It has made international news, it has made an American dentist infamous and has left a country without one of its biggest tourist attractions.

Cecil the lion was wounded by an arrow on the 1 July 2015 and later killed some 40 hours later. It is alleged that Walter Palmer, the American dentist, paid US$50,000 to Theo Bronkhorst to track and kill the lion. The disappointing aspect of all of this is that the lion was lured into sanctuary where he was easily hunted by Walter Palmer and the fact that this whole ordeal is shrouded in controversy over bribery claims.

However, what is trophy hunting (or big game hunting) and why does it play a significant role in Ecosystem Services.

Trophy hunting or big game hunting is the hunting of large game animals for sport. The term has always been associated with Africa’s Big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros). However, big game hunting is not reserved to Africa where places like Argentina, New Zealand, Canada and the USA all practice this sport hunting with animals such as bears, moose and bison.

You may feel disgusted in the idea of these animals being hunted as they are at the top of the food chain and in many cases they are on the endangered species list. However, done correctly, the positives of big game hunting far outweigh the negatives. The definition of Ecosystem Services by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment states that Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by ecosystems that contribute to making human life both possible and worth living.

According to Huggins (2013) in her book Environmental Entrepreneurship, she states that if wildlife doesn’t pay, it doesn’t stay. Wildlife routinely damage crops, kill livestock, and in the case of elephants and other large animals, can claim human lives. These damages force rural Africans to view wildlife not as an asset to be protected, but as a liability to be avoided.

Take the case in Kenya, where in 1977, the government banned all forms of hunting and since then there has been a steep decline in large wild animals. This seems counter-intuitive that with hunting banned the numbers have actually decreased. The reason for this however has to do with the way the wild animals are protected. If they wonder off the protected areas and onto local community farming land, they cannot be touched, however there is a heavy burden that the local community pays for this law. This leads to illegal hunting of these animals so that the local communities can protect their livelihood. However when individuals or communities stand to gain from managing a resource that they own, whether its land or wildlife, this results in good stewardship.

The argument therefore goes that if certain big game animals are earmarked for trophy hunts, and their elimination would not affect the balance of the ecosystem then one single animal can bring in a lot of money that can then be channelled into various ecosystem conservation aspects.

Taken from, this is the current price list to hunt big game animals in South Africa.

Elephant USD$ 42,000
Lion USD$ 24,000
Leopard USD$ 15,000
Buffalo USD$ 14,500
Lioness USD$ 9,500
Hippopotamus USD$ 9,400
Crocodile USD$ 7,450

Therefore the moral question remains, should we continue to earmark big game animals for wealthy international cliental to hunt? If all the money of one of these animals feeds into programmes to secure the future of the species and the subsequent balance of the ecosystem, then I personally agree that the bigger picture should be looked at. I also believe that the local communities should be fully involved in all decision making and that they should gain economically from this practice, so that they can see wildlife as a benefit (ecosystem services) as opposed to a liability where they would illegally hunt to protect their livelihood.

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