.” (Interview with Scott Ramsay, Love Wild Africa, 27 October 2015).