Last month, a big-game trophy hunter generated hysteria on social media by posting photos of herself posing with her kill. The 19 year old cheerleader gleaming over her prize amplified the outrage, in part, due to the contrast between the stereotypical big-game hunters we have come to expect. As pro golfer John Peterson tweeted, “If it was a 60 year old overweight dude posing with his African kills, no one would talk.”
Hunting is not the same as illegal poaching. In “No Cheers for Trophy Hunting” Jeffrey Flocken claims, “While most of these hunts may have been legal, in the end their trophy kill is no less lethal or brutal than poachers who are similarly robbing the planet of their wildlife. Setting a price tag on the head of magnificent animals because they are rare and worth more dead than alive is the same philosophy that is driving the insatiable markets behind wildlife poaching.”
Jeffrey is correct when he points out that a legal hunt is just as lethal as an illegal one, but he is mistaken to say that they are synonymous in robbing the planet of their wildlife. Legalization of hunting incentivizes conservation. Landowners are financially motivated to reintroduce species to their property, and to ensure that these animals and their environment are sustainable in the long-run. When market forces are usurped by government edict, the opposite happens. Poaching emerges because the demand for these animals still exist in spite of any bans in place. Conservationist hunters will be trading with producers whose business is environmental conservation. The price tags are determined by supply and demand, and demand drives the market. Making this activity illegal decreases supply while holding demand constant. Economics tells us that this increases the price of these animals. Thus poachers make more money for themselves as a drug dealer would on the streets. Long-term conservation is neglected as poachers race to reap the rewards and ignore the costs.
The reader may be surprised to know that I personally have no desire to hunt these magnificent beasts nor do I understand the impulse behind why some people do. However, this does not matter. What is important is to acknowledge that it exists despite my personal preferences. Upon accepting this reality, the next step is to go about the most efficient and economically sound way without infringing on the rights of others. My respected counterpart concluded with, “Hopefully, the small number of Americans who still revel in this kind of vainglorious exploitation and killing of living things for fun will disappear before all the animals do.” I, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach rather than wishing it away. As long as humans continue to practice this sport, allow the free market to perform under the rule of law, well-defined property rights, and enforceable contracts. Those who try to force their will on others will hurt the very animals they intended to save.