Trophy hunting: a bugbear for Christy Clark

Photo by Andrew S. Wright

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, take note: misreading the public’s antipathy for trophy hunting could position you for a major and unexpected political hit.

This issue, flaring in the form of the grizzly bear hunt in B.C. and the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, has swayed out of proportion with its economic importance.

It’s on issues like these that politicians and conservation organizations can inherit a stigma that never truly dissipates, marking them as out of synch with popular sentiment, and even morally reprehensible.

Although trophy hunters receive severe public reprobation, including the Texan who paid $350,000 to kill an endangered black rhino in May, important players stand idly by or actively enable such hunts. Christy Clark continues to defend the trophy hunt for B.C.’s grizzly bears, despite an Insights West poll suggesting that 91% of British Columbians are against that hunt (84% of Albertans disapprove of the hunt, which was suspended in Alberta in 2006).

Many conservation organizations, meanwhile, have remained conspicuously silent while international wildlife hunts yield considerable funding for conservation. Too many politicians and conservationists dismiss the critics as irrational because the concern doesn’t make sense to them.

Often, proponents attempt to justify the hunt on economic grounds, citing the millions of dollars made from such hunts, without realizing that such arguments can only deepen the moral quagmire in which they are immersed. Their fundamental misunderstanding is the simple and popular assumption that moral reasons can be categorized as either instrumental (costs and benefits) or intrinsic (for the animals themselves).

Because neither of these categories can fully explain the moral outrage about the trophy hunt, those who are outraged are easily dismissed. On purely instrumental grounds, the trophy hunt is similar to hunting for meat, which is defended vehemently and supported by strong majorities in North America.

In both cases, an animal dies and people benefit.

Intrinsic values also offer no clear distinction between subsistence and trophy hunting, for similar reasons. But morality is not so simple.

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