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Who Does the Lion Feed?

It is Pythagoras who said “for as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other” (Thom, 1995). In other words, for as long as man thinks his continued dominion over animals only extends to his brutality towards them, then he is gravely mistaken.

Trophy hunting is often a highly debated topic. Is it a form of entertainment entrenched in imperial dominance over postcolonial environments, or is it a sustainable practice? A valid method of conservation, or one of the most debased forms of sport known to man? The irony of execution for existence is not lost as we progress deeper into the world’s sixth mass extinction. But who really benefits? Who does the lion feed?

Trophy hunting is deeply rooted in colonisation (Whittle, 2016). While hunting can be traced back to pre Homo sapiens, over two million years ago, its fundamental reason was for survival. However, during the 15th century, there was a dynamic shift in which hunting changed from a form of sustenance to a form of entertainment and sport. Additionally, it was considered the “sport of all our noblemen,” (Burton, (1621) in Wright, 2019), showing it’s very classist and elitist nature even then. Along with the spread of European colonisation, particularly across Africa, came the transboundary distribution of the anthropocentric and Christian belief that human beings have “dominion over the fish…the fowl…the cattle…and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26). With this, the noble sport of hunting was brought to the continent.

The colonised were seen as mere features of a landscape, a landscape that was now considered the noblemen’s new playground. The lines between hunting for sport, colonialism, and domination blurred as trophies replaced fauna and respect for Indigenous land and people became increasingly non-existent. The encroachment of trophy hunting can be closely linked to the colonial expansion across Africa. This expansion allowed for the colonial elite to enact upon their assumed superiority over their colony and it’s people (Whittle, 2016) as well as the land and the animals.

It is important to note that trophy hunting is still a sport for the elite – a single lion costing upwards of 412,000 South African Rand (equivalent to just over 21,000 Great British Pounds) depending on size, mane, gender, age, and colourings. A popular school of thought is that “a rising tide lifts all boats''. This school of thought is an overused argument in regards to trophy hunting. More precisely, the argument that the trickle-down effect from trophy hunting will ultimately lift the Indigenous populations out of poverty and is therefore a valuable conservation tool in Africa. Nonetheless, the guise of economic growth, in particular sustainable economic growth (if such a thing even exists), is often used in order to avoid addressing existing inequalities. Predominantly when wealth is so concentrated at the top of the pyramid as in the case in trophy hunting.

Not only does inequality exacerbate environmental problems, it is potentially devastating to Indigenous populations. The rhetoric of hunting for conservation can at times be clouded by corruption as well as financial gain. This can be seen in the case of the South African canned lion trade, in which an estimated 12,000 captive lions (four times the wild population) are bred for the purpose of becoming a trophy. Though now with the recent ban of breeding captive lions for hunting, there should be a significant decrease in these numbers.

Palaeolithic hunting practices still exist from some Indigenous populations across the globe. These practices are arguably sustainable and part of the symbiotic relationship between organisms and cultivating ecological balance. Yet while Indigenous populations are condemned, trophy hunters are praised for their contributions to conservation.

Indigenous populations, while only making up 5% of the world’s total population, are significant custodians of the earth, protecting over 80% of global biodiversity. Their roles are often overlooked. While their continued marginalisation, as well as the unfair distribution from the economic gain from their land and/or cultures, is at times recognised, it's not typically rectified.

While the ban of the canned lion trade in South Africa can be seen as a step in the right direction, much more attention needs to be drawn to where the money from trophy hunting actually goes to. If indeed it is a sport that needs to continue, no matter how insufferable, there is a great need for increased regulation as well as participatory approaches that are inclusive of Indigneous populations. If the point of trophy hunting is to ensure conservation of our precious animals as well as protect our Indigenous populations, surely it is imperative to ensure that both are being done? However, in an instance in which cruelty can be avoided, surely that is justification enough to end all trophy hunting?

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