A hunter had found a moose on private land and was able to kill the animal’s best 223 round for deer. When he was finished, it took him five hours to skin and remove all the meat. He then took a trophy out of his pocket that weighed over 35 pounds. On the back, he wrote: “Moose killed by Joe Smith.” This is a story of commercial hunting in Canada, but it’s not unique. In fact, in North America, hunters kill one hundred twenty-six million animals each year for their trophies or as food for themselves and their families.
1. Killing for fun
Hunting may sound like a fun family activity. But for the animals it’s anything but that. Big game hunting may be popular, but when you look at what happens to these animals, it’s not at all clear why. At the heart of any hunting practice is the understanding of a hunter’s effectiveness in killing his prey other than through a fair fight. Some hunters actually try to make their kills look “naturally” caused – like an old age or ill health – so they can go out and leave the heads or skins behind their homes without having to answer difficult questions from wildlife officials and animal activists alike .
2. Hunting for profit
Hunters do more than kill animals for fun. They also kill them for profit. Hunters and trappers in North America make over eleven billion dollars a year from the sale of their fur and meat. These sales alone account for almost one-third of all hunting income . Since it’s a business, these hunters want to make sure they get the biggest pay-off possible. That means they want to sell animal products that are rare or unusual – the bigger and stranger, the better. They often “special order” specific items to sell at higher prices. The most valuable trophy is a huge trophy that’s likely to have been illegally obtained (see next section).
3. Trophy hunting
Big game hunters in Canada may kill more animals than anyone else, but they’re not the only ones who hunt. Hunters kill a lot of fur-bearing animals as well. Bears, boars, caribou and wolves are also common targets for trophy hunters. Overlooking the ethical issues of their killing or the fact that these species are often endangered, trophy hunters do have a big pay-off: they get to display their trophies on the wall. But what really wins them over is that their trophy – the animal’s head – is legally classified as a fine art object that can be sold at auction to wealthy patrons who appreciate old-world craftsmanship in its full form (i.e. animal heads killed by humans).
4. The myth of culling
Hunting is often called “culling”, but that’s not a term used by scientists. The idea behind culling is that population levels are reduced in a way that doesn’t affect reproduction rates, and it’s commonly used to justify killing animals as pests. What hunting really does, however, is reduce the genetic diversity of populations (or the number of males) and increase their maladaptation. This reduces the population’s chances of recovering from factors like poaching or habitat destruction .
5. Trophy hunting industry
People become hunters because they want to make money from selling trophies at auction or from the fur and meat. It’s these people who are the real driving force behind big game hunting. Because they live off of hunting, they become invested in making sure its done as often and as legally possible. They often meet in associations or groups made up of hunters for private trophy auctions to buy and sell their trophies. These groups have a lot of political value. Big game hunters lobby for things like changes in legislation that would make it easier to hunt animals or be less strict on trophy hunting .
6. The animal victims
In a three-year time span from 2001 to 2004, over 400 bears were killed by trophy hunters in Alberta alone. Lions, tigers, leopards, wolves and jaguars are also hunted in countries like Canada for their fur. More than one million deer and elk have been killed by trophy hunters in Alberta alone since 1985. The skinned carcasses of these animals are then sold to the highest bidder at industry-organised auctions. It’s not just the large animals that suffer. Over five hundred thousand waterfowl were killed by hunters in Ontario alone during a two-year period. As well as being sold at auction, fur is also exported to countries like Italy, Germany or Japan where it’s valued both for its beauty and its warmth .
7. Legal and illegal trophies
Hunting is actually a form of poaching when it’s done outside the law. Laws are more easily bent to allow people who live off of hunting to make money than they are to protect animals, especially when those animals don’t have a powerful lobby behind them. Aside from the fact that some species – like wolves – are already legally hunted, trophy hunters sometimes break the law anyway. For example, they might leave an animal’s head behind without tagging it because it would be difficult to do so . Or they might kill animals on private land without the landowner’s permission .