Legal Hunting is Proven Conservation Method
A national furor, marked by the typical breathless outrage of social media, has erupted over a photo showing Huntress Melissa Bachman with a lion she hunted in South Africa.
The usual suspects responded with angry tirades and petulant petitions demanding an end to legal trophy hunting.
While it’s understandable that not everyone can relate to what hunters gain from such kills – indeed, I have trouble doing so myself – such reflexive emotions shouldn’t drive policy. As it turns out, legal trophy hunting is a proven solution to preserving species and ensuring their survival against the existential threat posed by poachers and human development.
Simply put, all wildlife that is hunted for economic reasons poses a tragedy of the commons problem. Poachers have strong incentive to ignore laws and hunt prohibited animals to the point of extinction when their products can fetch high prices on the black market, and are unlikely to restrain themselves from depleting the resource. The effort to combat poachers is costly, and may be a hopeless battle, and it must compete against other policy goals for public resources. Regardless of the source of the threat to a species, committing sufficient resources to conservation will always be difficult, as the public sees no direct benefit for such spending. This is especially true in poor countries with more significant social ills in need of redress.
But there are other means of attracting dollars to the quest of conservation. The most powerful of which is providing an economic value to the species in question that will attract private owners and entrepreneurs with an incentive to maintain population levels and protect them from poachers. There is a reason why chickens will never go extinct, and it’s because they are incredibly tasty. They have economic value, which when combined with private ownership provides the strongest incentives for ensuring there is always a plentiful supply. Unlike the commons, private goods don’t run out because owners have an incentive to manage them properly.
For species that we don’t eat, what often provides economic value is the desire of hunters to hunt them, and their willingness to pay for the pleasure. Melissa Bachman, for instance, must have paid five figures just to attempt to kill her lion, and a successful hunt is far from guaranteed. This provides strong incentive to manage a healthy supply of lions and other game animals. An example of this process in action is provided by the Scimitar Oryx, which have essentially gone extinct in Africa, but were saved in Texas by legal hunting. Unfortunately, anti-hunting fanatics driven by emotion have put the species back on the chopping block by successfully pushing for a law requiring costly federal permits for their hunting. This has reduced the economic value of the species and eroded the very mechanism which has protected them from the same fate as their wild, African counterparts.
The emotional outcry that can be witnessed in any comment section covering the story is somewhat understandable (though I suspect many of these same people hypocritically eat meat and thus contribute to the routine killing of far more animals than a single hunter could possibly be responsible for), but it would be a disaster for the actual animals should their knee-jerk outbursts be catered to.