In the wake of Cecil’s death, the world is more conscious of trophy hunting than ever. Dozens of petitions have been created in a bid to stop airlines carrying trophies back across the globe, many of which have had great success, and it seems as though this popular lion has not died in vain in that respect.

However, fans of the “sport” have argued tooth-and-nail with animal activists for decades that what they do actually helps wildlife and local people, bringing trade and a source of food to poor villages, raising money for conservation efforts, and improving the gene pool of endangered animals by removing old and sick individuals from breeding and allowing stronger and fitter males to get their groove on. This all sounds beneficial to animals – if you ignore the fact that innocent lives are ended for the “good of the rest” – and if you ignore the pressing truth that debunks many of these statements.

1. Hunting is Not an Effective Method of Population Control

One of the most popular excuses for killing animals for pleasure is that, if we didn’t, they would become overrun and take over the world, or they would breed so much that they would run out of food and starve to death, or various other justifications. However, one point that hunters refuse to acknowledge – which has been proven by science – is that trophy hunting does nothing to effectively control a population long-term, and in fact can cause sporadic fluctuations in numbers, resulting in population explosions.

In nature, the balance of life and death is a delicate one. Death takes the sickest, weakest, oldest animals, and the resources available in an ecosystem dictate how many lives will be sustained, how many will be born, and how many will be lost. But with hunting, it is not just the old and infirm that are killed. In fact, it is often the big and healthy males who are chosen for their impressive tusks and horns, or for hunters to pose defiantly next to towering bodies of muscle and power in their Facebook uploads. This causes a huge problem – healthy, strong individuals are removed from the gene pool, leaving the inferior members of a population to breed, which can actually make a population sicker and weaker over time. Not only this, but animals adapt to the changing demands – females have bigger litters and come into heat at an earlier age, for example.

2. At Least Two-Thirds of Hunted Animals DO Suffer Painful Deaths and Injuries

“It’s a quick bullet! The animal doesn’t even know it’s dead!”

Contrary to statements like this, the truth is that animals do suffer when hunted. Wildlife are terrorized by the chase even if the actual kill is relatively quick, and whole herds and families are split up, mothers and babies get separated, and panic and stress affects every creature. For every animal killed “humanely,” at least two others are wounded and left to suffer or die from blood loss, infection, or starvation. Many are flushed onto busy roads and run down as they flee their territories in order to escape the hunters. Cecil himself suffered greatly before his death – he was shot with a crossbow, pursued for more than 40 hours, before being finally dispatched with a gun.

3. Captive Animals are Bred Specifically to be Killed by Hunters

How is breeding animals in captivity and then shooting them doing anything for conservation? And yet, this happens all over the world, from the mass-breeding and release of gamebirds in Britain to be shot by countrymen to “preserve the lands,” to the now-famous canned hunting operations in Africa and parts of America: lion cubs are hand-raised by humans, become imprinted on them and learn to associate them with food and comfort, and then are taken into a separate enclosure and shot dead by a foreign hunter. Breeders are ruthless – cubs are removed from their mother’s side from day one in order to begin the imprinting process, and frantic lionesses are left chewing the bars of their cage as their bodies are manipulated into beginning the heat cycle once again. Male lions are the most popular targets, seemingly for their large flowing manes and the sheer masculinity that seems to emanate from them, so the majority of female cubs are culled, or used as breeding machines like their mothers were.

State wildlife management agencies make some or all of their money from sales of hunting licenses. Many of them have mission statements that explicitly say they are to provide recreational hunting opportunities. In order to keep hunters happy and sell hunting licenses, states artificially boost the deer population by clearcutting forests in order to provide the edge habitat favored by deer and by leasing lands to farmers and requiring that the farmers grow deer-preferred crops.

4. Hunting Does Not Necessarily Benefit Local Communities. In Fact, it Usually Doesn’t

Can we help wildlife and culture in ways that don’t involve shooting them? You bet. In fact one alternative to big game hunts, eco-tourism, is shown to generate up to fifteen times more income for a country than trophy hunting does. And not only is this great news for the local settlements, but it also provides training and jobs – giving people invaluable skills and experience, and allowing them to provide for themselves and their families.

Hunting might bring in big bucks when they want to kill a trophy animal, but these tend to be one-off affairs; tourism is an almost constant source of income for a country and the more suited it becomes to holidaymakers, the more people will visit and spend money on their local businesses. Hunters shoot an animal once; tourists can shoot an animal many hundreds of times with their camera, and encourage others to do the same.

And what of “providing food” to local communities by feeding them the meat of these lions, giraffes, and other slain beasts? Does feeding meat contaminated heavily with lead fragments really benefit the hungry?

What You Can Do

While the practice of trophy hunting is not likely to end over night, we can all help make a difference by putting an end to these harmful myths and sharing the truth. There are countless other ways to enjoy wild animals that does not involve killing or exploiting them. Share what you have learned with others and next time you come across someone who still believes there are benefits to this unnecessary sport, suggest that they consider a few more options to enjoy wildlife.

Check out these resources to help:

Lead image source: Tambacko the Jaguar/Flickr