Hunting and Trapping Hunting as a Conservation Strategy

Wildlife management has traditionally meant game management. Hunting both for meat and for sport is an ancient practice. Humans evolved as omnivores; meat has been important in human nutrition, although it is quite possible for humans to be well nourished as vegetarians. The character of hunting has accentuated sport hunting in modern times; few hunters of the early twenty-first century are primarily meat hunters, although in most cases the carcass will be eaten. Most hunters have a code of ethics. They think it unethical to waste the meat. Hunters also seek a fair chase, a clean kill, minimal suffering, and respect for the animal; and hunters have long been among the most effective conservationists. Predators, especially wolves, were often eliminated as competitive hunters.

Since the mid-1960s, a strong antihunting movement has emerged, on the ground that shooting animals for sport is unethical, even if the hunter's ethic is observed. Such persons regard wildlife management for the purposes of maintaining hunting as morally wrong. A further problem is that much funding for wildlife conservation comes from hunting and fishing licenses, and if these activities are curtailed, alternative funding sources will have to be found. Hunters also argue that properly managed hunting can ensure conservation, since this activity makes wildlife valuable both to the hunter and to others who profit from the hunter's presence.

Such an argument is especially used for African wildlife. In Africa, although much hunting is legal, poaching has also been rampant, resulting in an international ban on skins, hides, horns, tusks, and other parts of various species. Wildlife managers may argue that whereas such bans may discourage poachers, they also prevent legal hunting, which can be quite profitable; this makes wildlife worthless to native peoples, who can neither hunt for food nor sell wildlife products. Even the products from culled animals (shot to reduce excess populations) cannot be sold. Ivory has been a case in point. Most world ivory trade has been made illegal, but some authorities argue that the sale of legal ivory could greatly benefit elephant conservation.

Trapping has been a traditional use of wildlife, largely for the pelts and hides made into mink coats, beaver hats, alligator-skin purses and shoes, and so on. Given available substitutes, many people object to such use of animals, on grounds that this trapping involves needless cruelty. Furs on fashion models simply flatter female vanities, somewhat as trophy animals mounted in sportmen's dens flatter male vanities. The leghold trap is especially objectionable to opponents of trapping. A counterargument is that a high value on animal skins, with effective management, can ensure conservation. Most of the world's crocodile species are endangered; crocodiles are dangerous and often frequent rivers where humans are present. Only if the crocodiles are of considerable value to local peoples are they likely to be tolerated and saved.

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