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Trophy hunting has always been a delicate issue with its supporters arguing that it helps conserve wildlife by investing back the money into the conservation of the parks and sanctuaries as well as generating revenue for the countries which benefit the locals.

Critics, on the other hand, maintain that the revenue generated is merely 0.03% of the entire GDP, and killing animals for a sport and bragging rights is nowhere near to being humane.

As much as both sides differ, they believe there’s no grey area in this matter. It’s either you support trophy hunting or you don’t. But you can’t support or criticize what you don’t know, can you?

This article will focus on everything you need to know about trophy hunting and interesting facts around this topic.

What is Trophy hunting?

Trophy hunting is hunting of selective wild animals due to their desirable characteristics such as big horns, skin, claws, heads, or even pelts.

These parts are considered “trophies” and hung on the walls as souvenirs while others like skins are thrown on the floor as rags.

The achievements are then entered in the record books that are kept by member organizations such as the Safari Club International.

The most hunted are members of the ‘big five’ that is; African elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffaloes. Hunters usually go for big-sized males that have reached the peak of their lives with reasons being that apart from their big and fully-grown horns, claws, and other trophies, they are also old enough and would rather kill them than have them die distressed in the jungle. 

Is Trophy Hunting the Same as Poaching?

Many people argue that poaching and trophy hunting are the same thing. However, it’s not true as the two have significant differences.

While poaching involves hunting without any legal permissions, shooting any animal, and oftentimes wherever you wish, trophy hunting will require the hunter to get a legal permit with a set of rules that the hunter must adhere to.


For instance, trophy hunters who hunt in Africa must follow rules set by the government to hunt there. They are issued with licenses or permits from the government.

Usually, they are only permitted to kill a specific animal, and shooting a different one is ruled as poaching.

Trophy hunting is done on their terms: where to hunt, what to hunt, and the weapons you should use. You are also required to be escorted by a professional tour operator and hunter at all times.

Additionally, while poaching is predominantly for selling the valuable animal parts, known as trophies, in the black market, trophy hunting is only meant to be a sport and preserve the trophies as memories.

Although, just like any other industry, there are also trophy hunters who sell the valuables in the black market. This act is illegal and severely punished.

While wildlife is destroyed and endangered species put in the risk of extinction by poaching through unregulated hunting, trophy hunting helps conserve the wildlife by enhancing their populations through hunting the old, dying, or the diseased. 

Causes and Effects of Poaching

People poach for different reasons some of them being the need to expand their land, invasion, to sell their valuable parts as well as a sport. However, it is a major problem as it affects wildlife negatively. Some endangered species are now extinct due to poaching thus interfering with nature’s natural balance.

Take, for example, poaching of the North American grey wolf. When the species was almost extinct, the elk grew in population. Consequently, the elk did not have a natural predator and they ate the aspen trees until they became extinct.

Similarly, the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2011 by the IUINC (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) due to poaching. Poaching has adverse effects on both the environment and the wildlife populations.

Is Trophy Hunting the Same as Canned Hunting?

Canned hunting is hunting animals that are captive-bred in enclosures, some small others large. It is very popular in South Africa as well as the USA where deers and species of wild pigs are often hunted.

They are raised and bred in captivity then released into bigger enclosures but still small enough to locate them.

Hunters often pay thousands of dollars to hunt these animals. Being raised in an enclosure means that the animals are not used to the jungle and predators and thus an easy kill.

In South Africa alone, this paper reports 24 lion hunting enclosures in South Africa alone in 2016-2017. They had approximately 637 lions and an estimated 300 facilities for breeding them.

Other canned- hunted animals in South Africa are pumas, jaguars, cheetahs, and tigers but in smaller numbers according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 

In the USA, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has approximated the number of facilities offering canned hunting to be about 1000. 26 states have banned the act and in the states where it’s legal, it’s illegal to hunt predators.

The species that are mostly hunted are the wild hogs, white-tailed deer, sika deer, scimitar-horned oryx, and kangaroos.

It is common for hunters to lure them with baits and use sedation to kill animals. Some of them are not skilled and that means they’ll injure the animal severally before killing it. The animals end up dying a painful and agonizing death.

While canned hunting involves breeding the animals for the sole purpose of hunting them for their meat or trophies, trophy hunting targets the old and diseased ones in the jungle.

Additionally, trophy hunting helps conserve wildlife while canned hunting only cares about breeding them for their benefits. This report by the Wild Animal Protection shows how cats are bred and raised in industrial-style cat farms in extremely inhumane ways and with suffering.

Is Trophy Hunting Legal?

Trophy hunting is legal in some countries and banned in others. Trophies are imported for use as souvenirs. Some are mounted on walls while others are kept as a display.

The sport is very popular amongst at least 10 million Americans, who travel and spend a huge amount of money just to hunt for trophies.

History of Trophy Hunting

Recreational hunting or trophy hunting, as we know it today has its root in the late 19th century. In 1892, Rowland Ward drew up the Horn Measurements and Weights of the Great Game of the World. This was the first official trophy hunt recorded.

Fast forward to 1930, the former US president Teddy Roosevelt who in 1887 had founded the Boone & Crockett Club, outlined the Boone & Crockett Trophy Scoring System for North American animals.


In the same year, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (ICGWC) was registered in Paris. The council owns a Trophy Evaluation System.

Later on, in the 1970s, the Safari Club International was founded and had its own record book. Unlike the CIC and the Boone & Crockett which allows anybody to record their trophies, Safari Club International restricts registration of trophies to its members only.

The SCI sets low limits for entry of recorded games species unlike the limits of CIC, Rowland Ward, and Boone & Crocket which are relatively high

Additionally, trophy owners who wish to record their trophies in the B & C record book must sign an affidavit to affirm the trophy was taken under “Fair Chase” conditions.

In other records, it is said that the hunted trophies were proof of a man’s hardiness. It reflected skill, courage, and character. Hunting was then seen as a contest and giving the prey a “sporting chance” showed etiquette and ensured a fair chase.

The unquenchable desire of hunting trophies, in men, is usually explained as driven by the male ego, the stereotypical masculinity, or what is commonly referred to as “toxic masculinity”.

Hunting for trophies is usually very expensive and charged per head of the animals you kill

It’s, therefore, usually a rich man’s sport. Added to the travel expenses, trophy hunting is more expensive than other kinds of recreation.

Benefits of Trophy Hunting

Benefits to the Wildlife

  • Pro-hunting has maintained that trophy hunting balances nature thus conserving wildlife. An increased number of animals often leads to degradation. Human encroachment leads to habitat loss as humans expand their economic activities.
  • Trophy hunting alsogenerates revenue for conservation and wildlife management including funding anti-poaching activities for both the government and local landowners. For instance, in the US, state wildlife agencies receive their funding primarily from trophy hunting and the broader recreational hunting.

In South Africa and Zimbabwe, private and communal landowners pay the rangers, tour guides, infrastructure, and equipment from trophy hunting incentives.

  • It also provides funding and incentives to landownersto help remove livestock, restore and protect wildlife and also invest in management and monitoring wildlife activities.

In countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, the USA and Mexico, lands were totally converted from farming and livestock areas to wildlife use.

  • Reduces retaliatory killing of wildlife and poaching by the communities living near the animals. In Africa, it’s common for elephants to destroy crops and other cats attack livestock and kill children. The communities living nearby retaliate by poaching the animals.

Trophy hunting reduces the number of wildlife destroying the crops, injuring, and even causing human deaths. When trophy hunting is regulated, let’s say, to male lions of a certain minimum age, cubs and female lions will not suffer from retaliation by the local people.

Benefits to the Economy

  • It increases the GDP in the region and is making a significant financial contribution to the countries. Hunters are charged a hefty amount of money to kill these animals which end up as revenue to the governments.
  • There are increased employment opportunities in the regions. Opportunities such as rangers, tour guides, wildlife conservationists often crop up, to the benefit of the locals.
  • The airlines also benefit from the sport. Flight tickets and cargo fees for transporting and handling the trophies increase their revenue. Customs and the hospitality industry also benefit from trophy hunting.
  • There’s also improved infrastructure in the local areas. The communities benefit from the money set aside for the development of the local areas.

Anti-Trophy Hunting

While the pro-trophy hunting site all these reasons to justify their acts, their counterparts anti-trophy hunting are not left behind in condemning the sport for the valuable body parts.

Many conservationists and NGOs such as Born Free, Four Paws, and Wild Animal Protection are against the legalization of trophy hunting and deem it as cruel and inhumane.

But despite all the campaigns and shout-outs against the practice in South Africa and other African countries and the USA where it’s rampant, it continues to thrive.

They argue that nature can balance itself without human interruption. They continue to say that the practise has led to endangering some of the species and reduction in the numbers of some to an extent they are almost declared as endangered.

According to them, thousands of endangered wild species are killed by trophy hunters each year all for “bragging rights”.

In 2013, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that lions be listed as an endangered species due to the massive decline in their number over the years.

The IUCN reported that the number of lions fell by two-thirds in Tanzania from 1993 to 2014, yet the pro-hunting insist insignificant impacts are left on the land and help fund clinics and animal conservation.

Other reasons for cited by anti-trophy hunting include:

  • The GDP contributed is not as significant as they report. Humane Society International reported that the GDP is only 0.03% and at most 0.76% of the overall revenue from tourism.

In another study, a live elephant was found to be worth more than $1.6 in its lifetime generated through photographic tourism, a fee that is paid once for the hunter to shoot the animal.

  • The extreme method of trophy hunting known as canned hunting is a plague in wildlife conservancy as it advocates for breeding animals, particularly lions, to be shot as trophies while in captivity.
  • Killing the grown males may put the local people in danger as juveniles and the females who are less experienced and daring may set out into the area to kill livestock, injure, and even kill people.
  • Killing the strong males leaves the cubs and females vulnerable. When the males are out of the picture, another male may move in and kill all the cubs to take control of the pride. This leads to more deaths and a reduction in the number of lions in the jungle.
  • Trophy hunters are not concerned with animal welfare. They may be inexperienced and required to use weapons such as bows and arrows. These weapons are more likely to injure the animal before killing it. Animals are hunted and pursued for a long time sometimes while still injured, Additionally, the separation from family or pride may be stressful to the animals. They end up dying agonizing deaths.

In a report as analyzed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the ICGWC, the hunting companies were found to contribute only 3% of their revenues to the local communities.

  • The largest percentage went to government agencies, individuals, and outfitters both locally and internationally. The local communities therefore rarely benefitted from the practice which is contrary to what pro-trophy hunting reports.
  • Hunting proponents usually quote conservation as one benefit of trophy hunting while in essence, it does not benefit conservation efforts. They claim that the revenue generated by the hunting practice funds conservation agencies and that hunting helps control the population by removing the old, sickly, and redundant animals.

On the contrary, only a small percentage of the revenue generated goes into conserving or managing the agencies. The mere fact that they go for the strongest animals with valuable traits as trophies can have adverse consequences on the health and viability of the future populations. 

Campaigns Against Trophy Hunting

In 2015, Cecil the lion was killed by an American dentist outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. This sparked an international outcry against the killing of animals for trophies.

He was allegedly baited and lured out of the park to evade the charges. He was shot with an arrow but didn’t die immediately. About 10-11 hours later, the hunters shot him again, killing him.

As a result, entities such as airlines have collaborated to declare they ceased handling trophies and declare their stand against the sport. Airlines such as American Airlines, Delta stopped handling and transporting animal valuables.

How Much Do Trophy Hunters Pay?

As mentioned before, trophy hunters pay a lot of money to hunt and kill the animals. These are usually one-off payments, one of the reasons critics are against the practice, as you can’t kill the same animal twice.

But how much is too much? And, what determines the price?

According to National Geographic, it costs around $80,000 to hunt and kill a single elephant in a 14-day hunt in Tanzania.

In Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the price range for trophy hunts in 2011 was between $12, 893 to $24,113 for a cape buffalo, $19,772 to $55,530 for a leopard, $39,101 to $73,228 for an African elephant, and $45,686 to $76,116 for a lion. Charges in Tanzania have always been the highest.

The reason could be because of the hunting areas in Tanzania, equal to 120,000 square miles which require $600 million every year in investment. You simply can’t get that amount by charging $10,000 to shoot lions.

In South Africa, the hunting industry is estimated to be worth about $112 million most of which is from trophy hunting.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare claims that hunters pay as much as $1000,000 for a big game hunting trip that lasts for 21 days. Usually, the larger-bodied carnivores and the big five cost much more than the smaller animals.

Most hunters cannot afford to hunt the larger species because of the price tag. That leaves them to the rich hunters who can comfortably pay tens of thousands of dollars just to kill the animal and take the trophy home.

Apart from the fees paid, there are other expenses incurred by the hunters. For starters, you’ll need to pay for flights to your destination country. Other expenses include buying of weapons (some shooting rifles cost as high as $200,000 due to their spotting ability) customs and handling charges and transporting the trophy back home.

Who Gets the Money?

The hunting fee is paid to the government while the other revenue is in the form of expenses the hunters incur in the country during the time of their stay.

According to supporters of trophy hunting, the local communities get a share of the revenue to help improve their livelihoods by improving the infrastructure, food programs as well as health facilities.

Another portion goes to conservation efforts to improve the conservation centers, employing more rangers and helping protect the endangered species.

The money is said to raise the GDP of the participating countries which directly reflects on the growth and development of the countries. Like any other industry, hunting earns the government revenue which benefits the whole nation.

Critics, on the other hand, say that the money does not reach the local communities, and when it does, it’s so little that the impact is insignificant.

According to them, the practice contributes a very small percentage of the GDP, about 0.03%, which is insignificant. Most of it is lost to corruption and mismanagement of trophy hunting funds by the governments. It’s often difficult to trace the money.

For instance, of the $50,000 paid for the illegal killing of Cecil, none of it was received by the government, conservation centers, or the community because the hunt was illegal. It was paid to the landowner who’s also a professional hunter.

The only people that are benefited by trophy hunting are the hunting outfitters and the gun shops. In other areas, trophy hunting could be fuelling poaching as shooters and bearers are paid in cash.

They argue that if the practice helped in any way to conserve the wildlife by funding the centers, the numbers of lions, rhinos, and many other species would not have plummeted as they have done in the past years.

If it Pays, It Stays

This phrase is often used in trophy hunting. This model supports the practice because, well, it pays for the conservation of wildlife and the environment. Conservation efforts require money to sustain the animals and their environment. The “if it pays it stays” model is economic advocates more for trade.

In rural populations, elephants destroy the crops, and sometimes their children become a meal to a hungry lion. Not mentioning the massive loss of their cattle and living in constant fear. To them, the lion is a heartless killer and the rhino? A ruiner.

To protect themselves, their cattle, and their crops, they often result in shooting or poisoning these animals without any sentimentality or empathy. To them, they are enemies.

 Money has changed the mind-set of these villagers on the value of the big game. And yet, there’s always the argument, If these intruders are worth money to the local community if they see them as not just intruders but also valuable, they will most likely work hard to protect and conserve these assets.

In Namibia, by attaching a commercial value on the animals, and providing the communities with incentives and revenue from the hunts, hunting the animals for food or killing them as a retaliation has reduced. They have turned animals from liabilities to assets.

The situation has not always been so. Sometimes, communities receive little to no help in terms of development. In reality, the benefits are usually limited and often overstated by opportunists and pundits.

 In her 2015 Masters dissertation, Martina Segage surveyed 99 households in the reserve Timbavati village in South Africa. Her conclusion was that the practice lacks the principles of community development and thus it’s yet to contribute towards developing the local economy.

What Types of Animals are Hunted and Where?

Trophy hunters go for animals with valuable features like claws, horns, skin, etc. Sometimes these animals are the most endangered species in the world.


Africa is known for its rich natural resources and vegetation. It is home to the “big five” (lions, African elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffaloes). Hunters from all over the world go there to hunt these big animals for the tusks of elephants, ivory in rhinos, lion’s skin, and other valuables.

South Africa is known for trophy hunting of lions. Other animals that are sought after are:

  • Cape buffalo: This member of the big five is known for being unpredictable. Hunting it is a sure sport and exhilarating experience.
  • Crocodile: A crocodile is a unique trophy. The prehistoric Nile crocodile is hunted when he’s basking on a riverbank from a blind. One trophy crocodile can be as long as 15ft. The price is determined by size.
  • Elephant: As the largest land mammal, it requires the largest rifle and a perfect shot. Elephants can attack you if you threaten to harm them. Hunting such a big animal is sure to raise adrenaline.
  • Hippopotamus: These animals are known to attack people and have caused many deaths on the continent. Despite their huge bodies, they are very fast which works against the victim. Hippo hunts are conducted at night when they are feeling on land. Hunting hippos is a dangerous sport that requires one to tread lightly.
  • Leopard: Leopards and swift and very elusive. Hunting them takes time and thus requires patience.
  • Lions: Pursuing a lion is an exceedingly exhilarating hunt. In the southern parts of Africa, lion hunts are mostly conducted in the Kalahari desert where a lot of walking is required.
  • Black wildebeest: Also known as the white-tailed gnu, the black wildebeest is rare as compared to its blue cousin, and is only found in South Africa. Hunts are usually on the open plains in the Eastern Cape Province or Free State.
  • Blue wildebeest: Also referred to as the ‘poor man’s buffalo, the blue wildebeest is a great addition to the trophy collection. It’s a native of Africa and the hunting experience is rewarding.
  • Blesbok-Common: The common blesbok is found in the plains and it’s native to South Africa. They are in large numbers in the Free State.
  • Blesbok-White: This blesbok appears starkly pale due to gene mutation making it a “morph” species instead of a subspecies. They usually live together with the common blesbok.

Other species hunted as trophies are the bushpig, caracal, Duiker-red, Cape Eland, the giraffe, follow deer, grey rhebuck, jackal, ostrich, warthog,  impala, klipspringer, among others.

In North America where trophy hunting is also popular, there are more than 60 species of game animals to hunt. They include the caribou, wild boar, rocky mountain elk, grizzly bear, cougar, Canada moose, grey wolf, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bison, among others.

Some states prohibit hunting of various species such as grey wolf in the Great Lakes while Oregon and Washington don’t allow hunting with hounds. Grizzly bears can be hunted in 27 states only in the US.

Rules and Regulations of Trophy Hunting

Trophy hunters must adhere to a certain set of rules and regulations. Some of them vary from country to country but there are general rules.

  1. Illegal trophy hunting is categorized as poaching (like in the case of Cecil ). Hunters are supposed to obtain permits from the government in order to hunt.
  2. Hunters should always be accompanied by a professional tour guide and hunter.
  3. In some places, hunting with dogs and hounds is prohibited. 
  4. Using some weapons is usually limited when hunting some species. Some places prohibit the use of guns and rifles while in others you’re only required to use bow and arrow.
  5. In South Africa, if you own the land, you also own the animals and are allowed to hunt them. There’s also canned hunting of lions and other species. Other countries, however, do not allow the hunting of enclosed animals and even though you own the land, you must get a permit to hunt them.
  6. Some animals are declared endangered and countries make it illegal to hunt them e.g the grey wolf in Great lakes, USA.
  7. It’s illegal to bait an animal to lure it. Trophy hunting operates under the basis of “fair chase” and luring the animal is considered unfair.

Which Countries Allow Trophy Hunting?

Trophy hunting is allowed in many countries around the world including Europe, Africa, South America, North America, Asia, and Australia.

In Africa, the top destinations are South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, and Benin. Namibia and South Africa are, however, the only countries in Africa where you are allowed to hunt the entire big five.

Other countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia allow hunting the exotic species with a limited distribution like giant eland, mountain nyala, and bongo.

In the UK, Mexico, New Zealand, Cambodia, Montenegro, Belarus, and Australia it is legal to hunt as long as you adhere to the rules and regulations.

Countries Where Trophy Hunting is Illegal

However popular the sport is, it is illegal to hunt any animal for its valuable parts, and doing so attracts fines and possible jail term.

Kenya outrightly banned trophy hunting in 1977 due to the reducing numbers of animals, corruption, and mismanagement of trophy money.

 Similarly, Costa Rica has banned hunting, and offenders face fines of up to $3ooo dollars or four months imprisonment. Malawi also prohibits trophy hunting.

Botswana banned hunting of endangered species in 2014 but later lifted the ban. The number of elephants had grown to more than 130, 000 (more than in any other country on earth) and were destroying crops and posed a threat to the people.

Trophy Imports

The US is the most popular destination for trophy imports. In the last 10 years, 1.2 million animal trophies have been imported by American hunters. That means an average of 126,000 trophies per year.

Some of these animals imported as trophies are declared endangered species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They include African elephants, southern white rhinos, African buffalo, African lion, and leopards.

Several organizations have been pushing for governments to ban the importation of animal trophies.

During the Obama era, importing trophies from Africa was banned, a move that has been reversed. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service said that big game permits will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis instead of the previous country-by-country basis.

In the UK, there has been an outcry to ban imports. The government held consultations with the citizens on the issue. Many UK citizens are already against trophy hunting and the opinion of the public may result in an actual ban.

Although it has not yet been done, there are signs that in the future it will be illegal to import trophies into the country.

Interesting Facts About Trophy Hunting

  1. A 21-day lion hunt can cost up to $100,000
  2. The Safari Club International organizes hunting competitions for its members and a chance to win about 50 awards for hunting rhinos, elephants, lions, ringed-horn antelopes, and other trophy animals.
  3. Every year, more than 100 million animals are hunted as trophies by trophy hunters.
  4. Trophy hunting was not known to many people until 2015 when Cecil the lion was killed in an alleged trophy hunting escapade that was ruled as poaching. The outcry by people in social media created awareness of this practice.
  5. Popular names such as Teddy Roosevelt and George Bush have been associated with trophy hunting. 
  6. Despite being widely abhorred and criticized, canned hunting is gaining popularity. There are about 200 farms in South Africa that breed lions for lion-walking, cub-petting, and trophies. Bones of these cats are in high demand in Asia for making ‘cake’ and ‘wine’ for traditional medicine.
  7. There are hunters’ associations and clubs that protect hunters’ rights. 
  8. CITES- the international service that protects and declares certain species as endangered-does not prohibit trophy hunting even on animals on the Red List and on the verge of extinction.
  9. Among the threats that lions face, the four are Trophy hunting, human-lion conflict, habitat loss, and loss of prey base.
  10.  Countries usually set specific quotas for trophy hunting. Some countries, however, set higher quotas than recommended while some hunters go beyond the set quotas.

Is Trophy Hunting Sustainable?

While wildlife populations have been drastically dropping in Africa in the last years, the past 20 years have been catastrophic.

Pro hunters continue to insist that trophy hunting does not in any way reduce the number of animals. That, in fact, it helps maintain a balance. According to them, other reasons such as poaching and human encroachment are the primary cause of reducing populations and extinction.

Anti-hunters maintain that trophy hunting has a direct negative impact on their population. Canned hunting is also an issue when it comes to hunting for trophy.

So, will trophy hunting be sustainable in the coming years? If the population continues to decrease and species going extinct, will governments continue to issue permits to kill the remaining animals?


Trophy hunting evokes different reactions from different people. There are those who argue that it’s good for conservation and others that maintain there’s nothing to envy about trophy hunting. It is a tricky subject with everyone leaning to their own understanding.


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