Conservation paradox – the pros and cons of recreational hunting

20 02 2021
The recovery of species such as mountain zebra (Equus zebra) was partly supported by the economic benefits generated by trophy hunting. © Dr Hayley Clements

Through the leadership of my long-time friend and collaborator, Enrico Di Minin of the Helsinki Lab of Interdisciplinary Conservation Science, as well as the co-leadership of my (now) new colleague, Dr Hayley Clements, I’m pleased to report our new paper in One Earth — ‘Consequences of recreational hunting for biodiversity conservation and livelihoods‘.

My father was a hunter, and by proxy so was I when I was a lad. I wasn’t really a ‘good’ hunter in the sense that I rarely bagged my quarry, but during my childhood not only did I fail to question the morality of recreational hunting, I really thought that in fact it was by and large an important cultural endeavour.

It’s interesting how conditioned we become as children, for I couldn’t possibly conceive of hunting a wild, indigenous species for my own personal satisfaction now. I find the process not only morally and ethically reprehensible, I also think that most species don’t need the extra stress in an already environmentally stressed world.

I admit that I do shoot invasive European rabbits and foxes on my small farm from time to time — to reduce the grazing and browsing pressure on my trees from the former, and the predation pressure on the chooks from the latter. Of course, we eat the rabbits, but I tend just to bury the foxes. My dual perspective on the general issue of hunting in a way mirrors the two sides of the recreational hunting issue we report in our latest paper.

Wild boar (Sus scrofus). Photo: Valentin Panzirsch, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT, via Wikimedia Commons

I want to be clear here that our paper focuses exclusively on recreational hunting, and especially the hunting of charismatic species for their trophies. The activity is more than just a little controversial, for it raises many ethical and moral concerns at the very least. Yet, recreational hunting is frequently suggested as a way to conserve nature and support local people’s livelihoods. 

We reviewed more than 1000 studies on recreational hunting, which is surprisingly the first such attempt to summarise the scientific literature examining the biodiversity and social effects of recreational hunting globally.

While it might seem counterintuitive, there is evidence to suggest that some recreational hunting can deliver environmental and social benefits. However, more analysis is still needed to understand how and why recreational hunting can work for good, and those areas where it can be detrimental.  It’s a paradox that goes to the heart of the pros and cons of recreational hunting. 

We examined both the geographic spread and diversity of species hunted around the globe, as well as summarised the main topics surrounding recreational hunting to consider both the positive and negative implications. We determined that on the one hand, recreational hunting can reduce the number of individual animals in a population, whereas on the other, diverting land from agricultural or other types of development to priority hunting areas can in fact benefit entire ecosystems. 

Lion (Panthera leo) was one of the most studied species in the scientific literature on recreational hunting. © Dr Enrico Di Minin

Our review also highlighted that hunting research has focused mainly on the behaviour and population dynamics of large mammals in North America, Europe and Africa. But evidence is still lacking to answer the pressing questions of why hunting contributes to sustainable conservation of biodiversity in some places and not in others. 

Two-thirds of the hunting research is focussed on mammals. Red deer (Cervus elaphus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), moose (Alces alces), and lions (Panthera leo) are the most well-studied. Of these species, only the lion is of conservation concern, with many recommendations on how hunting can be made sustainable through quotas or seasonal limits. 

Male moose (Alces alces). Photo: Ryan Hagerty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But far less research has tried to examine the broader impacts of hunting on ecosystem integrity and function, and how it affects the livelihoods of local people, or to document local people’s perceptions about hunting. For example, approximately 1,394,000 km2 of land is dedicated for trophy hunting in sub-Saharan Africa, yet there is little research on how effective these areas are in conserving ecosystems, and how local communities benefit from hunting.

It’s therefore essential that future research focuses on the contribution of recreational hunting towards meeting both biodiversity and social objectives. To assist, we outlined a research agenda to assess the role of recreational hunting in diverse social-ecological systems, and to consider local people’s values and needs, because the need for such evidence is urgent given declining numbers of recreational hunters in some regions and increasing opposition to trophy hunting in others. 

We also need to expand research beyond charismatic and common species to assess the impact of recreational hunting on threatened and less charismatic species.

The full citation is: Di Minin, Enrico; Clements, Hayley; Correia, Ricardo; Cortés-Capano, Gonzalo; Hausmann, Anna; Haukka, Anna; Kulkarni, Ritwik; Bradshaw, Corey J. A. Consequences of recreational hunting for biodiversity conservation and livelihoods. One Earth doi:10.1016/j.oneear.2021.01.014



2 responses

16 04 2021
A Conservation Paradox–The pros and cons of recreational hunting - Conservation Frontlines

[…] he exemplified the multifaceted aspects and characterizations of hunting in his blog,, when he posits: “I couldn’t possibly conceive of hunting a wild, […]


20 02 2021

The question is..who will do the studies. Perhaps citizen science sends out to all those folks in an area code a notice how they could help. Starting with simple questions. Does the hunting season improve your life in some way? So you notice an increase or decrease of certain animals in your area? Just some samples I thought of. A more academic person could formulate better queries.

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